Thursday, October 11, 2012


Jeffrey Hayden's The Vintage (1957) is the type of picture where the American and Italian players make no effort whatsoever at passing themselves off as convincing Italian, French, and Spanish characters, and the authentic French actress doesn't particularly seem all that Gallic.  It's the disintoxicating tale of two Italian brothers, on the lam from authorities, who cross into southern France looking to find work by harvesting grapes.  Hot-tempered, switchblade-wielding Ernesto Barandero (John Kerr) is wanted for killing a man who was beating a woman, while older Giancarlo (Mel Ferrer) is along to keep Ernesto out of further mischief.  The siblings, despite their conspicuous lack of hand calluses and work cards, are reluctantly employed by vineyard owner Louis Morel (Leif Erickson, Kerr's macho headmaster nemesis in Vincente Minelli's camp classic Tea and Sympathy [1955]) the morning after they safely deliver the dead drunk Morel to his farmhouse.  (He's passed out during a ferocious rainstorm after beseeching God not to destroy his crops.)  Ernesto and Morel's neglected wife Leone (Michele Morgan) are drawn to one another, with lovesick Ernesto even carving her portrait in a woodblock, while Leone's teenaged sister Lucienne (Pier Angeli), who's supposedly engaged to jealous Etienne (Jack Mullaney), is attracted to the more mature Giancarlo; this, of course, is the opposite of what we expect from the scenario, and it is, I fear, The Vintage's single surprise.

Morel spends most of his time worrying about hail damage and complaining about his grape pickers, while the fuzz, hindered by sympathetic guitar-wielding Spanish foreman Eduardo Uribari (Theodore Bikel) and his co-workers, search for the brothers.  Complications arise when Morel discovers the whittled head, which Giancarlo has accidentally dropped after taking it away from his brother in a near-fight.  Giancarlo is falsely accused of stealing chickens--yes, dear reader, chickens--and locked in a barn when he attempts to retrieve the sculpture; the real poultry snatcher, former family patriarch Uncle Ton Ton (Joe Verdi), has been trading the creatures for Eduardo's chocolate. Lucienne confesses her love to the imprisoned Giancarlo, Morel gets slapped by his wife after accusing her of infidelity--she's plainly delighted to be desired again--and Giancarlo is released in time to watch his brother get fatally shot in the back by the police when Ernesto runs from them. Morel finally begins to appreciate his long-suffering spouse; Giancarlo--about whom, apparently, the authorities no longer care--is free to begin a new life with Lucienne.  C'est tout.

The oddball cast's performances are generally indifferent, with the only amusing work coming from Erickson, from whom Kerr seemingly still cannot get away; in a ludicrous attempt to frencify the actor, the filmmakers hide his mug behind a bushy moustache.  The Vintage's primary interest is in its reunion of these Tea and Sympathy stars, and essentially functions as a footnote to the earlier film.  Morgan is beautiful, but hasn't here the charisma of (let's say) Deborah Kerr.  Former blacklistee Michael Blankfort's adaptation of Ursula Keir's novel lacks body, while television man Hayden's direction lacks finish.  The Vintage's only real flavor is furnished by four-time Oscar winner Joseph Rutenberg's cinematography, which exquisitely captures the natural beauty of the region, and David Raskin's exultant score.  The film isn't bad per se; it just isn't much of anything, and I could scarcely remember enough of it to write this post.  The presence of marauding zombies, a la Jean Rollin's marvelous Les Raisins de la Mort (1978), would at least have injected a little life into the proceedings, preferably with Brigitte Lahaie in the Leone role.

The ninety-two minute melodrama is, not surprisingly, unavailable on home video, but Turner Classic Movies occasionally airs a lovely print of this picture in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The Cinemascope colors are positively vibrant.  Here's the theatrical trailer.  Emotions naked as the earth, indeed!