' Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Color, 1963, 114m. / Directed by Vittorio De Sica / Starring Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Aldo Giuffre, Pasquale Cennamo / NoShame (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

A unique take on the European anthology formula, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Ierri, Oggi, Domani) uses the same stars and directors in three very different romantic stories showcasing different walks of life in modern Italy. Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni deliver plenty of sparks during their plentiful screen time together, though not surprisingly, director Vittorio De Sica fares better with his leads when they're further up the social ladder; it's impossible to really buy this glamorous pair as a couple of struggling lowlifes, but they certainly have fun trying to pull it off.

In the first story, financially strapped Adelina keeps her marriage to the fertile but unemployed Carmine afloat by selling illegal cigarettes on the Naples black market. When the cops catch wise to her activities, she discovers a handy legal loophole - namely, she can't be hauled off to prison if she's pregnant. As a result she keeps Carmine busy year round ensuring she's always got a bun in the oven, though eventually the situation stampedes out of control and leaves the poor guy exhausted after years of service. In story number two, married Milanese socialate Anna spends an afternoon cruising around in her car and picks up a writer, Renzo, who accompanies her to the countryside. However, he's put off by materialism and finds a way to put her claims that "money doesn't matter" to the test. In the final and most famous segment, beautiful hooker Anna and potential client Rusconi are constantly thwarted by a variety of external factors, including a neighbor studying to take the cloth and a meddlesome granny. Highlighted by a legendary striptease (later recreated to more smarmy effect in Robert Altman's Ready to Wear), this Roman finale is an enjoyable mixture of erotic tease and Catholic guilt-tripping played for maximum comedy.

Noticeably far afield from director De Sica's neorealist roots, this glossy entertainment was mounted by producer Carlo Ponti to successfully showcase the appeal of his wife, Sophia Loren (to whom he's still married!). No expense was spared as the project features top notch scope photography by the great Giuseppe Rotunno and a bouncy score by Alejandro Trovajoli (who also pops up on-camera in the second story). Of course, the film was already assured international success thanks to its marquee value, with Loren riding high after an Oscar win for Two Women and lead roles in El Cid and the splashy The Fall of the Roman Empire, whose release in 1964 coincided with this film's export screenings. Though inarguably a lightweight and utterly superficial affair, this film proved pleasing enough to earn the '64 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, beating out The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Woman in the Dunes; though perhaps the award seems like overkill in hindsight (Demy was robbed!), at least Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow still holds up as perfectly mounted entertainment and functions as eye candy of the first order.

Seen for decades only in degraded prints and atrocious cropped video transfers, De Sica's scope opus finally looks like its creators intended with NoShame's beautifully restored DVD presentation. The widescreen compositions are essential to appreciate the vistas on display (that is, both the Italian scenery and Loren herself), and the hi-def remastering looks top notch all around. The soundtrack can be played either in Italian with optional English subtitles or with a drastically inferior English dub; stick with the original option. The PAL conversion results in a running time a few minutes shy of the Italian original, but that's due to speeding up in the format switch as opposed to a loss of footage; the transfer itself doesn't seem to suffer noticeably in any case. Extras on the DVD are moderate, consisting of the American trailer and a generous gallery with posters, lobby cards and stills; oddly enough, the most impressive extra is the booklet insert which reproduces the gorgeous Japanese press book along with the Italian poster and a helping of French lobby cards. Simply delectable.

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