The Black Orchid


1h 34m 1959

Brief Synopsis

An aging widower fights family disapproval when he falls in love with a gangster's widow.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Mar 1959
Premiere Information
World premiere in Philadelphia, PA: 4 Feb 1959; Chicago opening: 11 Feb 1959; New York opening: 12 Feb 1959; Washington, D.C. opening: 19 Feb 1959
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Los Angeles--St. Paul's Catholic Church, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.96 : 1

Synopsis

After her husband Tony is murdered by gangsters for his role in a bank robbery, Rose Bianco, having emigrated from Italy to marry Tony, recalls their wedding day, when she danced gaily with him and told him about the beautiful house she wanted. Now widowed, Rose takes a job making imitation flowers to support herself. One evening, while wrapping flower stems at home, Rose is interrupted by her nosy neighbor, Giulia Gallo. Giulia invites Rose over to meet Frank Valente, a widowed family friend who has become enamored of Rose and comments that because of her mourning attire, she reminds him of black orchids. Distraught over her son Ralphie, who was caught robbing parking meters and placed in a state work farm, a bitter and withdrawn Rose rejects Giulia's invitation. Frank, whose daughter Mary is preparing to marry and move to Atlantic City, is undeterred and begins speaking to her as she works on her back porch, but Rose ignores him. Later that night, Frank brings her some food from Giulia and asks to accompany her when she goes to visit her son on Sunday. During Rose's visit to the work farm, an official named Harmon warns Rose that if Ralphie attempts to run away again, he will be sent to a reform school. While Frank waits outside, Ralphie makes Rose cry by saying that he hates the work farm and implying that she is responsible for his unhappy situation and his father's death. The following weekend, Frank takes Mary to a surprise wedding shower given by her friend Alma Gallo, after which he meets Rose for ice cream. Frank tells Rose that after Mary's birth, his wife became mentally ill, then later died. Next, he mentions that he would like to buy a little house near his business in Somerville and asks her to marry him. To his great surprise and joy, Rose accepts, but Mary, who is worried about her father marrying a gangster's widow, rushes home and confronts him, whereupon Frank assures Mary that nothing can threaten his love for Rose. At the work farm, Frank takes a walk with Ralphie and asks for his mother's hand in marriage. Ralphie is pleased at the news, and overjoyed upon learning that he will be allowed to live with the couple. Although Mary and her fiancé Noble have plans to live in Atlantic City, Mary insists that they move in with Frank, as she believes that it was his loneliness that drove him to seek out Rose. Exasperated, Noble sends Mary home, where she finds Frank and Rose kissing. In a fit of pique, Mary locks herself in her room for several days, just as her mother had done. Insisting that Frank stay with his daughter, Rose breaks off their engagement. Later, Rose learns that Ralphie has again escaped from the work farm. On Sunday, Frank goes to church to pray for Mary and Ralphie, while Mary decides to stay home to wait for Noble's call. During mass, Ralphie enters the church and is surprised to learn that Frank's problems, not Rose's, have ended their engagement. Meanwhile, Rose visits Mary and, admitting that her greed led to her husband's demise, begs her to allow Frank some happiness. Eventually, Mary relents and invites her to stay for coffee. Soon, they begin cooking breakfast, and when Frank enters the kitchen, he is thrilled to see them getting along. He informs Rose that he returned Ralphie to the state farm and talked Harmon out of sending him to reform school. When Noble enters, the two couples sit down to breakfast. Sometime later, Frank and Rose fetch Ralphie from the work farm, and the three set out for their new home.

