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Although many Italian reviewers considered the risqu comic anthology Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963, aka Ieri, oggi, domani) beneath the talents of director Vittorio De Sica and writer Cesare Zavattini, it was a big hit with the public at home and abroad and earned an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and a Best Foreign Actor Award from the British Academy for Marcello Mastroianni. The director who created the landmark neo-realist works Shoeshine (1946), The Bicycle Thief (1948), and Umberto D. (1952) was viewed with "sorrow" by one Italian critic who noted both De Sica's "decline" and the "difficulty in trying new ways" exhibited by Zavattini, who had written those great De Sica works as well as a number of other classics. Another critic said of De Sica, "The great patriarch's sun has set and he doesn't realize it." Not everyone in Italy agreed; the picture was given the Donatello Award (the country's top film prize) as Best Production, and it was one of the biggest box office hits of the year.
Impressive behind-the-camera credits notwithstanding, the real attraction, of course, were the two leads. Sophia Loren was at the time one of the biggest global stars, with tremendous success at home, in Hollywood (where she made a dozen films between 1957 and 1960), and in big international co-productions like the costume epic El Cid (1961). She had returned to Europe in the early 60s, further cementing her stardom there in Boccaccio '70 (1962), another sexy anthology that featured a number of well-known European actors and direction by the likes of De Sica, Fellini, and Visconti. She also won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the young refugee mother in De Sica's Two Women (1960), based on the novel La Ciociara by the great Roman writer Alberto Moravia.
Mastroianni had also come up through the ranks of the Italian film industry, beginning as an extra in the early 1940s and eventually becoming the epitome of the jaded, smoldering leading man with a keen talent for comedy, achieving global recognition through his work with Fellini and Antonioni.
The two had not appeared together since Lucky to Be a Woman (1956), and their reunion proved to be a delight. They play lovers in three vignettes, each telling a tale set in a different city. In the Naples-based "Adelina" segment, she is a black-market cigarette dealer and he is her unemployed husband, compelled to keep her pregnant to take advantage of an Italian law preventing the imprisonment of expectant mothers. In "Anna," Loren is a wealthy, bored Milanese woman who picks up and discards writer Mastroianni as her temporary lover. And in "Mara," she plays a Roman prostitute who, upon falling for a chaste young seminarian, takes a vow of abstinence, driving her most frequent client (Mastroianni) to utter distraction.
Although there is no evidence of her sorrow on screen, Loren was upset over one of several failed attempts to have a baby with Carlo Ponti, her husband and the film's producer. During production of the "Adelina" segment, she realized she was pregnant. Because of numerous earlier difficulties, her doctor ordered several days of bed rest and banned all automobile travel. To accommodate this, she traveled by train from Naples to Milan. The episode shot in that city, however, took place largely in a car, a luxurious Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud (the actress was allowed to keep it after shooting ended). The scenes were shot in a studio with rear projection, but the car was mounted on a hydraulic lift to simulate the bumps and jolts of driving, and Loren suffered a miscarriage in the fourth month of her pregnancy. Loren and Ponti would have to wait another five years before the birth of their first child.
The "Mara" segment (the first filmed, based on a story by Moravia) contains a scene that has become iconic for both stars: a torrid striptease Loren does for Mastroianni, so sexy and provocative that he howls like a wild animal. The international sex symbol had never actually seen a stripper perform before and was nervous about doing the bit. De Sica arranged for Jacques Ruet, the choreographer for the legendary Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris, to fly to Rome and instruct Loren. "I had three or four sessions with him to learn the basic moves, struts, and teases," she recalled. "But then, using those routines, I had to mold them, with De Sica's help, into my own personal interpretation." Clad only in two layers of sexy black lingerie, she insisted the set be cleared the day of the shoot. Nervous as she was, she performed the routine to everyone's great satisfaction, even hers. "No scene ever gave me more pleasure," she said. So fixed was the moment in the minds of audiences, and so sexy and appealing were the stars even more than 30 years later, that Robert Altman had them spoof the scene in his multi-character satire on the fashion industry, Prt--Porter (1994).
Just as the production was about to move to Naples, the real-life counterpart of "Adelina" threatened to shut down production unless she received compensation. Concetta Musscardo, aka "Black Market Connie," was such a local legend for her tendency to get pregnant every time she got in trouble with the law that the filmmakers thought it would be no problem to fictionally recreate such a public figure. Because she reportedly had friends in the feared Neapolitan crime syndicate, the Camorra, Ponti agreed to pay her two million lire (then about $3,200) for her story.
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Producer: Carlo Ponti
Screenplay: Eduardo De Filippo, Isabella Quarantotti, Cesare Zavattini, Bella Billa, Lorenza Zanuso
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Editing: Adriana Novelli
Production Design: Ezio Frigerio
Original Music: Armando Trovajoli
Cast: Sophia Loren (Adelina/Anna/Mara), Marcello Mastroianni (Carmine/Renzo/Augusto), Aldo Giuffr (Pasquale), Agostino Slavietti (Dr. Verace), Lino Mattera (Amedeo).
by Rob Nixon