Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


THE MEDIUM (1951). Director: Gian-Carlo Menotti, based on his opera. Conductor: Thomas Schippers; Symphony Orchestra of Rome.

A phony medium named Madame Flora or “Baba” (Marie Powers) who lives with her daughter Monica (Anna Maria Alberghetti, who is “introduced” in this film) and a mute boy named Toby (Leo Coleman) feels a “genuine” spectral touch during a séance and wonders if it was real or a practical joke. Obsessing over this, her descent into madness eventually leads to tragedy. The Medium is the flip dark side of Menotti's far superior Amahl and the Night Visitors; the piece is “good theater” but the music, despite some lyrical [“Monica, Monica, dance the waltz”], sensitive, and very effective moments, isn't all that memorable. Menotti directs his opera with a deft hand; this is not a filmed record of an opera production but a genuine film with a moody atmosphere and some striking black and white photography. Alberghetti, who later starred with the late Jerry Orbach in Broadway's Carnival before embarking on a brief Hollywood career (Ten Thousand Bedrooms with Dean Martin), has a beautiful voice and is a good actress. Marie Powers is excellent and dynamic as the crazy, tormented Madame Flora. Leo Coleman is not a boy, but a full-grown black man with a highly expressive face who looks like he can take care of himself; he is also very good. The wind up of the film is moving and pathetic. Menotti composed many different operas, but he never really topped Amahl. Often referred to as an American Puccini, he was never really in that Italian composer's league.
Verdict: Interesting curiosity. **1/2.

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