Cast

Sophia Loren

Rose Bianco

Anthony Quinn

Frank Valente

Mark Richman

Noble

Virginia Vincent

Alma Gallo

Frank Puglia

Henry Gallo

Jimmy Baird

Ralphie Bianco

Naomi Stevens

Giulia Gallo

Whit Bissell

Mr. Harmon

Jack Washburn

Tony Bianco

Robert Carricart

Priest

Joe Di Reda

Joe

Ina Balin

Mary Valente

Vito Scotti

Paul

Majel Barrett

Luisa

Victor Romito

Bocce player

Nick Borgani

Bocce player

Bruno Della Santina

Bocce player

Henry Darboggia

Bocce player

Felix Romano

Bocce player

Eddie Scarpa

Bocce player

Florine Carlan

Bridesmaid

David Fresco

Hood

Frank Richards

Hood

Steve Conte

Hood

John Indrisano

Hood

Hugh Lawrence

Policeman

Hans Moebus

Undertaker

Grazia Narciso

Aunt Catherine

Lili Valenty

Aunt Agnes

Nina Varela

Aunt Millie

Zolya Talma

Consuelo

Frank Yaconelli

Uncle Angelo

Don Orlando

Cousin Peter

Angela Austin

Blondie

Rosa Barbato

Flower woman

Irene Seidner

Old lady in mourning

Danny Lewis

Man at party

William Sattaneo

Man at party

Martine Gari

Younger daughter

Mary Andre

Aunt Millie's daughter

John Giovanni

Uncle Mike

Helen Thayler

Maid of honor

Saverio Lo Medico

Best man

Frederic Roberto

Man at reception

Jacques Gallo

Usher

Martin Dean

Young nephew

Barbara Aler

Girl at wedding shower

Alix Nagy

Girl at wedding shower

Gaylen Mcclure

Girl at wedding shower

Rosemarie Meyers

Girl at wedding shower

Francesca Bellini

Girl at wedding shower

Courtland Shepard

Guard

Howard Joslin

Prison guard

Murray Parker

Waiter

Stewart East

Bus driver

Hope Monroe

Luisa, age twelve

Randie Stevens

Alma, age eight

Steven Jay

Boy

Kay Colominas

Girl

Ida Smeraldo

Diana Roberti

Oreste Seragnoli

Agnes Marc

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Mar 1959
Premiere Information
World premiere in Philadelphia, PA: 4 Feb 1959; Chicago opening: 11 Feb 1959; New York opening: 12 Feb 1959; Washington, D.C. opening: 19 Feb 1959
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Los Angeles--St. Paul's Catholic Church, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.96 : 1

Articles

The Black Orchid


According to Warren G. Harris in his biography, Sophia Loren, The Black Orchid (1958), "had a curious history. Joseph Stefano, a young entertainer and composer from South Philadelphia, wrote the script just to prove that he could do better than most of the junk he saw on television. Stefano's semi-autobiographical story of an Italian immigrant who is forced to support herself and her young son when her gangster husband is killed, was submitted to various TV producers, but had no luck until it landed at Paramount's New York story department, which noticed similarities to Marty [1955], an Oscar®-winning film that had originated as a teleplay. Paramount wanted to turn The Black Orchid directly into a movie with Anna Magnani, but she had other commitments and it got passed on to [producer Carlo] Ponti for consideration." Ponti saw this as a vehicle for his wife, Sophia Loren.

Because Anthony Quinn was under contract to Paramount, Ponti was forced to hire him for the role of Frank Valente, the widower that becomes romantically involved with Loren's character. By her own admission, Loren acknowledged that she and Quinn did not have great screen chemistry together and had not been successful in the 1954 Italian film Attila the Hun (Loren later said it contained her most unpleasant moment on film – a scene where Quinn kissed her while eating a lamb chop). Ponti had marginally more control in his choice of director. Martin Ritt, also under contract to Paramount, got the job after Ponti screened films by several of Paramount's directors and felt that Ritt's style in films such as Edge of the City (1957) was close to the Italian neo-realists. Ritt could also shoot a film quickly and under budget, another plus in Ponti's eyes.

Ritt proved his resourcefulness by shooting the funeral and wedding scenes on the same day at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Westwood (a suburb of Los Angeles). It was a fast shoot, with production on The Black Orchid starting on February 3rd and ending in late March 1958. Most of the film was shot on the Paramount back lot's New York set, with the juvenile work farm scenes shot at an actual work farm near Los Angeles.

Ritt proved to be the director to subdue Quinn and Loren's tendencies to over-act. As Harris wrote, "Ritt fought to keep them under control to save their scenes together form deteriorating into unintentional comedy. In their only moment of passionate lovemaking, Ritt demanded seven takes before he was satisfied, reducing the sizzle a few degrees each time. "Finally, we were playing the scene so small it didn't seem to us to be like acting anymore," Quinn remembered, "But when we saw it in the rushes, it was as powerful as hell."

