When the remarkably lovely teenage model Ornella Muti sought to make her movie acting debut, the 14-year-old Italian phenomenon started with a bang: an erotically-tinged, action-infused story inspired by a true 1965 incident that dragged a long-embedded, morally repellent custom into the law courts. In southern Italy, it was a not uncommon practice for mafia-connected hoods to kidnap and sexually assault the girls they intended to marry, anticipating the victim would acquiesce to the union to avoid public shaming. Based on the story of Franca Viola, La Moglie Più Bella/The Most Beautiful Wife (1970) is writer-director Damiano Damiani’s gripping film about 15-year-old Francesca (Muti), who becomes the reluctant object of attention from local heir-apparent kingpin Vito (Alessio Orano), an intensely macho sociopath. There are some sparks between them, but when the murderous brutality of mob life soon becomes apparent to Francesca, she bitterly and resolutely defies him. In retribution, he kidnaps and rapes her but she still won’t submit to marriage, and indeed follows up by doing the unthinkable: she brings him up on charges before local authorities, quickly earning the wrath and scorn of double-dealing bureaucrats and her own mob-fearing family and neighbors. For a first film it’s rather dark territory but the self-possessed and spirited Muti tenaciously rises to the challenge as a young woman who won’t be silenced or ignored. Damiani, whose eclectic resumé includes tony dramas (The Empty Canvas, The Devil Is a Woman), Westerns (A Bullet for the General), giallo thrillers (A Complicated Girl) and horror tales (Amityville II: The Possession), excelled at crime procedurals revolving around personal and institutional corruption in and this mid-career title had a sizable impact on its home country with regard to women’s rights. Samuel Wilson’s analytical Mondo 70 essay lays out the film’s cinematic and cultural significance here: http://mondo70.blogspot.com/2012/05/most-beautiful-wife-la-moglie-piu-bella.html. Of significance to the Twilight Time faithful is another crucial component of this film’s impact: a twangy, twisty Ennio Morricone score that will be showcased on an Isolated Track on its upcoming TT hi-def Blu-ray. It all proved to be an amazing launch to Muti’s international stardom – and her first of two marriages. She would wed her menacing leading man Orano five years later. La Moglie Più Bella/The Most Beautiful Wife arrives August 16. Preorders open July 27.
Twenty-five years ago today, a gangster film of angry grit and soiled poetry opened to generally positive reviews that praised a top-notch cast (Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Robin Wright and especially firecracker-hot Gary Oldman), lauded an amazing capture of the Hell Kitchen’s milieu (i.e., Irish Westies Gang turf), and saluted the efforts of screenwriter Dennis McIntyre (who died seven months [...]