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Could it really all be true? The reports of deepening inroads made by Italian pictures in Hollywood's foreign market strongly indicated that it was. On the banks of the Tiber, incredible as a castle in the air but vividly more real, has arisen a new and powerful Hollywood to challenge the old. "It's impossible," said one U.S. moviemaker. "It's as if there were two Orson Welleses. But there it is."
Tempting Gewgaws. In 1948, the Italian moviemakers produced only 54 feature films. Last year they made 145, almost half as many as the major Hollywood studios released, and a third of them were in color. While in the U.S. close to 5,000 movie houses had closed, the total in Italy jumped from 6.500 to 9,778, and the Italian cut of the Italian box-office pie (though Hollywood's thumb still pulls out the biggest plums) swelled from $8,800,000 to $48 million.
In 1952 not one Italian company produced more than four films; in 1953 there were five that turned out between ten and a dozen. By last week the Italians had six pictures "in the can" that cost between $800,000 and $3,000,000 each. Among them are such epics as Ulysses and Attila fancy gewgaws frankly designed to tempt the mass market away from Hollywood's brand of cinematic costume jewelry. Temptation is sweetened by many a big box-office name from the U.S. Among the Hollywood stars who have worked for the Italians: Kirk Douglas, Claudette Colbert, Linda Darnell, Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders, Shelley Winters.
Since 1948 Italy has doubled her income from movie exports, has spread them from 38 to 86 countries, now ranks ahead of Britain and France, and second only to Hollywood, as a provider of the world's film fare. Some Italian pictures have even broken out of confinement in U.S. art houses and ridden the big circuits to impressive grosses (Bitter Rice, with Silvana Mangano, made almost $8,000,000 in the U.S. alone).
Gorgeous Flowers. "This boom," said one onlooker, "is really a series of busts." Gone is the strenuous postwar "neorealism" that struck the screen with such hammer blows for humanity as Roberto Rossellini's Open City and Paisan, Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine and Bicycle Thief, Luigi Zampa's To Live in Peace. Neorealism has died at the box office, and the Italian government has written its epitaph with the charge that it performed "a very bad service to [the] country." In place of facts the Italians are offering figuresthe kind that ripen so exquisitely in the Italian sun. And they are offering a kind of beauty new to the U.S. eyean earth-heavy Italian beauty as rich as roses in an olive dusk.
Movieman Emanuele Cassuto says of his country's film beauties: "They are beautiful because they stay dumb . . . We pick our gorgeous flowers where we find them ... in offices, shops, factories, farms, even by the wayside . . . We keep our film actresses in their places, which means we keep them feminine. They have simple tastes. And they have romantic natures."