THE WITCHES (1967) Blu-ray
Directors: Luchino Visconti/Mauro Bolognini/Franco Rossi/Pier Paolo Pasolini/Vittorio De Sica
Arrow Academy

Silvana Mangano is "woman as she is… all things to men" in the portmanteau portfolio star vehicle THE WITCHES, on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.

Luchino Visconti's A WITCH BURNED ALIVE is world-famous actress Gloria who has fled between projects to Austria and the winter chalet of her best friend Valeria (Annie Girardot, JUPITER'S THIGH) and her husband Paolo (Francisco Rabal, L'ECLISSE). Suddenly made the guest of honor at Valeria's party, Gloria struts and poses in immaculate make-up, jewelry, and dresses as men objectify her and salivate while catty women pick her apart, first verbally and then physically when the exhausted actress passes out and they make the excuse of cooling her down by removing her wig, eye-lashes, and other accoutrements to take a peek at the woman underneath. Having discovered that she is pregnant, Gloria wants out of her contract, but that is difficult when her own husband considers her as much a product and a "precarious investment" as everyone else. The shortest of the tales is "Civil Duty" by Mauro Bolognini (HUSBANDS AND LOVERS) finds Mangano as a socialite who offers to drive a butcher (Alberto Sordi, I VITELLONI) injured in a car crash to the hospital, only to pass up every nearby hospital and first aid station for her own reasons. The second shortest is "The Sicilian Belle" by Franco Rossi (NUDE ODYSSEY) in which a young woman who believes she has been scorned by the fiancé to which she has never spoken sets off a bloody vendetta. The strangest of the tales is of course from Pier Paolo Pasolini (SALO) with "The Earth as Seen from the Moon" starring comedian Toto and Pasolini protégé Ninetto Davoli – seen previously in somewhat similar Pasolini's THE HAWKS AND THE SPARROWS – as Ciancicato Miao and his son Baciu mourning the loss of their wife/mother/cook who decide that her replacement will be someone pleasing to them both. The comical year-long search eventually takes them to deaf-mute Absurdity (Mangano) who turns their shack into a home, but "men are never content with their lot" and Ciancicato's scheme to elevate themselves financially has tragicomic results. The closing tale "An Evening Like All the Others" by Vittorio de Sica (THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS) is notable for the presence of young Clint Eastwood – fresh off FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE – and still unknown in the United States for anything more than the show RAWHIDE who reportedly agreed to take the role for a new Ferrari (of which his agent could not excise his ten percent). Mangano is mousey, bored Italian housewife Giovanna who finds her marriage to handsome American workaholic husband Charlie lacking. As she tries to engage him with a dialogue about his seeming lack of interest in her, she carries on a fantasy-laden inner dialogue in which her more assured and glamorous alter ego picks apart his pretensions to masculinity and cuckolds him with friends, superheroes, and all of Rome.

An anthology film meant to demonstrate the acting range of former Miss Rome Silvana Mangano, wife of producer Dino De Laurentiis, to counter the rise of former partner Carlo Ponti's star wife Sophia Loren, THE WITCHES assembled an impressive roster of talent in front of and behind the camera to provide the star with a variety of roles, looks, and celebrity co-stars (not all of which were used to their best advantage). Visconti's tale, scripted by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (LOVE CIRCLE) and Cesare Zavattini (BICYCLE THIEVES), wrings depth out of the superficiality of its characters but is more pleasing for its supporting cast – among them Massimo Girotti (BARON BLOOD), Clara Calamai (DEEP RED), Marilu Tolo (MY DEAR KILLER), and the first appearance of Visconti's future muse/lover Helmut Berger (DORIAN GRAY) – than what does with them or co-stars Girardot and Rabal. The Bolognini and Rossi – scripted respectively by Roberto Gianviti (A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) and Bernardino Zapponi (DEEP RED), respectively, segments seem like rather glib sketches by comparison while Pasolini's may seem too drawn out depending on one's tolerance level for Toto and Davoli. The De Sica tale – scripted by Zavattini, Fabio Carpi (THE DESIGNATED VICTIM), and Enzo Muzii (ROSE SPOT) – is visually adventurous but the Mangano-Eastwood pairing generates no heat since his character literally sleepwalks through much of the episode oblivious to his wife's frustration. Although helmed by five directors, the film has a consistently pleasing look due to the contributions of cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno (THE STENDHAL SYNDROME), Visconti's regular art director Mario Garbuglia (CONVERSATION PIECE), and costume designer Piero Tosi (THE LEOPARD) who outfits Mangano in some stunning creations. The bulk of the wonderfully loungey score is the work of Piero Piccioni (CAMILLE 2000) including "The Witches' Song" theme, but the Pasolini episode is scored by Ennio Morricone. The animated titles – which give a shout out to Eastwood's gunslinger image – were the work of Pino Zac who also designed the ornamental headstones that bookend the Pasolini episode.

