The Witches (1967) / Comedy-Drama
aka Le Streghe
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some adult themes and one scene of violence
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Silvana Mangano, Clint Eastwood, Toto, Ninetto Davoli, Annie Girardot, Alberto Sordi, Francisco Rabal, Massimo Girotti
Director: Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, Vittorio de Sica
Screenplay: Fabio Carpi, Agenore Incrocci, Enzo Muzii, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giusseppe Patroni Griffi, Furio Scarpelli, Bernardo Zapponi, Cesare Zavattini
Review published January 27, 2004
The Witches isn't so much a movie as it is a collection of five short films, each done by a different Italian director, and each starring producer Dino De Laurentiis' wife, Silvana Mangano (Dune, Teorema). Like most anthology films, the results are hit-and-miss, with some moments of interest, although quite limited by the lack of depth and cohesion that a full-length feature typically enjoys. Those who enjoy Silvana Mangano will perhaps enjoy this more than most, but if you're looking to see Clint Eastwood (The Good the Bad and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More) in some early work, you'll have to fast forward about 75 minutes to catch him, as he doesn't appear until the final story, "A Night Like Any Other".
It's otiose to try to review the film as a whole, since there isn't any tangible thematic element that ties the five stories together. Even the title is a bit misleading, as it only comes to play in the opening story, and only as the name of a song danced to by Sangano. For purposes of simplicity, the five stories will be broken down and remarked upon.
"The Witch Burnt Alive"
After a very long, but visually arresting animated opening credits sequence, Luchino Visconti (Death in Venice) directs the first story, which is the longest of the five, taking approximately a third of the film's running length. Mangano plays a superstar actress and model who travels to a mountain resort, only to find the well-to-do inhabitants have prejudices and preconceived notions about her based on her public persona. The women are all jealous and the men all want to sleep with her, but all Mangano wants is to be left alone. It's a mostly somber satirical piece, but story-wise, it languishes in its modest idea a bit long, becoming inconsequential to all but those fascinated by the realities of being famous.
Bolognini's piece isn't really a story. It's more of a visual gag, in a short segment that features Mangano offering to take an injured man to a hospital, driving him at breakneck speed throughout the city, but not stopping at locations where he might find aid. I won't give away the punchline here, but it succeeds in being amusing, even if it's the kind of thing that only is interesting the first time through.
"The Earth Seen from the Moon"
The esteemed writer/director, Pier Paolo Pasolini (Salo), crafts the middle segment, which is the most artistic and memorable of the five. Reminiscent in style to "Don Quixote", a recently widowed father and his son travel around the country in search of a new wife and mother, and after a long period, they discover the literally speechless Mangano. She brings joy into their lives, but they are poor, and in order to find a better life for themselves, they concoct a scheme to try to make some quick cash. The story is contrived, and not completely interesting, but the outlandish performances, artwork, and costumes does evoke great charm and likeability. Although mute, it's probably the most appealing of Mangano's five performances, and Toto is terrific.
Franco Rossi directs the fourth an shortest piece, a straight-forward revenge story that comes and goes before it ever has a chance of becoming interesting. It's violent, but easily the least satisfying of the five stories.
"A Night Like Any Other"
Eastwood's appearance is clearly the biggest attraction here, which was filmed in between the Sergio Leone "Dollars" trilogy. It's an enjoyable departure from his normal roles, playing a comedic romantic lead, and he is affably fun to watch. Famed Italian director, Vittorio de Sica (The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D.) does a masterful job with the story, which perfectly blends the mundane and the fantasy in a visually satisfying way. The story is about a bored housewife (Mangano, of course), who tries in vain to get her husband to realize that he is not as romantic as he used to be. The scene is interspersed with comedic romance sequences revolving around the couple's past romantic interludes, and dreams of how their lives should be.
Although an interesting experience in parts, The Witches is only moderately entertaining, only really coming to life in the third and fifth acts. It's not clear why Mangano is deserving of such a showcase for her talents, because she has only a modest appeal, but I suspect her producer husband is the solitary reason behind it. If you're a fan of Mangano and any of the Italian directors, or are an Eastwood completist, it might prove to be a worthwhile venture, but this film will have little appeal to anyone not already looking for something before going in. For fervent collectors and the insatiably curious only.
©2004 Vince Leo