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December 17, 2014

Movie Review: The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

Directed by Stanley Kramer

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

The year is 1943 and fascist dictator Benito Mussolini has met his bullet-ridden fate. The Italian mountain town of Santa Vittoria has largely escaped the ravages of World War II. Bombolini (Anthony Quinn), the town drunk begins to erase his pro-Mussolini graffiti off the town water tower and has to be coaxed down. The town's fascist sympathizers, fearing bloody reprisals from the villagers, hastily make Bombolini the town's mayor, much to the chagrin of his overbearing fish wife Rosa (who else but Anna Magnani). The still drunken Bombolini surprisingly institutes much positive change in the town. Word reaches his ears that a Nazi contingent, led by Captain von Prum (Hardy Kruger) will arrive shortly, to confiscate the town's only asset, millions of bottles of wine. Bombolini convinces the villagers to transfer the countless bottles of wine to a nearby mountain stronghold by hand (lots of spectacular footage here). When the Nazis arrive, will the village give a united front that there is no more wine left in town …?

The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a most welcome surprise. Directed by Stanley Kramer, it's possibly the sunniest and most carefree movie ever involving Italy in the throes of World War II. (The definitive filmed retelling on the effects of fascist Italy on small town life remains Federico Fellini's Amacord (1975), but that's neither here nor there –) The emphasis on this film, in spite of its many scenes of spectacle in wide-screen photography, is Quinn's struggle to redeem himself. The elements driving the conflict at large are still there. The villainous fascists remain present, still trying to hold their influence on the townspeople. But as it has been noted elsewhere, the character of Captain von Krum is the nicest Nazi this side of TV's “Hogan's Heroes.” As played by Kruger, it appears that this soldier is very much aware that the Axis is rapidly disintegrating, and is chiefly there to quaff some regional spirits and chase some Italian skirt about. T must be noted that some of the fascists meet their comeuppance in an ironic way, but this is all kept off-screen.

The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a surefire audience pleaser with laughs, romance and thrilling scenes of mass spectacle. The sight of the hundreds of villagers passing bottles of wine hand-to-hand in long lines into the mountains is fascinating to watch. If any such scenes would be attempted today, it would probably be lazily slopped together with some computer-generated imagery.

The limited edition Twilight Time Blu-Ray release of this title – 3,000 copies, no more, includes the film's theatrical trailer, an isolated music score and of course those breezy and captivating liner notes from Julie Kirgo. The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a most welcome addition to anyone's rapidly endangered collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays.

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