LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI, the only film made in Italy by the great Max Ophuls, is a moving and beautifully made melodrama about the life and death of a movie star, played with luminous charm by a young Isa Miranda in her first starring role.
Film star Gaby Doriot (Isa Miranda) is discovered unconscious on the floor of her dressing room. She's rushed to the hospital and taken to the operating room, where she's given anesthesia and reflects back over her life: in high school, her teacher falls in love with her and commits suicide. The
headmaster blames her, and she's expelled. Six months later, a boy named Roberto (Frederico Benfer) invites Gaby and her sister, Anna (Nelly Corradi), to a school dance. Roberto and Gaby have a passionate waltz together, and Roberto takes her to meet his invalid mother, Alma (Tatiana Pawlova), who
takes an instant liking to her. When Roberto goes away to Rome, Gaby pays frequent visits to Alma, and the two grow very close, but when Alma's husband, Leonardo (Memo Benassi), returns home after a business trip, he immediately falls in love with Gaby. She tries to resist him, but finally gives
in one night, and Alma, who has become suspicious, tries to push her wheelchair down the steps to find them, but it tips over and falls, and she's killed.
Upon learning what has happened, Roberto writes his father to tell him that he's never coming home, and Leonardo and Gaby go away on a trip, but when they return home, the guilt is too much for her, and she leaves him. Leonardo is then charged with embezzlement of company funds, and he's sentenced
to four years in prison. Gaby, meanwhile, goes to Rome to take drama lessons, and after a few bit parts in films, becomes a huge star. When Leonardo gets out of jail, he goes to the premiere of her movie called "La Signora di Tutti," and begins to cry as he looks at her pictures in the theater
lobby. He wanders outside in a daze and is run down by a car. Roberto returns home, and Gaby tells him she's still in love with him. But he reveals to her that when he had found out about her affair with his father, he married her sister, Anna. The shock of this is too much for Gaby, and she
writes a suicide note to Roberto. Back in the operating room, the doctors pronounce that there's nothing more they can do, and remove the anesthesia, as a printing press churning out posters of Gaby grinds to a halt.
LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI is one of Ophuls's best films from the early part of his career, demonstrating the fluid style and romantic themes of his 1950s masterpieces. It also makes for a fascinating comparison with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's amazingly similar THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which also uses
an intricate flashback structure to tell the virtually identical, albeit far campier, story of a beautiful peasant girl who becomes a movie star and destroys the lives of various men in the process. However, whereas Mankiewicz begins with the star's funeral and the flashbacks are all from the
point of view of men who knew her, Ophuls deepens his story by telling it solely from Gaby's perspective, while increasing its suspense by saving her death for the last scene.
Ophuls's excellence with actors and the unified mastery of his mise-en-scene (cultivated by having directed over 200 plays), is often breathtaking, but always employed at the service of the story and the characters. His renowned flowing camera movements take on feelings of their own and vary in
tone according to the emotions of a scene, whether intoxicating--elegantly gliding through the dance hall where Gaby and Roberto waltz, ending with a 360-degree twirl when she says she's dizzy; graceful--the stunning cross-cutting of lateral tracking shots as Gaby is pursued by Leonardo in his car
while she's in a rowboat; comical--whipping back and forth in the satirical depictions of Gaby's manager and the studio heads who are more concerned with protecting their business than with her health; and violent--thrusting frenziedly when Alma struggles to get into her wheelchair and falls down
the steps. Ophuls also utilizes sensuous slow-dissolves and montages during Gaby's hallucinatory flashbacks, emphasizing the dreamlike quality of memories, and he also makes imaginative use of music and sounds, repeating the waltz theme on the radio before Alma dies, and later, when Gaby screams
in horror when she thinks she hears it in the fireplace, while the word vergogna (shame) is also heard several times to indicate Gaby's guilty conscience. Isa Miranda is radiant as Gaby, subtly capturing the character's mix of innocence and ambition, while her beauty masks an underlying melancholy
that Ophuls brilliantly exploits for this poignant study of love and loss. (Adult situations.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI, the only film made in Italy by the great Max Ophuls, is a moving and beautifully made melodrama about the life and death of a movie star, played with luminous charm by a young Isa Miranda in her first starring role. Film star Gaby Dor… (more)