Released theatrically by Lopert Pictures – which was bought by United Artists in the 1950s but retained the name for the distribution of foreign films – THE WITCHES was unavailable throughout the home video era and the heyday of DVD until MGM put out a DVD-R edition as part of their Limited Edition series. That edition featured both the Italian cut (111:31) and the English-dubbed American release (82:40) which excised the De Sica episode. The disc presented English-dubbed version of the aforementioned as an extra. Sourced from a new 2K of elements provided by MGM, the Arrow Academy edition presents 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encodes of both the Italian cut (111:08) and the reworked English-dubbed American version (104:14) which re-integrated the De Sica episode. Both cuts begin with the bilingual title sequence, but the presence of English credits before each episode that cite the episode title and director, as well as a full end credits sequence makes one wonder if the American release did include the animated opening (especially since the English version of the De Sica tale includes English-language text inserts and English version of the animated intertitles). The English version is likely at least partially a reconstruction using the Italian elements as they both look virtually the same with strong detail in close-ups (enough to reveal the thin layer of pancake make-up on Mangano's face in close-up as well as Sordi's wounds which are obviously just dashes of red paint) and vibrant colors, with clarity varying with the use of zoom lenses and the excessive filtering of Giovanna's inner dialogues which utilize both lens filters and a scrim curtain. Optional English subtitles are provided for the Italian version and English SDH subtitles for the American version. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 tracks are clean and crisp, with Piccioni's score coming through as vividly as Mangano's self-dubbed performances in both versions.

Although Arrow's press material mention the presence of an interview with Davoli, it is not present on the screener disc which features finalized encodes and menus. The major extra is the aforementioned English version, the major differences of alternate English-language takes of the dialogue in the Pasolini episode – which also excises the presence of a pair of tourists played by Laura Betti (TEOREMA) and Luigi Leoni (THE NAME OF THE ROSE) in two scenes, scuttling the origin of a stray banana peel that effects the climax – and one of Giovanna's fantasy cutaways in the De Sica episode. The Italian version is accompanied by an audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas who puts the film in context of the portmanteau genre, particularly the Italian caroselli, many of which were scripted at least in part by this film's writers and directors like De Sica's WOMAN TIME SEVEN and YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW, CAPRICCIO ALL'ITALIANA (with episodes by Pasolini, Rossi, and Bolognini among others), and BOCCACCIO '70 by Visconti, De Sica, Federico Fellini, and Mario Monicelli. He note the similarities between the Visconti tale and screenwriter Griffi's earlier film THE SEA, the Pasolini segment and THE HAWKS AND THE SPARROWS, the absence of Fellini who was preparing the unmade THE JOURNEY OF G. MASTORNA, and suggests that Fellini's "Toby Dammit" segment of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD may be a response to the De Sica tale in that its premise involves a dissolute British actor lured to Italy to star in a "Catholic Western" with the promise of a new Ferrari. Not included for review are the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys or the illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Pasquale Iannone and Kat Ellinger that will be included only with the first pressing. (Eric Cotenas)