Raffaello Matarazzo’s Runaway Melodramas

            Raffeallo Matarazzo may not be a name as widely known as his fellow Italian filmmakers of the same time period. He didn’t make films that critics praised the way they did the popular Italian neorealist films of the 40s and 50s. Matarazzo utilized some of the style of neorealist films, while also using a narrative filled with melodrama that made it more commercially viable while critically panned. These films show the blending of both worlds, however, and now they can be celebrated as engaging drama paired with realistic settings and design.

            All of the four films from Matarazzo’s melodrama period in the late 40s and early 50s star matinee idol Amedeo Nazzari and the pure vixen Yvonne Sanson, nearly always as an ill-fated pair of lovers. In the breakout melodrama by Matarazzo, Chains (1949), there is even a little bit of film noir in the storyline. Sansen stars as the wife of an honest mechanic (Nazzari), but her past catches up to her when a former lover appears. He is a criminal and initially just uses the mechanic to stow a stolen car, but soon he is back to claim his former flame.

            The second of the films is Tormento (1950), a film which purposefully brought together all of the key elements from Chains in order to achieve another box-office success. Released only four months after Chains, it was also a huge success. The film brings more hardship to young lovers played by Sansen and Nazzari. Anna (Sansen) is tyrannized by her step-mother, and thinks she finds freedom in the arms of her lover (Nazzari), until he is falsely accuse of murder and imprisoned. In a theme that would become predominant in all the melodramas of Matarazzo, Anna’s child is finally taken away from her by the evil step-mother.

            The last two films involve the same characters, for the most part. The first half of the story is Nobody’s Children (1952), which follows the novel by Ruggero Rindi about the son of a quarry owner and his forbidden love with a the daughter of one of the workers. Sansen and Nazzari return again as these lovers, though they spend much of the film torn apart by the evil forces and manipulative powers, and this time there is no promise of a happy ending of sorts, at least not the way the previous films had. The White Angel (1955) offers something more uplifting in terms of an ending, though there is a lot of pain before reaching that point. Guido (Nazzari) returns from the first film, devastated by the loss of Luisa (Sansen). He becomes obsessed with an unsophisticated woman that resembles Luisa (also played by Sansen), who brings in more film noir style trouble, and more children in despair.

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