The Italian (1915)

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The Italian is a 1915 American silent film feature which tells the story of an Italian gondolier who comes to the United States to make his fortune but instead winds up working as a shoeshiner and experiencing tragedy while living with his wife and child in a tenement on New York's Lower East Side. The film was produced by Thomas H. Ince, directed by Reginald Barker, and co-written by C. Gardner Sullivan and Ince.

Why It Rocks

  1. The major actors all pull off incredible, captivating performances. George Beban in particular (known for his portrayals of Italian characters) does a memorable performance as an immigrant without enough American experience. His stage experience and personal appeal translated well to the screen, and he mastered the nuances of film acting better than many of his contemporaries.
  2. It's an epic production of opulent sets and costumes expertly and inventively photographed -- Smooth camera pans, inserted close-ups, reaction shots, varied camera angles, and the lighting. Keep in mind, this was all done in 1915!
    • Ince's influence on cinema also surfaces in the film's less structured, less rigid technique, a counterpoint to the more formal "classical" style employed by directors such as D.W. Griffith.
  3. There's also the dramatic structure that resulted from Thomas Ince's masterful editing.
  4. The lead character Pietro "Beppo" Donnetti is a very interesting, complex role that manages to evoke a lot of sympathy from the audience, especially as an immigrant.
  5. The film may be a simple story about an Italian immigrant struggling to keep his family alive in New York, but the concept is very moving. And the themes of social injustice, revenge and forgiveness are still incredibly relevant today.
  6. Even the film's melodramatic elements, including the scenes with Annette, are handled with energy that's unusual for its time, as most of them actually play an important role in the story.
  7. The film's not afraid to be grim and dark. Beppo is tasked by his love interest (Annette)'s father to earn enough money to give his daughter a proper home in a certain amount of time, but once Beppo manages to move to America, create a home with Annette, and the two of them get married and have a baby, a heat wave kicks in, their baby gets sick, and when Beppo tries to buy some of the milk that would allow the baby to survive, he's robbed by two criminals and arrested for assault for 5 days, during which their baby had died. This all makes for a very depressing and emotional series of moments.
    1. And then there's the ending. After being released from his short time in prison, a month passes and Beppo tries to kill Corrigan's daughter as revenge for Corrigan not helping him out when his son needed it. Even though he doesn't go through with it, he ends up goes to his son's tombstone and Corrigan doesn't get any from comeuppance for his actions. It's just... gut-wrenching.

Bad Qualities

  1. The film starts off a bit slow during the prologue, although things do get more interesting during the immigrant experience.
  2. The film may gloss over a lot of details (such as how deeply Beppo is connected to the Irish mob or how he could afford to send for his fiancee so quickly)