11 December 2005 | robin-moss2
Ignore the critics and intellectual snobs, and enjoy a good drama
When "Desire Under the Elms" came out at the end of the 1950s, it was dismissed by critics who were more interested in parading their education and artistic credentials than in assessing the movie sensibly. In particular, they commented on how far the film fell short of the original stage play. Nearly fifty years later, a more balanced perspective is possible.
Regardless of how it compares with the theatrical original, "Desire Under The Elms" works successfully as a dramatic movie. There is real tension as the drama unfolds, and the audience feels a sense of horror when it realises what Anna (Sophia Loren) is going to do to prove her love. The resolution is genuinely tragic, and this is reinforced by the fact that the two lovers were unlikable people until love entered their lives and gave them humanity and consideration for others.
The acting is quite good all round, and presumably much of the credit goes to the director Delbert Mann. (Some of his other films during this period were also well-acted: "The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs"/"The Bachelor Party"). Sophia Loren is a real surprise. I have never worshipped at her throne, but she is excellent in this movie, playing a greedy, calculating woman who marries a much older man merely to have a comfortable home. At the beginning, her venality and disregard for other people make her highly unpleasant, and she is not particularly attractive physically either. As love gradually dominates her, she becomes physically very attractive - her fans, no doubt, will say she becomes beautiful - until the circumstances she has helped create imprison her. Then once again, her physical allure subsides and she becomes gaunt and drawn. Obviously this play with Sophia Loren's looks was a joint effort, and presumably the camera department, costume department and make-up department all deserve credit.
Daniel L. Fapp's Vista-Vision cinematography is crystal clear and a major asset. The film's only big failing is the blatant artificiality of the back drops. "Desire Under The Elms" was obviously made in a studio.