Blu-ray Review: La moglie più bella (The Most Beautiful Wife) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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The Most Beautiful Wife, La moglie più bella is the original Italian title, features a teenage Ornella Muti (most recently seen in Woody Allen's To Rome With Love) in her film debut. She plays a poor embroiderer, Francesca, who's courted by icily handsome Mafioso Vito (Alessio Orano) while living with her peasant parents. Upon its original 1970 release, director Damiano Damiani's film was something of a lightning rod for social issues, particularly when concerned with women's rights.

Before going away for a prison sentence, Vito's boss Don Antonino Stella (Amerigo Tot) advises him to choose (i.e. claim, for all practical purposes) an obedient wife and start a family. It's relaxing, the aging Don assures Vito, and will curb temptations. What this means in actual execution, as soon demonstrated by Vito's actions, is extremely disturbing. He sets his sights on young Francesca, all of 14 years old, knowing that if he rapes her she will be regarded by all as his and his alone (per old school tradition, it seems, and by and large supported by the general public).

Now available on Blu-ray in a limited edition (courtesy of reissue label Twilight Time), La moglie più bella still packs a visceral wallop 46 years later. Muti is sensational as the victim who refuses to continue playing that role. Francesca is a headstrong young woman who, though initially taken in by Vito's lavish wooing, realizes that she's being wronged and goes to authorities despite the dangerous consequences. The most shocking aspect is that Francesca's own family does not support her rebellion against the Mafia demands. Damiani directs with rather tasteful restraint considering the potential luridness of the subject matter. As Vito, Orano is absolutely chilling. 

rsz_1lamogliepiubella_bd.png La moglie più bella arrives on Blu-ray with a clean transfer of Franco Di Giacomo raw, near-documentary-life cinematography. Incidentally, the veteran DP recently passed away on April 30, 2016. This is one of Di Giacomo's earliest cinematography credits. Audio is solid as well, with the original Italian as well as an English-dubbed track both presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. To some this is heresy, but personally I find the English track a welcome bonus (poor lip-sync and all) because it allows for true concentration of the film's visuals. Call me a dullard if you must, but reading subtitles makes me drowsy.

"Sicily, Ornella, the Mafia, and Beyond" is a documentary carried over from a 2006 DVD release of La moglie più bella, which is lengthy and informative enough to add considerable value here (key participants include director Damiano Damiani, actor Alession Orano, and director of photography Franco di Giacomo). Director Damiani is on-hand for a very brief introduction. Ennio Morricone's distinct score is available (as is custom for Twilight Time releases) as an isolated track. As per usual, there's a new essay by film historian Julie Kirgo in the booklet.

Though not an action thriller by modern standards, La moglie più bella (The Most Beautiful Wife) is probably closest to that sub-genre, just for a point of reference. At 108 minutes, it's a bit dry in places, focused quite matter-of-factly on the business of being in organized crime. As the story of a supposedly defenseless teen girl bucking the wrongheaded traditions of an entire society, the film achieves a subtle power. For ordering information, visit Screen Archives or the official Twilight Time website.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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