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    Santa Vittoria's Indomitable Spirit

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    In the disrupted cinematic landscape that year, producer-director Stanley Kramer’s picturesque, scrupulously populated screen adaptation of Robert Crichton’s World War II-set novel The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), which opened theatrically 47 years ago tomorrow, was perceived by critics and audiences as old-school and not overly dynamic. After a Boston preview screening, Kramer talked about the film, which depicted a strategically located coastal village’s attempts in a fractured post-Mussolini Italy to hide its prized million-bottle stores of wine from an invading German force, and The Harvard Crimson reviewer Steven W. Sussard wove some of the filmmaker’s comments throughout his lukewarm appraisal here: In his 1997 autobiography A Mad Mad Mad Mad World: A Life in Hollywood, Kramer devoted only a paragraph to the film, the aim of which was “a celebration of principle and resistance as, led by their bibulous and colorful mayor, Anthony Quinn, the townspeople refuse to knuckle under to their oppressors. I wanted the story to represent one town's indomitable spirit” – and ultimately assessed it as a failure. But the beautifully photographed (by Giuseppe Rotunno), colorfully designed (by Robert Clatworthy), exuberantly scored (by Ernest Gold) and intriguingly cast (Anna Magnani, Virna Lisi, Hardy Krüger, Sergio Franchi, Renato Rascel, Giancarlo Giannini, Eduardo Ciannelli) comedy-drama has accrued its fair share of admirers over time, who get what Kramer – a Hollywood lion whose mantle of “message moviemaker” proved both a blessing and a curse throughout his 30+-year career – was driving at: a touch of uplift, a spark of romance and a unifying sense of community in a climate where war-divided factions and institutions are consumed by desperation and self-interest. The tricky summer 1968 location shoot in the town of Anticoli Corrado (standing in for the too-modernized Santa Vittoria) “provided a poignant lesson in cross-cultural goodwill,” according to essayist Eleanor Quin, who writes: “When the production crew received word of Robert Kennedy's assassination, Kramer soon received a letter from the Italian union group working on the film, in which they decided that ‘the best way to honor the memory of a man of action is by action,’ and would be working an extra hour the next day in memory of the fallen politician. A touched Kramer replied the next morning in a town-wide announcement, ‘The decision of the Italian crew…has no parallel in motion-picture history. The American group in Anticoli Corrado is deeply honored to know you and privileged to be your coworkers.’ The good works didn't end there: all 500 villagers that appeared in the film donated a large part of their wages earned to pay for the restoration of Renaissance frescos in the Romanesque church of San Pietro, a national monument in Anticoli Corrado.” So just as such other Kramer projects on the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray label as The Member of the Wedding, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner left behind a resounding, laureled legacy, that also applies when talking the unexpectedly rewarding journey to rediscover The Secret of Santa Vittoria.