Incantesimo tragico/Oliva/ Hechizo Tragico/Tragic Spell (Mario Sequi, Italy/France, 1951)

A film sold under many names and not a real success under any of them. A Gothic melodrama from Italy. María Félix is the beautiful Oliva, from a well-to-do family. Her widowed mother has chosen an aristocrat for her to marry, old, ugly and very rich. But on the annual feast day in which women are allowed to choose who they dance with, thus announcing their intended, she goes for Pietro (Rossano Brazzi), the King of the pickaxe, a well to do tenant farmer, who dreams of finding a way to bring to life the dry and rocky hills around his land.  ‘Will you know how to forgive me,’ she asks him on their wedding day. The film will tell us at the end.


When Pietro takes Oliva to his grandmother to get her blessing for their wedding, she judges Oliva, pretty …but too pretty. On the night that Pietro’s father Bastiano (Charles Vanel) returns from the jewellers, where he’s gone to get Oliva her wedding pearls, thunder and lighting waylay him into a deserted castle (see clip above). The thunder opens up the earth and he there finds a disused Roman temple, full of cobwebs, with mice running around, and in a tomb he finds a legendary treasure, ‘Il Tesoro dei Guarcialupi’ . He goes to his mother for advice and she tells him that gold calls to gold, it’s the demon’s opera. One of the jewels has an image of a beautiful woman, it’s a cursed image, and he must go immediately to the Chapel on the Mount and offer all of it to the Virgin so that she may protect him and his family from the curse. But Bastiano is greedy and doesn’t listen.  The rest of the film is precisely about the unfolding of that curse.

Félix once more plays a woman who destroys everything she comes into contact with. Rosanno Brazzi, often so dull, here at least looks soulful and handsome. Charles Vanel is hard, menacing, sober – completely great – as the father who thinks his son is out to assassinate him and kills him first. The film is beautifully shot by Piero Portalupi, immaculately lit, and with some interesting imagery. But it never quite comes to life. The Gothic elements are well imaged (see clips above but also image below) and there’s an interesting dream sequence (see clip immediately above) which also announces the beginning of the curse taking action. But the film creates little tension or suspense. Massimo Serato is Berto, Pietro’s brother and also in love with Olivia, It’s a well-made film but rather lifeless and much less enjoyable than mediocre films from the height of her Mexican period like La Devoradora which are made with less skill but imbued with a pulp, lurid life that makes them great fun to watch.

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José Arroyo



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