Bitter Rice

This film has some issues, but I love it. It’s probably the most Hollywood of all Italian neorealism. I mean just look at the cast.

Tall, Dark, and Handsome Vittorio Gassman

Doris Dowling From Detroit: The Working Woman’s Hero

Raf Vallone: The Italian Burt Lancaster

Silvana Mangano: The Beginning Of Italian Female Stars

The film begins with Gassman and Dowling running away after stealing a necklace. Gassman goes underground and Dowling hides amongst female rice workers on their way to plant the harvest. Soon Dowling meets Mangano and they hit it off. Mangano likes to pretend to be American, not only in the way she dresses, but also by dancing to her own phonograph.

Dowling doesn’t have a contract to pick rice so she fights side by side with her compatriots for the right to work the fields. This leads to one of the most memorable scenes in the film when the “blacklegs”, as they are called, try to outwork the ones with contracts. They aren’t allowed to talk, but they can sing what they want to say at each other. It ends up in a cat fight between the pickers.

The plot involves Mangano and Vallone swapping partners with Gassman and Dowling until they all end in tragedy. Vallone is a soldier who is a decent guy waiting to be let out of the military. Dowling turns out to be a good girl who heads down the right path with the workers. Mangano is the innocent victim who is manipulated by the smooth Gassman. Gassman is the scum.

Director Giuseppe De Santis can be rather heavy-handed and at times and some scenes almost feel biblical in their high melodrama. Other times you get sequences like the first one in which we move from a close-up of a man talking to the camera about rice workers to a full shot where he is actually talking into a microphone to a pan to reveal the arriving rice worker masses until we rest upon Gassman and Dowling in film noir cool. At the heart of the film are the women who work the rice fields.

I highly recommend it.

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