The Italian (1915) Poster


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Immigrant misery.
ItalianGerry1 August 2001
This short American silent feature is a knockout. Made in 1915, it was lost for several decades. It is the story of an Italian immigrant and his wife who see in the United States a land of opportunity and happiness. Everything, instead, works against them. The film makes a very strong impression and has credible performances. The location shooting in the ghettos of the time give it a distinctly neo-realist feeling. It is said that Francis Ford Coppola watched it closely before shooting the Little Italy sequences of "The Godfather, Part II"
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A Masterpiece in Portraying Social Injustice
briantaves15 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Probably Thomas Ince's masterpiece of these years was the six reel The Italian, released by Paramount at the beginning of 1915. It was hardly alone in protesting social conditions, as I outline in my Ince biography. Not only was the story an arresting one, but Reginald Barker's direction was the most advanced of the films made at the studio at the time. His belief that characterization on the screen grew out of the actor's rehearsals and complete embodiment of the role down to the smallest detail had found a perfect vehicle. The camera-work and angles are far more varied than usual, with a number of subjective shots, as well as shadows that heighten the sense of the protagonist's entrapment in events beyond his control.

Originally titled The Dago, The Italian was conceived as a vehicle for George Beban, a noted specialist in such portrayals, and the story was the result of a collaboration with the star, Barker, scenarist C. Gardner Sullivan, and producer Ince. The film opens with a reader picking up a volume of the same title, by T.H. Ince and C.G. Sullivan, providing a reflexive framing device commenting on authorship. The camera tracks in closer as he reclines on a divan and begins the book. Beppo Donetti (Beban), a gondolier, and Annette Ancello (Williams) are in love, but the aged but rich merchant Gallia is also a suitor. Annette's father Trudo (Burke) disdains the young man, forcing him to go away for a year to make his fortune before marrying Annette.

Immigrating to the United States, he sets up a boot black stand and becomes a friend of Big Bill Corrigan, the slum boss. Beppo sends for Annette, and Alderman Casey, part of the political machine, performs the wedding. However, when a heat wave strikes the city, and Beppo and Annette's child Tony needs pasteurized milk, Corrigan refuses to help. Later, learning that Corrigan's own child is near death, Beppo plans to kill her for revenge, but finds she reminds him of his own lost child.

The movie closes with Beppo in the graveyard by Tony's grave, "At the eternal bedside of his baby, where hate, revenge and bitterness melt to nothing in the crucible of sorrow." The close returns to the reader from the beginning, shaking his head in sadness, as a curtain closes. The themes are handled with subtlety, concentrating on the story of the characters and the personal tragedy that poverty creates, in a manner relevant to any ethnicity, while touching incidentally on the larger themes of class difference, immigration, and political bosses.
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Compelling early Ince feature
overseer-327 June 2004
Thomas Ince always had a knack for bringing simple homespun stories to life with fullness and flair. "The Italian" is such a film. Solid acting, particularly by George Beban, father of silent child actor George Beban, Jr., and wonderful sets convey a realistic feeling of early immigrant tenements in New York. These give this 1915 film an authenticity which is unusual in features of this vintage.

The film begins with the modern day and a man (George Beban in modern clothes) reading a story about an Italian immigrant, and then we transition into the story with George playing the immigrant. He raises enough money to bring his fiancée from Italy to America, marries her, and has a son with her. But times are hard and the family struggles to survive. I found myself wondering why the mother didn't breastfeed her child, and avoid the complications with the dirty formula, but oh well, even the early Dream Factory was pushing political correct behaviour for women in 1915!

The best scene in the picture is when Beban has a chance to seek revenge on a crime boss who inadvertently put him in jail, and at the last minute he decides against his planned course of action. Very neat. I loved the curtain effect, it was great. Wonderful use of lighting in this film.

