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  • There've been many cinematic versions of the famous medieval tale; most notable were the ones directed by two "Euro Cult" masters, this by Freda and Lucio Fulci's 1969 film. Besides, Bertrand Tavernier's LA PASSION BEATRICE (1987) was inspired by Freda's take - Tavernier being an admirer and personal friend of the Italian film-maker.

    The title role is played by Mireille Granelli, whose film career didn't prove very prolific - though she does well enough here. The plot involves a girl's mistreatment at the hands of her tyrannical father - feared and hated by all and, again, played by Gino Cervi (from THE IRON CROWN [1941]); eventually accused and tortured as an accomplice in his murder, she ends up beheaded for refusing to divulge the whereabouts of her lover (Fausto Tozzi). Besides, the father is incestuously drawn to his daughter, and there's a similar relationship going on between his weakling son (latter-day "Euro-Cult" star Anthony Steffen) and his stepmother (Micheline Presle)!

    It's not quite as sordid as it sounds - at least not in Freda's film, which I would call the "Hollywood" version of the tale: a lavish melodrama which is almost operatic in treatment and presentation (Franco Mannino's full-blooded score, the elaborate sets and the vivid color scheme certainly attest to this), it's basically the Italian equivalent of the contemporaneous work of Douglas Sirk! The film also makes full and careful use of the widescreen frame: characters are often positioned on the sides and separated by an object - usually a window - to give the whole a sense of depth. Unfortunately, the ratio in the version I watched has been somewhat compromised because the right side of the frame is evidently cropped during several scenes; I also experienced a continuous and distracting echo on the soundtrack, not to mention slight picture loss during the crucial final scene (the ironic aftermath of innocent Beatrice's tragic execution)...

    I've watched all three films - 1956, 1969 and 1987 - in pretty close proximity and they're all excellent, but also quite different stylistically: Fulci's, unsurprisingly, is the most visceral (with considerable attention devoted to the torture scenes - which here are also aimed at the lover, played by Tomas Milian) but giving vent, too, to the director's much-publicized anti-clericalism; Tavernier's - concentrating on the psychology of the characters amid a painstaking if distinctly cheerless recreation of the Middle Ages - is, then, clearly the most realistic i.e. least stylized one.

    P.S. Incidentally, I had intended to precede the film with a viewing of an earlier historical effort by Freda - IL CONTE UGOLINO (1949) - recorded off late-night Italian TV; however, during the first couple of minutes, the battered print involved featured so many missing frames - and, consequently, lines of dialogue - that it was impossible to follow...and maddening to experience, to say the least! An impromptu research on the Internet suggested that this unfortunate deficiency was a constant throughout the entire broadcast - so I thought it best to let go for the time being, even if I'll keep the recording and maybe summon enough courage to give it another try somewhere down the line...
  • This is one of the better films of Riccardo Freda's middle period, and yet is one of those lost epics which have yet to be unearthed and re-released. Lucio Fulci shot a more modern version of the Cenci legend in 1970, and Guido Brignone directed the 1941 version. What stands out most in Freda's tale, is the visual arrangement. The sets are very well decorated with a artistic sense, and even minor details show a careful concern for visual effect. Everything is pleasing to the eye. The film is slightly hampered by melodrama, but the whole is executed with grace. Admittedly, I enjoy Freda's historical films much more than his horror and exploitation, and probably am looking at the films from his own standards, as his later films he viewed more as a paycheck than anything else. This film is up to par with "Teodora" and "I Vampiri," and is one of the notable instances in which Freda builds a very nice story with a minimum of "action" and a maximum of drama and technical skill.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I was going for Fulci's version by the same title, but somehow got this in front of me, and it wasn't hard to watch at all. The story has rather dark and intriguing sides to it (though the love between Beatrice and Olimpio takes all in stride), Mireille Granelli is beautiful to watch and the settings (inside / outside) and such details were a joy to behold. The soundtrack is quite good as well, but too prominent to my taste.

    The biggest problem is how quickly the whole story was told. Just 85 minutes for these kinds of relations and developments felt way too short. A lot of the rather static acting gave it more like a stage play feel to it, but I guess that goes hand in hand with this kind of film - an almost 60 years old, exuberant costume drama.

    7 out of 10 seems fair.
  • Leofwine_draca21 December 2020
    Warning: Spoilers
    Before he became indelibly associated with the horror genre, director Riccardo Freda worked hardy in numerous genres, one of them the historical costume film. BEATRICE CENCI is the first screen retelling of the famous medieval story of the Italian woman harassed by her own father, a sinister count, and eventually driven to drastic action. It's a good story, one that's led to numerous adaptations over the years, but this film is nothing special. It looks okay but it has little life or 'oomph' to recommend it; the actors do their bit and the costumes look good, but that's about it. Lucio Fulci would attempt a more full-blooded version of the story at the end of the 1960s.
  • It's too easy and common to charge a dramatic event of reality with speculations and conjectures without end, looming over the real event like a mammoth over some butterflies, which was the true fate of this family tragedy, grossly embroidered by legend to irrecognizability. We shall never know the whole truth of what actully happened, but it is easy to look through and define all the artificial constructions. The lover here is a castellan called Olimpio, who to my knowledge had no part in the tale. The real lover was a priest Orsino, who was in love with her before becoming a priest but who never could forget or suppress his love - later he had to submit to the pope for the sake of his position, like in so many cases, sacrificing and denying the truth for the sake of the career. The film is beautiful though and well made, nicely accompanied by dramatic music by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky (the 6th pathetic symphony used with great dramatic impact), among others. It's a sumptuos costume film, and there is even a delightful ballet scene and some other show scenes, although the general character is very formal and conventional, with wonderful genuine scenery and costumes of 1598. The film in its conventional outlook carefully hides and avoids any hint at what actually might have taken place, the unmistakable signs all pointing at a case of an incest intrigue and the fact that the entire family hated Francesco Cenci and had good reasons for it. After the execution of Beatrice she inmmediately appeared as a martyr for a miscarriage of justice to hide the unpleasant facts of Count Cenci's dubious affairs with the pope. The entire mystery has never been solved, but Beatrice's martyrdom can never be taken away or obliterated from eternity and will always remain a subject of new speculations and conjectures.