The Witches Review
The Witches or to give its Italian name Le Streghe is an anthology film consisting of five sketches that all star Silvana Mangano. Each story directed by a man at the top of Italian cinema; Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, and Franco Rossi. This all under the watchful eye of Dino De Laurentiis, a producer that helped bring Italian Cinema to the world as well as working with the greats of world cinema, like Fellini, Rossellini, Altman, Cronenberg, Lynch and Scott. But enough of the name drop pitch, how good is the actual film, made by these lauded men.
Each story in The Witches, as already said, focusses on Silvana Mangano in the guise of various characters. I should say, however, none involve any actual witchcraft but each story tackles different issues surrounding women in society, like female beauty and sexuality, for example. The first story The Witch Burned Alive deals with a famous actress whose her friends, when she falls unconscious at a party, remove her make up to reveal her imperfections. Civil Sense, is about a woman who uses a wounded man to get through the busy streets of an Italian city. The next is a supposedly funny story entitled The Earth as Seen From the Moon, about a grieving father and son who go on a quest to find a new wife. While The Sicilian Belle is a short dealing with a deranged father, who murders the family of his daughter's suitor. Finally, An Evening Like the Others concerns the faltering relationship of an American played by Clint Eastwood and his wife, again played by Mangano.
Although expressly dealing with women's issues - albeit through the interpretation of men - unsurprisingly there is an undercurrent of misogyny and leeriness that is unpalatable in these more sensitive times. The camera seems to linger just that little bit too long over the body of our heroine. It is always unfair to judge a film based on the period it was made and the country that made it but The Witches has so ingrained in the Italian cinema of the 60s it is impossible to separate it and judge it as a series of stories in and of themselves. This is mostly because the vast majority of these stories are comedies, and unfortunately, comedy is a genre with the least amount of longevity as tastes and senses of humour change over time. As such modern audiences without much experience of films of this period and nationality may be put off by the constant talking, the awkward dubbing and the stilted humour.
Moving away from criticisms related to time and place, there is one major flaw with The Witches. They say that the key to humour is timing, the comedy skits in this film lack that basic component, or perhaps the humour was lost in translation. Either or, the film's pacing suffers and despite being just under two hours it feels a lot longer, even with the shorts outstaying their welcome. The best examples of this are Civic Sense which should just be a three-minute skit drags for about 10 minutes, while The Earth As Seen From The Moon, directed by the man who made Salo and starring Toto, a popular Italian comedian, just keeps adding weirder and weirder things until it becomes a bloated mess of poor decisions.
This seems to be a common theme in this film. While you can expect a little bit of a disconnect between anthology films, there is usually something that pulls the films together. However, all that seems to tie the different shorts together regardless of tone, theme or style is the main star, Silvana Mangano, other than that The Witches is a disjointed poorly-paced slog of a film that is unsure of how and when to end its segments. I can potentially understand why The Witches didn't receive a wider release during its initial run. United Artists bought the film when Clint Eastwood's career was just beginning to take off and perhaps didn’t want him attached to this stale Italian comedy and with all these big names too. Perhaps it was case of too many cooks... all of those big personalities pulling against each other led to a film which, to me, feels disjointed and confused.
Despite the off-putting nature of The Witches, one thing that I can say for certain is that Arrow Academy always find great extras. While there isn't the plethora of bonus material that is on other discs the commentary track provided by Tim Lucas provides an excellent insight into the practice of anthology films as well as a history of the environment The Witches existed in. Similarly, the interview with actor Ninetto Davoli (who plays Toto's son in The Earth As Seen From the Moon), which Arrow recorded exclusively for their release provides key understanding, through personal experience, as to why the film was made. They, similarly, have done a great job in restoring the image and sound from the original elements to a 2K resolution image and a DTS-Mono Italian soundtrack with optional subtitles and optional English language version included on the disc. The image is vibrant and the soundtrack swings to that smooth 1960s jazz. It's just a shame then that the film is so juddering.