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 the good/bad qualities of human beings.
The film also works as a tale of redemption. Crises 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 film 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.