The Black Orchid opened in Washington D.C. on February 1, 1959. American reviewers liked the film but hated the script and what they considered racist portrayals of Italian-Americans. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times found fault with Loren's performance, writing in his February 13, 1959 review, "by far the more difficult to accept as a reasonable characterization, on the basis of how she appears, is the widow, played by Sophia Loren. Supposed to be the relict of a slain gangster, she blames herself for his fatal career and is nurturing her heavy guilt complexes with anxiety over a wayward son. This is a plausible person - or would be, if she were cut along the lines of some of the highly emotional women played by Anna Magnani. But put forth by cool and crisp Miss Loren in a stolid and dignified way, she is a psychological aberration and a curious fancy for the likes of Mr. Quinn. With her plainly slant-eyed hauteur and her Simonetta chic, she is not what you'd call a quite convincing representative of the immigrant school."

Ironically, the Venice Film Festival awarded Loren their Best Actress award for The Black Orchid. Her journey to Italy was potentially dangerous. Loren and Ponti had been married in Mexico in September 1957, a time when Ponti's divorce from his first wife had not been recognized by Italian officials and he was considered a bigamist. The charge would have landed them in jail if they'd set foot in Italy. Ponti believed that Loren alone would not be in any danger. As she later remembered, "Should we go or shouldn't we? In the end, we decided it would be too much like slapping our country in the face if we were to turn up there together."

Loren was greeted with a grand reception (arranged and paid for by Paramount), accepted the award graciously, and immediately boarded a plane back to Nice, France, where Ponti was waiting. "Receiving the award meant nothing to me until I could share it with Carlo. He was the one who had created me", she said. The Black Orchid may not have been what Ponti and Loren originally envisioned but their marriage was much more successful. They remained together until Ponti's death at the age of 94 on January 10, 2007.

Producers: Marcello Girosi, Carlo Ponti
Director: Martin Ritt
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Music: Alessandro Cicognini
Film Editing: Howard Smith
Cast: Sophia Loren (Rose Bianco), Anthony Quinn (Frank Valente), Peter Mark Richman (Noble), Virginia Vincent (Alma Gallo), Frank Puglia (Henry Gallo), Jimmy Baird (Ralph Bianco), Naomi Stevens (Guilia Gallo), Whit Bissell (Mr. Harmon), Robert Carricart (Priest)
BW-96m.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Sophia Loren by Warren G. Harris
Sophia Loren, Living and Loving: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner
Screen: 'Black Orchid'; Quinn Is Starred in New Film at Plaza The New York Times, February 13, 1959
The Black Orchid

