|Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn|
After her older sister, Rose, passes away, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina, wife of Fellini) is sold by her mother to the strong man Zampano (Anthony Quinn) for 10,000 lira. The odd couple travel around the countryside while Gelsomina aids him in his act, which simply consists of his breaking a chain across his chest. Zampano is brutish and insensitive, while Gelsomina is a fragile, child-like (although not necessarily simple-minded) creature -- in some ways self-absorbed as only a child can be -- who only wants to be loved. The twosome arrive at a circus where they encounter "the fool" (Richard Basehart), an ever-laughing, sarcastic man who does a top-drawer high wire act and in his own way can be just as insensitive to Gelsomina as Zampano is. The conflict between the two men leads to tragedy, and traumatizes Gelsomina. Her half hysterical half-numb state gets on Zampano's nerves and only adds to his guilt so he makes a perhaps unwise decision ... La strada is early Fellini from the director's truly great period (which includes Nights of Cabiria and I vitelloni), before he became FEDERICO FELLINI and every picture had to be a grotesque, overblown spectacle (such as Fellini Satyricon) in which the human drama got lost. In La strada Fellini never forgets that he is doing a character study of two disparate individuals and the film is all the better for it. Quinn offers another magnificent portrayal in the movie, and he is matched by Masina, who may seem at first like a distaff Harpo Marx but who finally etches a very affecting and convincing portrait. Basehart [Tension] is given a less defined role but is fine. With excellent photography from Otello Martelli [Stromboli] and a poignant and lovely score by Nino Rota, La strada is a very moving experience. One could quibble about certain aspects (what exactly happened to Rose, for instance?), but this is still a remarkable motion picture. Some people feel sorry for Zampano at the end, but considering his behavior I ultimately find him much more pathetic than sympathetic.
Verdict: Fellini at his best. ***1/2.