19 December 2001 | ItalianGerry
The two most famous lovers in Italian literature are probably the doomed Paolo and Francesca from Dante's INFERNO. Renzo and Lucia from Alessandro Manzoni's THE BETROTHED (I PROMESSI SPOSI) would have to qualify as the second most famous ones. This 1941 adaptation for the screen, like the novel whose highlights it adheres to, is set in 17th Century Lombardy and deals with the young couple's love, a tyrant's evil, and religious salvation, all set against a turbulent social background of war that makes this a kind of northern Italian GONE WITH THE WIND.
The villain of the piece is Don Rodrigo, lord of the domain, who prevents the marriage of the couple with strong-arm tactics because he himself is infatuated with the girl. The priest Don Abbondio, comes to the assistance of the two as does a godly brother, Cristoforo. The character called l'Innominato or "the unnamed" is sent by Don Rodrigo to abduct the girl and give her once and for all to Don Rodrigo, but in a startling change of heart, he undergoes a religious conversion and does the right thing by liberating her. Brother Cristoforo frees her also from her vow of chastity she had made in the hope of being relinquished from the clutches of the Innominato. But her tribulations are not over. She contracts the plague, winds up in a hospital with other plague victims. But she is rescued and recovers. The two lovers are re-united. All is well.
The original novel, not widely read outside of Italy, is a stylistic achievement of great beauty and faith. Composer Giuseppe Verdi wrote his great Requiem Mass for Manzoni upon the author's death. This film does some justice to the book although the presentation is often a bit stilted and heavy-handed. Nevertheless Gino Cervi makes a fine Renzo and Dina Sassoli as Lucia is lovely to look at. This film was also called THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH and FATHER CHRISTOPHER'S PRAYER. Director Mario Camerini has made many very good films in his long career that began in the silent era.