I give "The Italian" an 8 out of 10.
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Deeply moving early feature film.
David-2407 July 2001
THE ITALIAN is an astonishingly accomplished film for its time. Stunningly shot, with lighting effects that are truly sublime, this is an early gem that clearly reveals REGINALD BARKER to be a pioneer director of equal standing to D.W. GRIFFITH and MAURICE TOURNEUR. How much control Thomas Ince exerted over the production is hard to know, but this film still has extraordinary power. The simple story of an Italian immigrant struggling to keep his family alive in New York, is very moving. The themes of social injustice, revenge and forgiveness are completely relevant today. The use of close-ups is outstanding and the powerhouse performance of GEORGE BEBAN is electrifying. What we need now is a really good print transferred to DVD so we can truly appreciate this early masterpiece of cinema.
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A very early feature film with great heart
AlsExGal6 February 2011
This is a very early feature length film made in 1914 with a very good reputation. Most people think of 1915's Birth of a Nation as the first real feature film, but this one predates it. It stars George Beban as Beppo, "The Italian", a man who comes from Italy to America to earn enough money so that he can win the hand of his beloved Annette. Beppo, initially a vigorous and joyful soul, eventually becomes a beaten man due to a series of tragedies he endures in America. Beppo becomes so despondent from tragedy that at one point he even considers murdering an innocent as revenge for the loss of one of his own loved ones. There are several silent films that still exist that talk about the immigrant experience in America, but this one is unique because it shows the immigrant's life in the Old World, along with the natural beauty of the place compared to early twentieth century New York City and its barren appearance.

The Flicker Alley restoration is highly recommended not only for the high quality of the transfer but for its insightful commentary. I normally don't like to plug specific products, but this one is very much worth your time.
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Starkly Photographed
Cineanalyst29 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Italian" is among the great or near-great films of 1915 that are available today. The year was a turning point for the feature-length film, especially in America: Lois Weber's "Hypocrites", Cecil B. DeMille's "The Cheat" and, of course, D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" set new benchmarks for the art. Additionally, that year, Russian filmmaker Yevgeni Bauer made two of his best pictures, "After Death" and "Daydreams". The French serial "Les Vampires" also has its admirers today, although I disagree with them. The emergence of the feature-length film was led by Europe (mainly Denmark, France and Italy), but dominance of this market and, to a degree, the art shifted to across the Atlantic in 1915.

The most overriding artistic achievement of "The Italian" is its stunning and often innovative cinematography. There are some picturesque sunsets, mobile framing, including a brief overhead angled shot of the Italian racing to buy a wedding ring and another shot of him holding onto a moving car, and, in general, there is wise use of varied camera angles and expert lighting throughout. An especially amazing shot is a close-up of the Italian enraged as he slowly approaches the camera for an extreme close-up, à la D.W. Griffith's "Musketeers of Pig Alley" (1912). He's so enraged his environment even begins to shake around him.

Unfortunately, the cinematographer appears to be unknown. The director, although originally without credit in the film, is now known to have been Reginald Barker. Five or so of his other films made for Ince are also available today, but are rather unremarkable. "Civilization" (1916), which he worked on, was a large production, but a deeply flawed movie. By the way, I'd guess that one or more of the various cinematographers who worked on "Civilization" also photographed "The Italian".

Moreover, the entire production is very advanced for then. Venice and New York are well rendered despite the film being shot in Los Angeles (for romanticized Venice) and San Francisco (for the ethnic slums of New York). There are extensive flashbacks, although perhaps one or two too many. I especially like the clever framing of the narrative as being read in a book by a character played by the same actor, George Beban, who is also the lead in the inner, main narrative. The reading of the story is further briefly framed theatrically by the opening at the beginning and closing at the end of curtain drapes, which is reflected within the inner story during the revenge climax in the child's room, with the opening and closing of window curtains. Parallel editing, in-camera dissolves, irises and other transitions are handled expertly. Additionally, Beban and Clara Williams, as his wife, play their parts well.

On the other hand, "The Italian" does have a few drawbacks. The film's early moments of comedy clash rather disharmoniously with the latter parts of harsh and heavy melodrama, although the environmental changes from romanticized Italy to naturalistic New York works well—mostly because it's supported by the lighting and photography. The harsh dissolution of the American dream in this film, enhanced by the stark photography, must have been poignant to the immigrant classes who comprised a disproportionately large population of the movie-going public back then. The Corrigan character should have been foreshadowed more; his brief introduction campaigning for another politician seems inadequate for his later centrality to the Italian's revenge. In addition, the filmmakers were either medically naïf or careless to not explain the lack of breastfeeding of the infant and the unwarranted faith in the healing powers of quietness for the other child. Aside from the deficiencies in narrative, "The Italian" is exceptionally well made.
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Interesting as an early full length (6 reel) feature
psteier16 August 2001
Very well preserved and amazingly well done for a movie of this period. The story has a nice mix of drama and comedy, including a few scenes similar to those in slapstick comedies of the time.

Nice sets and even the "Venice" and the "Italian vineyard" scenes look good. Some interesting backlit shots. Still has some melodramatic touches and broad acting, but looks 10 years ahead of its time.
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A Very Moving Early Feature Film
CJBx72 May 2014
THE Italian (1915) tells the story of Beppo Donnetti (George Beban), a gondolier in Italy who journeys to America so that he can marry and provide a home for his love Annette (Clara Williams). America is thought to be the land of promise, but things happen in their new home that change their lives forever. Directed by Reginald Barker.

SCRIPT: THE Italian is a very warm and touching movie in many ways, and has moments of sadness and anguish as well. There is humor and joy, as well as heartbreak. In spite of some of the broken English Italian stereotypes, the movie shows genuine empathy to its characters. You can see Beppo's hope for a better life in America turn to despair when things don't go his way. There are wonderful details here, such as how Annette and her father laugh when a wealthy would-be suitor is forced to concede to the poor Beppo; how Beppo notices his son's sleeping with his hand under his chin, and other things. To its credit, the film doesn't conclude with a pat happy ending. SCORE: 9/10

ACTING: The acting is pretty naturalistic for its period, stopping short of the hammy antics usually practiced at the time. The actors are portraying Italians, whom have been commonly stereotyped as dramatically expressive; however, the actors don't treat their characters with mockery, but with affection. The cast overall conveys a wonderful sense of humanity. George Beban runs the gamut of emotions in his portrayal of Beppo and makes everything believable – his joys, his sorrows, his anger and resignation. Clara Williams also is very believable and lifelike in her portrayal of Annette. SCORE: 9/10

CINEMATOGRAPHY/PRODUCTION: The camera-work in this film is quite superb. There are some very expressive close-ups and moments where the camera either comes closer to or draws away from the actor in order to magnify the emotional reaction to the moment. The scenes in old Italy are particularly beautiful, with some wonderfully composed shots against the sunset and beautiful views of rivers and bridges. The editing is fairly smooth (there are a couple of choppy moments but they are most likely due to lost footage). Cross cutting is used quite frequently and there aren't very many long takes. Tinting is used to designate day and night scenes, and lends additional warmth and beauty to the sunset scenes. Incidentally, this movie came out before BIRTH OF A NATION but uses many of the same devices. Great work overall. SCORE: 9/10

SUMMARY: THE Italian is another definitive early feature film. The story is moving in many ways, heartfelt and empathetic toward its protagonists. The acting is naturalistic and shows affection for the characters being portrayed. The cinematography is always professional and in many cases quite excellent and beautiful. THE Italian is definitely worth seeing as an example of the emotional power of silent cinema. SCORE: 9/10
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Flawed, but well-worth seeing.
runamokprods10 October 2011
Well made silent melodrama, of some historic import.

The acting is generally quite good and understated for the time, the cinematography has some nice lighting effects, and moving shots (and one amazing close up, where the camera shakes with a character's anger).

On the other hand, the melodramatic story feels blandly predictable, along with having a giant plot hole at its center, and some other annoying, easily avoided contradictions and logic gaps.

Certainly this story -- a struggling Italian immigrant and his bride in the slums of New York, coming to America to fulfill their dreams, but finding disillusionment and despair -- must have resonated with a lot of people at the time. I just wish the story had the subtlety of the acting and images.

A good, solid, important early film.
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Grim and Realistic Drama on the Treatment of Immigrants
kidboots27 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
George Beban had made a career out of playing ethnic characters when Thomas Ince signed him in 1914 to star in an original motion picture with the working title "The Dago". There was much publicity when it was announced that the crew would travel to Italy to shoot some scenes but they only got as far as Venice, California. A very similar plotline to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" which revebrations were still being felt ten years after publication - that American streets weren't paved with gold and it was a pretty scary place for an unskilled and uneducated migrant.

Beginning with the star George Beban, resplendent in a smoking jacket (patrons were not allowed to mistake the real star for the part he was playing) he begins to read "The Italian" and is transported into the story of an Italian peasant and his love for Annette. He is a gondolier and often takes tourists through the beautiful scenic countryside, hearing their tales of America where every man is a king. Annette also arouses the interest of the rich merchant Gallia and her father gives Beppo a year to make good. He goes to America and is soon recruited by a mob boss Corrigan to persuade his migrant friends to vote for a candidate "the working man's friend" and with the money he earns he sends for Annette!! Initially life is lovely - the marriage ceremony is a riot as Beppo forgets the ring and for Annette, life is a whirl of new faces and experiences.

Time passes and life in the slums takes it's toll (ghetto scenes were filmed on location in Los Angeles and San Francisco). The city endures a massive heat wave and their little baby is succumbing not only to the weather but the impure food - the doctor says they must only have pasteurized milk. Beppo's search for the elusive milk sets up a train of circumstances which see him robbed, thrown in prison and returning home to a wife grieving the death of their baby. All the while showing how, as a migrant, he is treated as a second class citizen - the thieves are believed by the police, his notes to Annette are discarded by a smirking prison guard and when he appeals to Corrigan (who is shown with his own family) he is kicked to the gutter!!

Weeks later Corrigan's own child is near death and must have absolute quiet, Beppo is tempted to wreak a terrible vengeance. There is a wonderful use of natural lighting - early scenes where the lovers walk the hills during sunset and when doors open, lights illumine the darkness of poverty.

Clara Williams was one of the principal actresses at Inceville along with Louise Glaum - she eventually married the film's director Reginald Barker and retired from acting. Her success in "The Italian" found her typecast in ethnic roles. Even though not a glamour girl she had a beautiful sincerity that highlighted her performances.
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Awfully good for 1915.
MartinHafer19 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
In some ways, "The Italian" is a rather archaic film. After all, the intertitle cards are descriptive, not dialog. In other words, like the earliest films, it describes what action the audience is seeing or is about to see and there is no dialog--just the actors pantomiming the story. In later silent films, this was rarely the case--with the dialog being much more important. However, despite this older style used in the film, "The Italian" is still an exceptional film--one that tells a tragic tale that is important because it shows a side of the American immigrant experience seldom talked about in films.

The film begins in Venice. Beppo is a happy gondolier but his future father-in-law wants his daughter to marry someone who can afford to care for her. So, Beppo immigrates to American to make his fortune. After a year of hard work, he pays for Annette to join him and life seems very good--especially when they are blessed with a son. However, through a series of small tragedies, Beppo is arrested and the child dies. Later, after his release, Beppo decides to seek revenge on the uncaring Alderman to whom he'd appealed for help--but who rebuffed him so cruelly. This Alderman now has a sick child and Beppo decides to show him what it is like to lose someone he loves. Can the decent man, Beppo, actually follow through with such a horrid plan?! This film is a bit overly melodramatic but also very effective, as it pulls the viewer into Beppo's world and creates much sympathy for the guy. While this might no excite most modern viewers, it is a very well made silent and a must-see for lovers of the genre.
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Archaic is the word
kekseksa28 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is really a very old-fashioned film for 1915 and, when one compares it with the excellent short films Ince was producing in 1912-1913,really marks something of a regression. Designed presumably to appeal to New Yorkers' nostalgie de la boue with regard to their immigrant origins, the film sentimentalises everything. First we have the absurd pastoral picture of impoverished post-war Italy, then an almost equally sentimentalised view of the Italian quarter in New York (far from being remotely "neo-realist" this is simply the "picturesque poverty" that became a Hollywood trademark)up to the moment when disaster strikes during a heatwave.

Here the film turns abruptly to mawkish melodrama, fulfilling its principal intention to be a "facial", that is the much loved but by this time distinctly old-fashioned vaudeville act where a performer goes through the gamut of facial expressions. This is exactly what Beban had been doing in vaudeville, nearly always with an "ethnic" flavour (the Italian labourer mourning his dead child was already a long-standing speciality), and it is exactly what he produces here in his first film. (For more on the persistence of the "facial" see my note on A Great Love 1916). The film ends with a preposterous revenge-plot (savage grimaces, Mr. Beban) whose outcome can be seen coming a mile away (villain's heart melted by sight of helpless child), a nonsensical concoction required by the "facial" genre which depends for its effect on such rapid switches in emotional register.

Emigration/immigration was an important issue in the years between the outbreak of the First World War and the passing of the Emergency Quota Act 1921 (later revised as The Immigration Act 1924 designed to severely curtail immigration to the US especially "poor" immigration from southern and eastern Europe. The subject crops up in many comedy shorts, of which Chaplin's The Immigrant is the best and the best known. There is also a superb (and genuinely "neo-realist") Italian film L'Emigrante by Febo Mari which also came out in 1915 but which sadly only seems to survive in part. But as a contribution to the debate, this Ince/Barker film (unlike the Mari film or, for that matter, in its own way, Chaplin's comedy)has absolutely nothing worthwhile to say....

It is worth noting that this regressive tendency in US film is very clearly associated with techniques often quite wrongly identified (on simple-minded formalist grounds - "editing is good (even when it's bad)") as "progressive" - the fashion for sentimentalising close-ups most obviously but also the studio lighting techniques derived from glamour photography and the overuse of what might be called "the mini-flashback" (particularly irritating and ineffective in this film).
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