Alberto Sordi arguably doesn’t have the name recognition here in the UK, and certainly not to the extent in his native Italy. Despite appearing in over a hundred pictures, and directing another nineteen, it is his handful of arthouse and English-language titles that we know: playing leads for Federico Fellini in The White Sheik and I Vitelloni; appearing opposite David Niven in The Best of Enemies; or being just one of international cast who made up Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Yet Sordi was one of his country’s leading funny men. He was the voice of Oliver Hardy in their dubbed incarnation and the star of choice for many of Italy’s most successful directors of comedy. He worked with Mario Monicelli, Alberto Lattuada, Luigi Comencini, Dino Risi and Luigi Zampa. As a result he also got the chance to appear alongside many of Italy’s most famous leading ladies: Claudia Cardinale, Silvana Mangano, Monica Vitti, Giulietta Masina, Ornella Muti and more besides.
Part of Sordi’s appeal was his everyman persona. His characters were always flawed in some way or other, in possession of human frailties. He would regularly play single men (Lo Scapolo), the unemployed (Il Vigile) and the generally put-upon. This could go to absurd lengths too, as in The Best of Enemies where he played a Fascist leader who also happens to be a pacifist. For Vittorio De Sica’s 1963 comedy Il Boom the template was no different. Here Sordi is struggling with the pressures of living during Italy’s economic miracle: everyone he knows has money, but somehow he is up to his eyeballs in debt. Furthermore, “the whole of Rome knows” about his problems, except for his wife. She’s too busy living a flamboyant lifestyle to notice, though of course realisation is only a few scenes away…
Il Boom came from the pen of Cesare Zavattini, De Sica’s regular collaborator since the early forties. All of the director’s famous works were written by Zavattini: Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Umberto D and so forth onto Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and After the Fox. In other words from the neo-realist films through to the comedies and the melodramas. Their best-known collaborations during the sixties are the Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren vehicles, mostly farces though Two Women was as overwrought as they come, the tale of single mother and her 13-year-old daughter during the Second World War. In such company Il Boom feels rather muted - its comedy is nowhere near as highly pitched as it was when Sellers was onscreen, and its dramatic content never once aims for the tear ducts. Much like Sordi himself, the film instead opts for a more endearing, less outré approach. The tone is chasing the same effect that its lead actor’s kind face and gentle demeanour suggest, thus it ambles along nicely with an easy humour and the occasional bout of slapstick.
Appearances can be deceptive, however. Il Boom is split into two parts and saves its slowly encroaching savagery for the second half. Without revealing any plot developments, Sordi’s put-upon everyman is offered a way out, though it’s far from the one he expected. Once the reality of this proposition begins to make itself known the film reveals a humour sour enough to remind you of De Sica and Zavattini’s neo-realist beginnings. The method and end result may be poles apart - it should go without saying that Il Boom is a very different beast from Bicycle Thieves - but they have a shared sense of social injustice and futility, especially for the common man. The neo-realist works preferred non-professionals in their leads as opposed to much-loved comedians, yet there’s something about Sordi’s vulnerability and his character’s plight that is ultimately rather affecting.
A barebones disc but a superb presentation. Thanks to the lack of extras, Il Boom’s 85-minute running time sits happily on a single-layered disc. The film is presented at a ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced, and with its original mono soundtrack, in Italian with optional English subtitles. The print, presumably from a new restoration, looks superb. Detail is exceptional, damage is at a minimum and there are no untoward issues resulting from its transfer onto disc. The most we have to contend with is the occasional bit of flicker or a split-second of wear on the side of the frame. If Sordi had a bigger reputation in the UK, or if Il Boom was as highly regarded as some of De Sica’s other works, then the quality is such that a Blu-ray would have been justifiable. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to impressed by this standard definition offering - which is also, incidentally, marks the first time the film has received a commercial release over here under any guise.
IL BOOM will screen at this year’s Italian Film Festival in Scotland on the following dates and at the following locations:
April 18th - Glasgow Film Theatre
April 24th - Edinburgh Filmhouse
Bittersweet satire from the director of Bicycle Thieves.