18 July 2019

Sophia Loren's Ieri, Oggi Domani

New series alert! This Summer, I read several film books (some interesting, some great). On the coming Thursdays, I would like to share my thoughts about them at EFSP. I'll combine these 'book reviews' with a choice of our postcards. 

In 'Ieri, oggi, domani', the then nearly 80 years old Sophia Loren waits for her grandchildren while preparing a Christmas dinner for her family. She opens a box full of little objects, which bring back memories of a long life and a magnificent career. The title of this memoir, which translates as 'Yesterday, today, tomorrow', refers to her famous film from 1963 in which she costarred with Marcello Mastroianni and was directed by Vittorio De Sica. In her book, she often refers to these two friends, who were as important for her career as she was for theirs. Less she writes about what her husband, producer Carlo Ponti, meant for her film career. 

Sophia Loren, Ieri, oggi, domani
Dutch book cover for Sophia Loren, 'Mijn leven - Ieri, oggi, domani' (1994). Original title: 'Ieri, oggi, domani'. Translated by Edwin Krijgsman and Els van der Pluijm. Publisher: Uitgeverij-Sijthoff B.V., Amsterdam.

That famous sensual walk through the rain

The most interesting part of Sophia Loren's film career was in the Italian cinema. During the 1950s and 1960s, she was a typical film producer's muse. Like Silvana Mangano often worked with husband Dino De Laurentiis and Claudia Cardinale with her husband Franco Cristaldi, Sophia almost always worked with Carlo Ponti.

In 1951, the 17-year old Sofia Scicolone met Ponti, then 39 and married. Ponti was a great catch. In 1941, he had had his breakthrough as a producer with the drama Piccolo mondo antico/Old-Fashioned World (Mario Soldati, 1941), which made a star of Alida Valli. In 1949 Ponti started his own production company together with Dino De Laurentiis. They worked with all the major directors of the time: De Sica, Lattuada, Rossellini, Blasetti, Visconti... Sophia wonders in retrospect if she realised how important her new companion was.

In 1949, Sofia started her career at a beauty contest in a cinema in Naples, to which she was pushed by her poor mammina. She won a prize which included a train ticket to Rome. In her memoir, Loren vividly describes how she and her mother arrived in Cinecittà, where MGM was just filming Quo Vadis?. Rome had become Hollywood on the Tiber! Director Mervyn Le Roy even offered Sofia a bit part in the film, although the only English word she could say to him was 'yes'.

In the following years, she gathered experience by posing for the very popular Fotoromanzi, the photo comics which emerged in Italy in the 1940s and expanded into the 1950s. Loren writes that the Fotoromanzo, introduced by the De Luca brothers and the Milanese company Universo, helped her to learn to express herself. For her and other young hopefuls, they formed a stepping stone to the cinema.

Was it Carlo who helped her get her first leading role in Africa sotto i mari/Africa Under the Seas (Giovanni Roccardi, 1953)? Probably, but Loren had real star appeal. In the publicity stills of her first films, she already looked sensational. A beauty with a natural talent who enjoyed Cinecittà as her wonderland.

Loren did one film after another in these years. And then came her 28th film (in four years), she was directed by Vittorio De Sica in Pizze a credito, a segment of the anthology film L'oro di Napoli (Vittorio De Sica, 1954). She played a charming Neapolitan pizza cook, who loses an emerald ring which her husband gave her. She searches for it  and supposes she baked it into a pizza, but in reality she left it on her lover's nightstand. Her vivacious smile, her pronounced cleavage and her famous sensual walk through the rain while followed by her cuckolded husband made her an international star. It started a long series of films with De Sica, and soon also Hollywood was calling.

Sophia Loren
German postcard printed by Krüger, no. 902/304. Photo: Georg Michalke. Publicity still for Loren's 31nd (!) Italian film, La donna del fiume/Woman of the River (Mario Soldati, 1954).

Sophia Loren in La donna del fiume (1954)
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano, no. 328. Photo: Ponti-De Laurentiis. Publicity still for La donna del fiume/Woman of the River (Mario Soldati, 1954).

Sophia Loren
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano, no. 358.

Sophia Loren in Peccato che sia una canaglia (1954)
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano, no. 449. Photo: Documento Film. Publicity still for Peccato che sia una canaglia/Too Bad She's Bad (Alessandro Blasetti, 1954).

Sophia Loren
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano, no. 591.

A tough cookie from Naples

Sophia Loren writes about her encounters and films in Hollywood, but she remains a lady who does not gossip. She writes warmly about admirers as Cary Grant and Peter Sellers.

One of the few co-stars, whom she did not like was Marlon Brando, her co-star in A Countess from Hong Kong (Charles Chaplin, 1967). She describes how Brando arrives three quarters too late at the first day of shooting, how the whole crew has to wait and how Chaplin scolds him in front of the whole crew. From then on, Brando never arrived late again at the set.

Later during the production of the film, Brando made a pass at her. Loren reacted as a blazing cat and furiously hissed "Don't ever do that again! Never, never again." No, for Ms. Loren  #metoo was not necessary, growing up poor in a little village near Naples had made her a tough cookie.

La Loren writes a lot about her family, her passion for cooking and her troubles with the Italian government concerning the divorce of Carlo Ponti and his first wife and concerning taxes. She even had to go 100 days to jail for that, although the state later offcially declared that she was innocent.

It's all interesting, but I like the book most when Loren tells about her films. About her first 'serious' role in La Ciociara/Two Women (Vittorio De Sica, 1961), for which she won an Oscar, and of course for Una giornata particolare/A Special Day (Ettore Scola, 1977). Once again she surprised critics and filmgoers by playing a resigned housewife in Fascist Italy, who expresses a whole range of feelings in just one look.

Una giornata particolare was for me her pne of her best pairings with co-star Marcello Mastroianni. He plays her neighbour, a persecuted, homosexual journalist, who is just as lonely as she is. During a national holiday when Hitler visits Rome in May 1938 and everybody is out on the streets to see the parade, the two have a brief encounter on the roof of their apartment complex. An unforgettable love story between two people who don't fit in the world they live in.

Sophia Loren
French postcard by P.I. / Korès, no. 38. Photo: Constantin Film. Publicity still for La bella mugnaia/The Miller's Wife (Mario Camerini, 1955).

Sophia Loren
German postcard by UFA, no. 1007. Photo: UFA. Publicity still for La bella mugnaia/The Miller's Wife (Mario Camerini, 1955).

Sophia Loren in La fortuna di essere donna (1956)
German postcard by UFA. Photo: publicity still for La fortuna di essere donna/What a Woman! (Alessandro Blasetti, 1956).

Sophia Loren
German postcard by Filmbilder-Vertrieb Ernst Freihoff, Essen, no. A 102. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for The Millionairess (Anthony Asquith, 1960).

Sophia Loren
Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. 4894. Photo: Hafbo. Publicity still from El Cid (Anthony Mann, 1961).

Sophia Loren
German postcard by Filmbilder-Vertrieb Ernst Freihoff, EssenParis, no. 5096. Photo: publicity still for Boccaccio '70 (Vittorio De Sica, 1962).

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in La Moglie del Prete
German postcard by pwe Verlag, München (Munich). Photo: publicity still for La moglie del prete/The Priest's Wife (Dino Risi, 1970) with Marcello Mastroianni.

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