The Witches (1967) starring Silvana Mangano Blu Ray & DVD (Arrow)
The Witches (originally titled Le streghe in Italy) is an anthology of five stories, each one from a different Italian director and featuring Silvana Mangano in a different role.
The Witch Burnt Alive
Mangano plays a movie actress named Gloria who is on holiday with a group of friends in an Austrian mountain resort in order to get away from her glamorous but hectic life. During their evening partying she passes out while dancing. Her friend Valeria (Annie Girardot) removes her headpiece and makeup, revealing the real woman underneath the glamour.
A woman in a hurry for a meeting (again played by Mangano) picks up a man injured in a road accident (played by Alberto Sordi) under the pretense of taking him to hospital. However, she fails to stop at any of them despite passing a number of them on her frantic journey.
The Earth As Seen From The Moon
This surreal comedy begins as a father named Ciancicato Miao (Totò) mourns the loss of his wife with his son Baciu (Ninetto Davoli) by his side. They head out to find a replacement. After a number of farcical episodes, Ciancicato finally meets “the one” - a beautiful deaf-mute with green hair (Mangano) named Mrs. Absurdity.
The Sicilian Belle
As the title suggests, this one is set in rural Sicily. It features Mangano as a woman who tells her father about a man who came on to her. This results in a gun massacre.
An Evening Like The Others
The final story looks at a staid marital relationship between Giovanna (Mangano) and her husband Carlo (Clint Eastwood). The film alternates between banal reality and a series of fantasy sequences depicting Giovanna’s inner thoughts and feelings.
Watch a trailer:
Not a horror film, despite the title
This film, clearly designed as a vehicle for Silvana Mangano (who was producer Dino De Laurentiis’s wife at the time) is a strange, hard-to-classify curiosity. The general tone is one of an anarchic, surreal mixture of comedy and drama. There are crazy interjections of pop-art (most notably during the riotous opening credits), inane slapstick, cheesy music, absurd situations and some rather unsubtle depictions of female characters.
It’s a very uneven affair that’s arguably most notable for featuring Clint Eastwood, who appears in the final episode very much cast against type (notwithstanding one brief flashback scene where he sends up his iconic Man With No Name image from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns). If you’re scratching your head at this point, thinking “Eh? I can’t remember Mr. Eastwood appearing in this!” it is because you most probably haven’t had the chance to actually see the thing. It never received a wide release in either the US or the UK (at least, up until this new Blu Ray version). One rumour behind this suggests that United Artists, having bought the theatrical distribution rights, wanted to bury it as they were carefully cultivating rising star Eastwood’s image and didn’t want to jeopardise it with a film which portrayed him in a decidedly non-alpha male role!
There is another notable name in the casting: Helmut Berger, who was given his first ever role in (his then long-term boyfriend) Luchino Visconti’s episode here, entitled The Witch Burnt Alive. He hasn't been given too much to do here and he wouldn’t rise to true stardom until Visconti’s later The Damned.
What about reviewing the episodes?
Ok… so that’s enough cast trivia for today. The first episode, The Witch Burnt Alive, is a beautifully-shot but rather dull affair looking at the dichotomy between movie star glamour and the reality of the sad, over-encumbered person beneath the fur coats, fake eyelashes and headpieces. It’s filled with pretentious game-playing, a briefly diverting dance interlude (with a catchy jazz number which also plays over the opening credits) and a superfluous subplot involving Annie Girardot’s character and her moribund sexual relationship with her husband (played by Francisco Rabal).
The second episode, Civic Spirit directed by Mauro Bolognini, is a rather shorter affair. It takes a turn into an extended slapstick sketch involving a car racing endlessly through Rome’s chaotic traffic while the hapless accident victim in the back seat complains of one ailment after another. While it’s less boring than the previous one, it’s not funny and doesn’t pay off in any worthwhile manner. As such, it ultimately feels rather pointless.
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s entry, The Earth As Seen From The Moon, is another one played for daft, Benny Hill-style humour. However, it is at least more substantial and purposeful than its predecessor. It’s a surreal piece with a lot of bright colours in both its production design and cheery intertitle cards, featuring Totò sporting two orange clumps of hair on the side of his head in the manner of a circus clown. Mangano’s character is a robotically perfect wife, thus making the whole episode feel like a fantasy in the head of a couple of rather simple men who possess a hopelessly glib and naive view of women’s roles in their lives. To be quite honest, I only found two moments to be vaguely (and I mean vaguely) amusing here.
Franco Rossi’s The Sicilian Belle, as per Civic Spirit, is another brief sketch, this time culminating in a spaghetti western pastiche montage of shootings. Again, as per Civic Spirit, it never develops in any truly purposeful or fruitful manner.
Vittorio De Sica’s episode, the Clint Eastwood-starring An Evening Like The Others, is definitely the best. The fantasy sequences are beautiful, often filmed in dreamy slo-mo and filled with pop-art fantasy homages to fellow Italian director Federico Fellini, spaghetti westerns, opera, fumetti (Italian comic strips) and so on. Eastwood himself looks and feels rather out of place here as a boring husband, albeit imbuing the feeling that this is all part of the joke. Whatever, it’s a glorious bubble of pure cinema which functions quite effectively as a prize for whoever makes it that far.
I haven’t seen many reviews of this strange anthology online. This is undoubtedly, at least in part, due to the fact that so few English-language film critics would have had the chance to have seen it thus far. Another reason, perhaps, is that it’s such an exasperating film to review. Mangano certainly gives committed performances to her five different roles but most of the episodes here don’t really seem to go anywhere and are too stylistically disparate to gel together as a whole experience. Mind you, it might (just might) have resonated more strongly in Italy in the 1960s than it does here and now.
Runtime: 111 mins
Dir: Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, Vittorio De Sica
Script: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Fabio Carpi, Enzo Muzii, Mauro Bolognini, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Bernardino Zapponi, Roberto Gianviti, Luigi Magni, Franco Rossi, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, Cesare Zavattini
Starring: Silvana Mangano, Annie Girardot, Francisco Rabal, Helmut Berger, Alberto Sordi, Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Clint Eastwood
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
For the most part, the 2K restoration looks very nice indeed with some bright pastel colours. However, there are a few grainy shots here and there, suggesting a variable quality of original footage used during the restoration process. The soundtrack is rich and smooth.
As per usual, Italian cinema aficionado Tim Lucas reels off an incredible amount of detail on the various careers of the cast and crew here. His revelations about Mangano herself are the most interesting: he mentions that she started out in modelling (winning the Miss Rome title in 1946) before embarking on a film career where she met her longtime husband, producer Dino De Laurentiis. Despite it lasting from 1949 to 1988 it was volatile, in part due to Dino’s constant pressure to turn him into a Sofia Loren counterpart while she was more interesting in giving up acting to concentrate on raising her children.
We also learn that Clint Eastwood initially didn’t want to appear in such an atypical role. However, he was persuaded to change his mind when Dino gave a choice of two offers which were, at that time, incredibly lucrative for the one week of work: either a $250,000 flat fee or $200,000 plus a brand new Ferrari. Eastwood chose the latter because his agent could only charge his regular 10% commission on the cash sum, not the car.
The only other extras here are a slightly shorter, English-dubbed version of the film and a limited-edition booklet. Not a lot here by Arrow standards.
Despite my misgivings about the film it will undoubtedly appeal to buffs of Italian arthouse cinema, albeit mainly for curiosity value. Clint Eastwood completists might also enjoy seeing him in such a strange context.