Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Secret of Santa Vittoria

I begin with the film of a book by Richard Crichton, I enjoyed reading as much as the theatrical experience, The Secret of Santa Vittoria. The story is a simple one. A small Italian hillside community with over 1000 souls makes it income from wine growing for the Cinzano company. Anthony Quinn plays an always drunk wine salesman Italo Bombolini who is estranged from his salt mouthed wife played by Anna Magnani. They have a teenage daughter who is enamoured with a local young man a couple of years older than she. He brings the news that Mussolini has surrendered and the Fascists are out of power. Bombolini is known to have supported Mussolini because of the reforms promised and climbs a water tower afraid of the reaction of the population who assembly below him. He is eventually brought down to great cheers for although a supporter oft he regime he was not an activist and regarded a harmless buffoon. The local Fascist community managers in fear of their lives decide that they will surrender to Bombolini as the new popular Mayor. His first act is to arrest and imprison them. Realising his lack of suitability Bombolini attempts to pass on the role but is advised to adopt the approach of Machiavelli and form fo civic administration combining local talent and respected figures. He sees this as the opportunity to prove to his wife that he is not the fool he normally appears to be.

The challenge comes when he is informed that later in the month the Germans are to come with the purpose of taking the store of wine which amounts to over 1 million bottles. He decides a plan to hide the majority of the wine in the tunnels adjacent to a Roman built cave. The first effort to get the wine form the hillside store down to the cave are disastrous as everyone gets in each other’s way, there are fights and broken bottle. The second plan is to create several human chains in which all the able bodied adults participate day and night. The former fascists are kept hidden so they do not know what is happening

A small contingent of German soldiers arrive led by Hardy Kruger. Bombolini plays the fool but successfully negotiates for the town to retain 25% of the wine that has been left in vaults although the suspicion of the officer and his second in command is aroused when the villagers cooperate in good humour with the task of bringing wine to the lorries for transporting. He is also attracted to a local woman of sophistication and education who returns to the family home after a loveless marriage which tool her to Rome and the International social circuit of Italian high society. Back home she has remet a former childhood “sweetheart” of a different social standing who has returned home injured and who looks after and they share a bed as a man and woman of maturity and experience but with no commitment.

Then the Gestapo arrive with officials who say that from the records the great quantity of the wine is missing and which to use torture to establish the truth having hit the Mayor hard as a preliminary. Kruger intervenes and is given less than two days to locate the wine but fails to do so. That he discovers is that the his love interest has a lover. The Gestapo and hostages and the Mayor suggests that they take the first men who enter the square. They persuade the fascist prisoners that they are to be released to the Germans, nominating the most senior two to leave at a short interval. Both men realise only too late that they have been set up and are taken away for torturing, with their screams heard all over the village. The Gestapo conclude that there is no wine and leaves, with shortly afterwards Kruger is given his orders to also depart.

He on the other hand is convinced that there is wine and that the whole community knows and is laughing at him. He takes the lover of the socialite prisoner and says that if he is not told where the wine is the man will be shot in the morning. The socialite sends the night with Kruger to save the life of the hostage. Kruger is still not satisfied and as the community assembles to watch them depart he threatens to shoot the Mayor unless someone tells him where the wine was hidden. Defeated he sets off but not before Bombolini presents him with the last of the hidden bottle which was tied with a ribbon and he tells the officer that they can afford to be generous as here is another million available. When the German unit leaves the town goes into fiesta.

Earlier in the film his daughters and the young man have got together and the wife demands her husband takes action. He says he will do something the young man will not forget. The couple are married. When the Italian soldier realises what the socialite has done for him he forces her to admit she loves him and that they are committed to each other. Bombolini’s wife has softened towards him when he is beaten in the face and now she joins her husband in the fiesta dancing signalling that their relationship will be better in the future. The tortured fascists re forgiven their sins. It is my understanding that the novel is based on an actual event although this may be a false memory

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