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Ferrua, Pietro
Some Curiosities. II. Winterset
A film by Alfred SANTELL
Article published on 31 August 2003
last modification on 26 April 2015
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USA, 1936

B & W, 80 minutes.

RKO

SCREENPLAY: Anthony VEILLER based on the homonymous play by Maxwell Anderson.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Peverell MARLEY;

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Van Nest POLGLASS;

PRODUCTION: Pandro BERMAN;

EDITING: William HAMILTON;

CAST: Burgess MEREDITH; MARGO; Eduardo CIANNELLI; Maurice MOSCOVITCH; Paul GUILFOYLE; Edward ELLIS; Stanley RIDGES; Mischa AUER; Willard ROBERTSON; Alec CRAIG; John CARRADINE; Myron McCORMICK; Helen JEROME EDDY; Barbara PEPPER; Fernanda ELISCU; George HUMBERT; Murray HALPER.

Maxwell Anderson

In 1935 Maxwell Anderson had a play by the same title produced in New York. It was a theatrical success and its text was printed and reprinted several times. In 1939 John Gasser chose it for his anthology of the "20 best Plays of modern American Theater". RKO Pictures made immediately a film with the same actors, which became an instant success with plenty of Oscar nominations. When the play was translated into Italian by Vinicio Marinucci and Santell’ s film was released in Italy under the title SOTTO I PONTI DI NEW YORK (retranslated into English it would be "Under the Bridges of New York") it was assumed that the authors believed in Sacco and Vanzetti’s innocence.

In the film, however, Sacco has disappeared and only Bartolomeo (Romagna=Vanzetti?), played by John Carradine, is kept. Is it to suggest that, like some thought, then, Sacco could have been guilty and only Vanzetti innocent? Or is it done so that no one would establish a connection, recognize similarities, etc...? In this film, Bartolomeo’s son (played by Burgess Meredith), is after the truth and embarks on a complex adventure which will lead him to locate at the same time judge Gaunt (Edward Ellis) who has condemned his father, Garth Esdras ( played by Paul Guilfoyle) the only one who could have saved his father’s life, and the real culprit, Trock Estrella (Eduardo Ciannelli on the screen). Is justice done? The film ends without telling us, but letting us imagine that good and love (between Mio Romagna and Miriamne Esdras (played by Margo) will triumph.

The film, no matter which merits it had in 1936, does not satisfy our modern taste: acting is too melodramatic (evoking German expressionist films of the preceding years), the tone is hybrid (a drama with comedic aspects), the identification with the Sacco and Vanzetti case runs on a very thin line. We don’t see the titles of the subversive newspapers, and the speech of the Hobo (amusingly played by Mischa Auer) is interrupted. We would have to accept too many conventions and make too many assumptions in order to justify it as dealing with the topic we want to deal with.

Pietro Ferrua


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