The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)


 At the height of WWII, residents of a small Italian village try to hide their most precious commodity from the Nazis: wine.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a satirical dramedy that addresses very serious issues in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Director-producer Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones and Inherit the Wind), apostle of socially conscious cinema, effectively combines funny situations with perennial questions about liberty and tyranny.

Based on Robert Crichton’s international bestseller of the same name (and inspired by true events), The Secret of Santa Vittoria does what great satires do best: highlight life’s absurdities and many paradoxes.

The film also works as a tale of redemption. Calamities tend to bring out the best/worst in people and I liked how the film demonstrates that even deeply flawed people are capable of rising to the occasion. The script, by William Rose (The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming) and Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle), seamlessly blends these ideas into a cohesive and engaging narrative.

The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a great showcase for two splendid actors. Anthony Quinn (Zorba the Greek) is a bundle of energy as the town’s lovable buffoon and unlikely hero. Anna Magnani (The Rose Tattoo), who plays Quinn’s bitter wife, provides a much-needed touch of cynical realism to the fanciful storyline.

According to many sources, Quinn and Magnani had a curious “love & hate” relationship. They had already started together in George Cukor’s well-received 1957 melodrama Wild is the Wind, for which they both received Oscar nominations. Personal problems aside, Quinn and Magnani make a wonderful screen couple.

German actor Hardy Kruger (The Fight of the Phoenix) is excellent as a cunning Nazi officer. Kruger’s character is a bad, really bad person, but the actor underplays his character’s villainy in such a clever manner that you end up sort of liking him — well, “like” might be too strong a word, let’s just say that he isn’t completely repellent.

The Secret of Santa Vittoria is beautifully crafted. The extraordinary cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno (All That Jazz) gives the admittedly simple story a sense of grandeur. Ernest Gold’s (Exodus) boisterous music score is another big plus.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Long but suspenseful, funny and super-entertaining, The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a complete delight from beginning to end. The movie also has a timeless message: “alone we fail, together we prevail.” The movie celebrates the struggle and ultimately triumph of the human spirit in an entertaining manner. Color, 140 minutes, Rated PG-13.

This is my contribution to The World War II Blogathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Cinema Essentials.

13 responses to “The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

  1. Great pick to spotlight. Been meaning to get to it myself. As u say Quinn and magnani are well matched. As much as I like Burt Lancaster I always felt it was Quinn who should have played opposite her in the Rose Tattoo. That poster looks mighty familiar. Believe I have a one sheet tucked away in the collection. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a fun one, and the fact it’s true makes it even more so. I’m trying to remember where I’ve seen Hardy Kruger…it had to be ‘A Bridge Too Far’, because I don’t think I’ve seen anything else he’s been in…including any of his German titles!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stanley Kramer doing a comedy is always something that leaves me with mixed feelings, but this does sound like an interesting one, and I like William Rose’s work at Ealing. I like Kruger a lot too, so may have to check this one out. Thanks for bringing it to the blogathon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have friends who hate Kramer’s movies (they find them too preachy). I tend to like his movies mostly because he worked with many actors I admire. Despite its excessive length, Secret of Santa Vittoria is probably Kramer’s most enjoyable movie.


  4. I’ll have to check this out. I think I’m currently out of my anti-Kramer mood and heading toward appreciation. If not now, when?

    – Caftan Woman

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds very interesting and a real character piece. Thanks for the introduction to this one, Eric. Thanks for joining us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I empathize with you. I watched Maltese Falcon the same day I finished reading the book and I thought the book was much better. It took me a long time (and multiple viewings) to really appreciate the movie.

      Liked by 1 person

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