It Started In Naples

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IT STARTED IN NAPLES was filmed on location in glorious Capri, the Italian seaside jewel showcased in color, circa 1960, with Clark Gable and Sophia Loren. So, watching and enjoying is pretty much a cinch. Directed & co-written by Melville Shavelson, it’s a breezy culture-clash comedy that deals its winning hands mainly through the bright, festive and feisty Neapolitan ambiance and atmosphere captured by Robert Surtees camera-work and via a winning performance from the lively, lovely Loren.

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In Italy to settle the estate of his late brother, rather uptight American lawyer Gable finds his black sheep sibling left an 8-year old son, being raised by aunt Sophia, a practical, unapologetically earthy nightclub performer. That’s enough to tell you where things will go: the fun is in getting there. Poking at puritanical, cash-value Yankee attitudes juxtaposed with carefree but limited Mediterranean morays, it takes 100 minutes to unwrap the differences and seal it with smiles.

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No doubt some humorless, sexually salted slugs will take umbrage at the age scale between Clark (58) and Sophia (24), but that snipe isn’t something most of the civilized world gives a damn about: don’t look to this corner for scold. Gable’s okay, albeit definitely showing his years (the 1960 Camels & Scotch version of fifty-eight): he noticeably brightened  arriving on location to meet his ravishing co-star, declaring “Jesus, is that all mine for the duration?” *

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Along with Loren’s instinctive playing and obvious wiles, child actor Marietto (twelve but looking eight) is luckily also a charmer, played without the cloying goop you might have expected from the era. Vittorio De Sica rounds out the quartet.  It looks like they all had fun with this. The postcard views of Naples, Capri, the sea and The Blue Grotto are wander-famished sigh-lights.

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The stateside gross came to $6,300,000, with more lucre tumbling from abroad. It came in 45th place for the year. An Oscar nominee for Art Direction, it also features Paolo Carlini, Giovanni Filidoro and Claudio Ermelli. Helping Shavelson with the script were Jack Rose and Suso Cecchi D’Amico (Rocco And His Brothers, Bicycle Thieves, The Leopard ).

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* It was Gable’s last film released while he was alive: he died three months after it came out, exhausted from wrestling with the unending neuroses of a homegrown gal (go figure) on The Misfits. Loren made four more pictures that year. Two were less successful comedies The Millionairess and A Breath Of Scandal, another was the much-underrated western romp Heller In Pink Tights. The last was Two Women, released in ’61 in the States, bringing her an Oscar for Best Actress, raising the war-starved waif from the alleys of Napoli to the top tier of Fantasyland. The unaffected young Marietto, born Carlo Angeletti, made a few more films and eventually went for steadier work: he became a physician.

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