Saturday, August 10, 2013

In short: Il Ponte Dei Sospiri (1964)

aka The Avenger of Venice

Venice at the end of the 15th century. Doge Candiano (Jean Murat) has begun a highly democratically minded series of reforms that makes him immensely popular with the lower classes. The patricians and nobility on the other hand are less than pleased with the doge's ideas. The doge's popularity makes it rather difficult to do anything against him, though.

Grand inquisitor Bembo (José Marco Davó) and captain (of the guard, one supposes) Altieri (Conrado San Martín) develop a fiendish plan to falsely convict the doge's beloved - and also very popular - war hero and do-gooder son Rolando (Brett Halsey) of a murder, overthrow the doge for treason, and win the hand of Rolando's fiancée Leonora (Vira Silenti) for Altieri. The Candianos are a bit too honest and straightforward to expect this kind of conspiracy, so soon, the elder Candiano finds himself disgraced, blinded and in exile, while Rolando rots away in prison for life.

However, while Rolando may not be the kind of guy who expects treason around every corner, he is rather tenacious and manages to escape from his ill-deserved prison. Together with robber, all-around strongman and serial accidental killer Scalabrino (Burt Nelson), he's not just planning revenge but a disclosure of the conspiracy to clear his family name. Things become rather more complicated for Rolando because Scalabrino tends to accidentally kill the people our hero would really rather capture alive, which happens so often it becomes more than a little ridiculous.

Despite this rather stupid convenience to prolong the movie's plot, directors Carlo Campogalliani and Piero Pierotti deliver an entertaining bit of cinema. Genre-wise, this is for large parts of its running time more of a hysterical-historical melodrama with most of the swashbuckling bits you'd expect from the plot pushed into the last half hour. When the swashes begin to buckle, they do so quite well done, though.

For some, all these scenes of people wringing their hands and villains being outrageously evil will probably be a bit much, but the melodrama is presented with verve by an acting ensemble in a very good mood (well, except for Halsey, who is a bit bland, but that's what his role calls for, really).

Our bad guys' particular enthusiastic evilness is just very entertaining to watch, and their traditional and well-deserved comeuppance is presented in very satisfying ways, with Scalabrino probably less meant as plot contrivance than as the unwitting hand of fate; too bad the film never actually does much to convince its audience of this.

Il Ponte Dei Sospiri is also one of the Italian historical adventure movies that could afford quite a few beautiful sets, as well as scenes that make clever use of actual contemporary Venice, so there's more of the mood of Renaissance Venice as an actual time and place, and less of people playacting in leftover costumes than is typical in movies like this.

Unless one is constitutionally unable to enjoy the melodramatics, Il Ponte Dei Sospiri is a very satisfying movie, probably already pretty old-fashioned when it was made, yet entertaining nonetheless.

No comments: