Variety Lights (Federico Fellini & Alberto Lattuada / Italy, 1950):
(Luci del Varietà)

The credits flash on neon signs a la My Man Godfrey, Wellman’s Lady of Burlesque is the stylistic bedrock down to a virtual reproduction of Stanwyck’s stage getup. The Fellini-Lattuada saltimbanques include a glass-crunching fakir, a plush odalisque, and a chorus of bikini hoofers; the impresario (Peppino De Filippo) insists on artistry and fumbles a poem ("In the divine city, the silence of... uh, Dante") to the eye-rolling of his fiancée (Giulietta Masina). The ragtag teatro comunale is beset by squabbling, debt, jeering audiences and leaky roofs, nevertheless the ingénue (Carla Del Poggio) hops in with the chorines and receives star billing after her skirt falls off mid-number. Beguiled as would-be lover and svengali, De Filippo dumps Masina for the novice, his pose at the fancy restaurant is pricked by the vaudevillian who sees the "penguin" next to the comely careerist. "All hail, Delusion!" If the affectionate tawdriness of the gagwork or the walk to the smitten, wannabe tenor’s mansion doesn’t sort out whether the film is Fellini’s or Lattuada’s, then the concept of the avid neophyte displacing the seasoned pro should. In as sordid a trade as showbiz, it pays to create theater out of life’s miseries -- locked out after learning that the shrewd Del Poggio is her own best manager, the forlorn impresario wanders the empty Roman streets at night and improvises a new troupe with an American trumpeter, a Brazilian gypsy, and a sharpshooting cowboy. Del Poggio finds her place as half-dressed soubrette, De Filippo on the train is assuredly Fellini himself off to his career, by his side are Masina's patient muse and his own perpetual push-pull between artist and showman. With John Kitzmiller, Dante Maggio, Checco Durante, Gina Mascetti, Giulio Cali, Silvio Bagolini, and Giacomo Furia. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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