Although Vittorio De Sica became known around the world for his seminal works in Italian neo-realism with Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, he was quite adept at directing lighthearted fare as well and Marriage, Italian Style, coming on the heels of his Oscar winning comedy, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, proved again what a deft hand he had with romantic comedy. The story of businessman Domenico (Mastroianni) and his on again/off again romance with Filumena (Loren) is one of deception and love, with a surprisingly touching and heartfelt ending. The internationally renowned beauty and charisma of Mastroianni and Loren guaranteed the film would be a hit no matter what language market it played in, and so it was.
The producer of the film, Sophia Loren's husband, Carlo Ponti, had worked with both De Sica and Loren for years and their most notable effort together, Two Women, won Loren an Oscar for Best Actress. It was the first, and for years the only, Oscar ever awarded for a non-English speaking role. Marriage, Italian Style brought Loren her second Oscar nomination, again for a non-English speaking role. With an Oscar and box office success even in foreign markets, Sophia Loren was making movies in both Italian and English with stars ranging from Cary Grant and Charlton Heston to Peter Sellers and Marlon Brando. But with no other costar did she ever have better chemistry than Marcello Mastroiannni.
Marcello Mastroianni came to international attention as the stand-in for Federico Fellini's id in both La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ but it was non-Fellini films that earned him his three Oscar nominations for Best Actor, including his first nomination for a comedy with a curiously similar title to this one, Divorce, Italian Style, and no, the two film plots are not related. Mastroianni did great work with every costar he ever had but his work with Loren was special. In both Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and Marriage, Italian Style, there is a chemistry unlike any other Mastroiannia ever enjoyed on the screen with another actress. His scenes with Loren here, especially during the climax, have a touching warmth to them, even if his character is a little bewildered by what just happened.
Vittoria De Sica would have great success throughout the sixties, something he needed thanks to a gambling habit that kept losing him money. He wasn't embarrassed about it and never felt ashamed. He loved gambling. He just wished he could have won a little more often. Nonetheless, he kept putting out one hit after another and his films weren't just popular with audiences but with critics and award societies as well. No less than four of De Sica's films were honored with Academy Awards and many others, including Marriage, Italian Style, were nominated.
Marriage, Italian Style was adapted from the 1946 play Filumena Marturano , written by by Eduardo De Filippo. De Filippo acted as well and indeed had worked with De Sica before, starring in his 1954 anthology film, The Gold of Naples, which was also produced by Carlo Ponti and also starred Sophia Loren.
De Sica, Loren, and Mastroianni continued to succeed at the box office and with the critics for years to come. They even worked together again, most notably with Sunflower in 1970, but they never achieved the kind of success they did with the two comedies, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and Marriage, Italian Style. Those two remain the one-two punch of the trio that took them all the way to the top. Maybe they never got up there again, but looking back must have felt pretty sweet and movie audiences will always have these classic works to return to again and again.
By Greg Ferrara