The Black Orchid

According to Warren G. Harris in his biography, Sophia Loren, The Black Orchid (1958), "had a curious history. Joseph Stefano, a young entertainer and composer from South Philadelphia, wrote the script just to prove that he could do better than most of the junk he saw on television. Stefano's semi-autobiographical story of an Italian immigrant who is forced to support herself and her young son when her gangster husband is killed, was submitted to various TV producers, but had no luck until it landed at Paramount's New York story department, which noticed similarities to Marty [1955], an Oscar®-winning film that had originated as a teleplay. Paramount wanted to turn The Black Orchid directly into a movie with Anna Magnani, but she had other commitments and it got passed on to [producer Carlo] Ponti for consideration." Ponti saw this as a vehicle for his wife, Sophia Loren. Because Anthony Quinn was under contract to Paramount, Ponti was forced to hire him for the role of Frank Valente, the widower that becomes romantically involved with Loren's character. By her own admission, Loren acknowledged that she and Quinn did not have great screen chemistry together and had not been successful in the 1954 Italian film Attila the Hun (Loren later said it contained her most unpleasant moment on film – a scene where Quinn kissed her while eating a lamb chop). Ponti had marginally more control in his choice of director. Martin Ritt, also under contract to Paramount, got the job after Ponti screened films by several of Paramount's directors and felt that Ritt's style in films such as Edge of the City (1957) was close to the Italian neo-realists. Ritt could also shoot a film quickly and under budget, another plus in Ponti's eyes. Ritt proved his resourcefulness by shooting the funeral and wedding scenes on the same day at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Westwood (a suburb of Los Angeles). It was a fast shoot, with production on The Black Orchid starting on February 3rd and ending in late March 1958. Most of the film was shot on the Paramount back lot's New York set, with the juvenile work farm scenes shot at an actual work farm near Los Angeles. Ritt proved to be the director to subdue Quinn and Loren's tendencies to over-act. As Harris wrote, "Ritt fought to keep them under control to save their scenes together form deteriorating into unintentional comedy. In their only moment of passionate lovemaking, Ritt demanded seven takes before he was satisfied, reducing the sizzle a few degrees each time. "Finally, we were playing the scene so small it didn't seem to us to be like acting anymore," Quinn remembered, "But when we saw it in the rushes, it was as powerful as hell." The Black Orchid opened in Washington D.C. on February 1, 1959. American reviewers liked the film but hated the script and what they considered racist portrayals of Italian-Americans. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times found fault with Loren's performance, writing in his February 13, 1959 review, "by far the more difficult to accept as a reasonable characterization, on the basis of how she appears, is the widow, played by Sophia Loren. Supposed to be the relict of a slain gangster, she blames herself for his fatal career and is nurturing her heavy guilt complexes with anxiety over a wayward son. This is a plausible person - or would be, if she were cut along the lines of some of the highly emotional women played by Anna Magnani. But put forth by cool and crisp Miss Loren in a stolid and dignified way, she is a psychological aberration and a curious fancy for the likes of Mr. Quinn. With her plainly slant-eyed hauteur and her Simonetta chic, she is not what you'd call a quite convincing representative of the immigrant school." Ironically, the Venice Film Festival awarded Loren their Best Actress award for The Black Orchid. Her journey to Italy was potentially dangerous. Loren and Ponti had been married in Mexico in September 1957, a time when Ponti's divorce from his first wife had not been recognized by Italian officials and he was considered a bigamist. The charge would have landed them in jail if they'd set foot in Italy. Ponti believed that Loren alone would not be in any danger. As she later remembered, "Should we go or shouldn't we? In the end, we decided it would be too much like slapping our country in the face if we were to turn up there together." Loren was greeted with a grand reception (arranged and paid for by Paramount), accepted the award graciously, and immediately boarded a plane back to Nice, France, where Ponti was waiting. "Receiving the award meant nothing to me until I could share it with Carlo. He was the one who had created me", she said. The Black Orchid may not have been what Ponti and Loren originally envisioned but their marriage was much more successful. They remained together until Ponti's death at the age of 94 on January 10, 2007. Producers: Marcello Girosi, Carlo Ponti Director: Martin Ritt Screenplay: Joseph Stefano Cinematography: Robert Burks Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira Music: Alessandro Cicognini Film Editing: Howard Smith Cast: Sophia Loren (Rose Bianco), Anthony Quinn (Frank Valente), Peter Mark Richman (Noble), Virginia Vincent (Alma Gallo), Frank Puglia (Henry Gallo), Jimmy Baird (Ralph Bianco), Naomi Stevens (Guilia Gallo), Whit Bissell (Mr. Harmon), Robert Carricart (Priest) BW-96m. by Lorraine LoBianco SOURCES: Sophia Loren by Warren G. Harris Sophia Loren, Living and Loving: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner Screen: 'Black Orchid'; Quinn Is Starred in New Film at Plaza The New York Times, February 13, 1959

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to contemporary news items, Joseph Stefano's screenplay was based on his own unproduced television script. Hollywood Reporter news items include Jane Rose, Dorothy Abbott, Rosa Rey and Virginia Vincent in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, director Martin Ritt hoped to enhance the film's realism by asking costume designer Edith Head to design only Sophia Loren's costumes, while the rest of the cast wore their own clothing. Because of limited shooting time in St. Paul's Catholic Church in Westwood, CA, modern sources add, Loren performed a wedding scene and a funeral scene on the same day.
       Most reviews praised the film, calling it similar to the 1955 picture Marty (see below). The Time reviewer, however, blasted the script: "The Hollywood sociologists have also investigated a specific minority group, the Italian-Americans, and have reached some unshakable conclusions: 1) many of them speak broken English, 2) most of them eat spaghetti, 3) some of them grow up to be gangsters."
       Broadway actor Jack Washburn made his only film appearance in The Black Orchid, playing the role of "Tony Bianco." The picture marked the screen debut of actress Ina Balin (1937-1990). The Black Orchid also marked producer Carlo Ponti's first Hollywood picture and the first of many American films he and Sophia Loren, his wife, made together. Loren won the Best Actress award for The Black Orchid at the Venice Film Festival. At the time of the festival, Hollywood Reporter news items reported that because Ponti's divorce from his first wife was not recognized by the Italian government, his September 1957 marriage to Loren was considered bigamous. When Loren came to Venice to attend the festival in September 1958, "all her available cash" was seized and she was ordered out of the country, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video July 29, 1992

Winner of the Best Actress Prize (Loren) at the 1958 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States on Video July 29, 1992

Released in United States Winter January 1959

VistaVision

Released in United States Winter January 1959