Monday, August 07, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Light in the Piazza (1962) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A week ago I reviewed the new Warner Archive Blu-ray WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), which stars, among others, George Hamilton and Yvette Mimieux.

After revisiting that film I was curious to see Hamilton and Mimieux in another Warner Archive release, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962). It was my first time to see the movie, and it immediately landed on this year's list of favorite film discoveries. It's by turns charming, moving, and thought-provoking, with memorable performances.

Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland returned to the screen after a three-year break, starring as Meg Johnson, a well-off American touring Italy with her beautiful 26-year-old daughter, Clara (Yvette Mimieux).

Meg tries to discourage the attentions of a young Italian man, Fabrizio (George Hamilton), who has fallen head over heels for Clara. We eventually learn that a brain injury has left Clara developmentally about 10 years old, although at the same time she's entirely capable of yearning for adult things like love and marriage.

Fabrizio and his parents (Rossano Brazzi and Nancy Nevinson) see Clara as innocent and sheltered, which is appreciated in their culture, and they delight in her beaming enthusiasm for things which are also important to them, including dogs, babies, and the Blessed Virgin.

Meg tries to tell Fabrizio's father Clara's full story but the time never seems right, as Clara and Fabrizio fall more and more deeply in love. Meg summons Clara's busy father Noel (Barry Sullivan) to Italy to help deal with the situation, but she's horrified when she learns he thinks it's time for Clara to go to an institution, even if it is "like a country club." She suddenly has not one but two crises on her hands, Clara and her own marriage.

When Noel heads back to the U.S. after a brief stay, Meg has big decisions to make about Clara and Fabrizio's future. Take Clara home to an institution or possibly face the end of her own marriage, or arrange a comfortable life for her as a cosseted wife in a well-off Italian family, hoping it will all work out?

This was a truly unique film, with a touching love story and interesting ethical dilemmas. Meg decides to hint at the issue to the father, mentioning Clara seems younger to her due to a long childhood illness, but as the father has just realized himself that his son has a certain immaturity, they come to a partly unspoken meeting of the minds. de Havilland is a wonder throughout; even in the last shots of the film, her facial expressions convey a variety of emotions, from joy to uncertainty.

It's no surprise that de Havilland is marvelous, of course, but I was unexpectedly impressed by the deft playing of Hamilton and Mimieux. It's certainly the most likeable of any Hamilton performance I've seen to date. I can't vouch for his accent, but it worked for me; according to Hugh Fordin's THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT, Hamilton was daily coached by Brazzi.

It was an interesting twist that it was gradually shown that Fabrizio might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer himself, to the extent his own father has forgotten his age and thinks he is younger than he is. Time and again we see that Fabrizio is happy to meet Clara on her level, enjoying the simple pleasures of ice cream, playing in the pool, taking turns caring for a stuffed animal, or stacking and knocking over coins. At the same time, he has an admirable sensitivity, instinctively knowing how to calm Clara down when she becomes emotionally overstimulated and accepting her behavior as normal. It's quite easy to think they could have a successful marriage, even if Clara reveals more "quirks" over time.

And for her part, we also discover that Clara is more adaptable and intelligent than we sometimes expect, such as the way she easily picks up conversational Italian and confidently gives a taxi driver instructions in his native language. Mimieux glows with the joy of young love, easily straddling portraying Clara's two sides, the woman who wants to marry and the girl who still plays in the bathtub and asks her mother to check the closets for ghosts.

LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is the kind of movie a viewer is still thinking about hours later, wondering about the characters and how their lives turned out. For me, that's always one of the marks of an exceptionally good movie. It's such a sensitive and unusual film that it's rather difficult to do it justice on paper; it needs to be experienced.

The screenplay of this 102-minute film was by Julius J. Epstein (CASABLANCA), from a story by Elizabeth Spencer. It was directed by Guy Green. Otto Heller filmed the beautiful Italian locations in CinemaScope and MetroColor.

An interesting footnote, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA was the last film produced by MGM musical producer Arthur Freed.

The Warner Archive DVD is a lovely widescreen print. The trailer is included.

A recommended film.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Brittaney said...

I've always been on the fence about watching this film. But your review has piqued my interest.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love de Havilland but didn't go out of my way to see it in the past, it just sounded like an odd premise. I'm really glad I finally gave it a try!

Best wishes,

9:03 AM  

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