Friday, July 01, 2016

La mano dello straniero / The Stranger's Hand

La mano dello straniero / The Stranger's Hand. Alida Valli as Roberta and Richard Basehart as Joe.

Rapt à Venise / La Main de l'étranger. IT/GB 1954. D: Mario Soldati. Based on: dal racconto omonimo di Graham Greene. SC: Giorgio Bassani, Guy Elmes. Cinematography: Enzo Serafin. ED: Tom Simpson, Leslie Hodgson, Leo Cattozzo. AD: Luigi Scaccianoce. M: Nino Rota. C: Alida Valli (Roberta), Trevor Howard (maggiore Court), Richard Basehart (Joe), Richard O’Sullivan (Roger Court), Eduardo Ciannelli (dottor Vivaldi), Arnoldo Foà (il commissario), Guido Celano (questore), Jacopo Tecchio (Giorgio Luzzi), Guido Costantini (Peskovitch), Nerio Berardi (direttore dell’albergo). P: Peter Moore per Rizzoli Film, Milo Film. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 87’. B&w.
    Versione italiana
    Print from CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Mario Soldati, a Writer at Cinecittà
    E-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2016

Emiliano Morreale (Bologna catalog): "One day, for fun, Graham Greene adopted a pseudonym and took part in a competition for stories written in the style of Graham Greene. He came second. His friend Mario Soldati asked him to produce a film story based on this idea, and thus La mano dello straniero was born. It is a classic story of the loss of childhood innocence set against a backdrop of espionage and intrigue: a sort of cross between The Third Man and Fuga in Francia. A child is searching for his kidnapped father in a noisy and hostile Venice with the help of a beautiful nurse and an ambiguous doctor. The cinematic encounter between Soldati and Greene is a curious one, and the story was perfect. Both men shared a Stevenson-like taste for adventure and a Catholic sense of suspense. Unfortunately, the production suffered from serious financial difficulties, while the Cold War espionage backstory had to be modified for political reasons until it was barely intelligible. However, the characters’ disorientation in the city remains one of the film’s strong points, together with the extraordinary figure of the villain, played by Eduardo Ciannelli. He is the heart of the film: an actor born in Ischia who became one of the great character actors of Thirties and Forties Hollywood (he had worked with Walsh, Hitchcock and Ford, amongst others) and was now promoted to the rank of protagonist. His character of a nihilist who reads The Decline of the West, aided by his worn features, is one of the details which, as is often the case in Soldati, unifies and justifies the whole film." – Emiliano Morreale

AA: Graham Greene had had his finest success in the cinema in Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. The Stranger's Hand, directed by Mario Soldati, has elements of both. It is a Cold War story set in Venice, bringing back Alida Valli and Trevor Howard from The Third Man to another Graham Greene thriller. And it is an "end of childhood" story like The Fallen Idol. While The Stranger's Hand does not have a great reputation, it is an exciting and well-made film, and a treat for us interested in Graham Greene in the cinema.

I was only able to see the first 60 minutes of the film due to an overlap with Youssef Chahine's Adieu Bonaparte at Cinema Arlecchino.

I liked:

– the engrossing, operatic score by Nino Rota
– the wonderful cinematography by Enzo Serafin, who had a special talent in transforming a landscape into a soulscape (see Viaggio in Italia)
– the way Venice has been turned into a protagonist of the story, in a way similar to the use of Vienna in The Third Man. In this case the concept is not to turn Venice menacing (like in Don't Look Now). On the contrary, its friendly, beautiful and touristic ambience is an unpredictable background to the sinister plot.
– the plot belongs to the same tradition as Roman Polanski's Frantic: nobody believes that a disappearance of a person (in this case the little boy Roger's father, played by Trevor Howard) has taken place, and the first problem is to have others recognize it
– there is still an atmosphere of post-war unrest; for instance Roberta (Alida Valli) is a refugee
– Roger has not seen his his father, who is a major, in three years, and at first he does not even recognize him when he lies drugged on a hospital bed with a thick stubble
– this is Roger's lonesome quest at first, but then there is a team of three, a kind of an ad hoc family, consisting of Roberta, Joe (Richard Basehart), and Roger (this is where I had to leave for the next screening)
– the film is well cast to the tiniest parts, and as Emiliano Morreale states above, there is an interesting performance by Eduardo Ciannelli as the dubious doctor. He even meets Roger on sympathetic terms.

The print is watchable, with a duped visual quality.

No comments: