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Soap Operatics: 'Light in the Piazza'

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Friday, Nov 11, 2011
This beautifully ironic study of politely sinister moral culpability touches on many topics.
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Light in the Piazza

Director: Guy Green
Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton

(USDVD release date: )

Light in the Piazza is a glamorous and ambiguous widescreen soap opera, shot in Rome and Florence, that will remind many viewers of the gorgeous full-throttle ironies of Douglas Sirk. Based on the story by Elizabeth Spencer, it tells of an American woman (Olivia de Havilland) whose adult daughter (Yvette Mimieux) is what would now be called developmentally disabled. She’s diagnosed as having “the mind of a 12 year old.” When the daughter falls in love with an Italian count (a very creepy George Hamilton, relentless and childlike himself), mom wonders if she should conceal the truth from the young man and his father (Rossano Brazzi).

This beautifully ironic study of politely sinister moral culpability touches on many topics, including the value of the bride’s sexual and personal desires, how marriage is a bargain of mutual exploitation and deception between various parties, and the idea that old-school Italian royalty might actually prefer a simple-minded wife as the ideal. A wonderfully sinister ending is right out of Henry James or E.M. Forster, with a mysterious off-screen death while Olivia assures herself “I did the right thing! I know I did!”

You’d think this would have been released on DVD to coincide with the 2005 Broadway musical version that won multiple Tonys, but no, we’ve had to wait for this made-on-demand disc from Warner Archive. Scripted by Julius J. Epstein and scored by Mario Nascimbene, this lush, sly soaper is an undervalued gem of the early Sixties.


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