Wednesday, January 26, 2022

#2,699. Variety Lights (1950) - Federico Fellini Triple Feature


Notable for being Federico Fellini’s directorial debut (he co-directed it with Alberto Lattuada), 1950’s Variety Lights kind of blew me away. I wasn’t prepared for how truly funny this movie is, or how poignant some of its more dramatic moments would be (at times, the film brought a tear to my eye).

I never would have thought that a Fellini film could take me by surprise; I have yet to see a movie of his that didn’t floor me one way or another, and I rank three of his pictures (8 ½, Amarcord, and Roma) among my all-time favorites. Yet for years I avoided Variety Lights, in part because I never read a synopsis of it that “wowed” me.

The story centers on a traveling troupe of second-rate actors and performers who barely earn enough to pay for their trip to the next town. The “star” of this troupe is Checco Dal Monte (Peppino De Filippo), who performs vaudeville-style musical numbers and dramatic scenes, normally accompanied by his longtime fiancé Melina (played by Fellini’s real-life spouse, Giulietta Masina).

The troupe’s luck finally changes for the better when novice dancer Liliana Antonelli (Carla Del Poggio) forces her way into the fold. A true beauty, Liliana draws large crowds, and even captures the heart of Checco, whose amorous feelings for the young starlet cause him to toss Melina to the curb. But can Checco keep Liliana happy, or will her newfound fame go straight to her head?

As I already mentioned, there’s nothing about this synopsis that would indicate just how entertaining Variety Lights truly is; it’s a standard show-biz story, yet told with enough warmth and humor to make is all seem completely fresh. I laughed out loud during some of the early scenes, like when the troupe performed at the rundown theater with a leaky roof (the water constantly dripping onto the performers was comedy gold).

In addition, both De Filippo and Masina bring a believable pathos to their characters: two aging actors, one hungry for the fame that has thus far eluded him, the other longing for a love and stability that suddenly seems out of reach. Del Poggio, who was married to co-director Lattuada at the time of production, is also quite good as the ambitious Liliana, and the supporting players are in top form (my favorite being Giulio Cali, the less-than-impressive magician whose best friend is a goose).

It may not seem like much on paper, but take my word for it: Variety Lights is a movie you won’t want to miss!
Rating: 9 out of 10

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