Scorpion Releasing gets arty with their release of Lina Wertmuller's BLOOD FEUD on DVD for the first time in the states.
Sicily 1920: Ever since her fisherman husband was murdered for refusing to take part in a strike – causing her to miscarry their child – widow Titina Paterno (Sophia Loren, LADY LIBERTY) has been a hermit, digging and selling coal and traveling into town occasionally to call out her husband's murderer Vito Acicatena, his accomplices, and those intimidated into silence. Returning to Sicily after ten years in Rome, socialist lawyer/landowner Rosario Maria Spallone (Marcello Mastroianni, LA DOLCE VITA) is struck by Titina's beauty. He proposes a new trial as a way of courting her, but she detests him because of his indiscretion with his family's maid thirty years ago for whom she helped procure an abortion ("There are three types of men in this world: men, half-men, and bastards!"). In spite of this, she gives into his amorous advances after he saves her from an attempted rape by Acicatena, but discourages any further involvement. Also returning to Sicily after a long absence is Titina's husband's second cousin Nicola "Nick" Sanmichele (Giancarlo Giannini, MIMIC) who stirs up unrest among the child mineworkers as well as the landowners including Spallone. Nick has fostered an attraction for Titina since he was a boy, putting her on a pedestal like the Madonna statue he brings to town as a gift; but he forces himself on her when he comes to believe that she is actually the town's secret whore. Upon realizing his mistake, Nick is repentant and Titina responds to his affection and offers to take her back to America with him. Titina realizes that she is in love with both men, but she may be forced to choose when Acicatena with the invading Fascists and both men decide to act in her honor.
BLOOD FEUD - or BLOOD FEUD BETWEEN TWO MEN OVER A WIDOW, WE SUSPECT POLITICAL MOTIVES to translate the Italian title very roughly - came at the end of feminist director Lina Wertmuller's prestigious period in the seventies that included SWEPT AWAY, THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI, SEVEN BEAUTIES, and LOVE AND ANARCHY and preceding more genteel arthouse works like CIAO, PROFESSORE! and THE NYMPH. Although not as dreary a melodrama as it's trailer suggest, its leaps from melodrama to historical drama to comedy to tragedy probably seem less abrupt in the more operatic Italian, but one eventually grows accustomed to the tone shifts thanks to the lead performances. The love triangle aspect is actually downplayed for the most part – to the point where it seems more obligatory than organic (Titina's realization that she's in love with two men, not the triangle itself) – focusing instead on the individuals and how their outlooks on life were formed (Rosario and Nick out of hatred for their fathers and Titina for her mother, the latter is never explored but presumably she put up with "half-man" or a dishonorable variation). A co-production between Britain's Lord Grade of ITC and Italian producer Arrigo Columbo (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), the film was also the thirteenth of fourteen screen pairings of Loren and Mastroianni; and, as such, its treatment may have been lightened to make it more palatable to more mainstream fans of the two actors and that particular pairing. While some other films from the period had Loren playing younger and tried to make her look younger, BLOOD FEUD emphasizes her severe features with make-up to fashion her into the peasant Venus that beguiles Rosario and Nick (the camera actually seems to be trying to flatter the younger Giannini with softer close-ups), and the actress remains compelling in all of her character's shrillness. Mastroianni overcomes his bland dubbing with his animated facial expressions that remind us of his better days even behind the most bizarre beard committed to film. The film is gorgeously photographed on location by the great Tonino delli Colli (THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY) with sets by Enrico Job and Gianni Giovagnoni and costumes by Benito Persico (the same design team that worked on Andy Warhol's BLOOD FOR DRACULA and FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN as well as a couple of Wertmuller's better-known efforts). The scoring of Pino D'Angiò and Nando De Luca recedes mostly into the background, with a recording of Bellini's "Casta Diva"
Released theatrically by Associated Film Distributors – whose ITC product also included KILLER FISH – BLOOD FEUD hit VHS via CBS/Fox in 1983 (according to the BBFC, the film played in the UK in a subtitled version). Scorpion's progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen represents the film's English-dubbed version which was re-edited – Dario Argento's regular editor Franco Fraticelli was the film's original editor – by Fima Noveck, who worked on the American version of Mauro Bolognini's THE INHERITANCE alongside cult titles like Antonio Margheriti's WEB OF THE SPIDER and Bill Gunn's GANJA AND HESS, to ninety-six minutes (IMDb states a two hour original running time, but they are not always accurate). Since ITC's current rights holder provided the master, one can assume that this cut is likely the only English version rather than an American re-cut like other Noveck cuts. One wonders if the longer version had an even more languorous pace or more political dialogue. In any case, the widescreen transfer looks and sounds consistently attractive (well, as much as the dubbed Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track allows). Close-ups seem tight, but that seems stylistic since the British co-production must have taken American distribution (and it's narrow theatrical matting) in mind. The only extra for the film is its theatrical trailer (2:01), but the disc also includes trailers for FIREPOWER, GO TELL THE SPARTANS, THE OCTAGON, ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER, QUEST FOR LOVE, SAINT JACK, WOMBLING FREE, and VOYAGER (HOMO FABER). Licensed from ITV, Scorpion's disc of BLOOD FEUD is coded for Region 1 playback only. (Eric Cotenas)
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