Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Witty and Wicked Film Classic

Cleveland Press September 2, 1966

"Mandragola" is a classic play by one of the most cynical and brilliant men of the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli.

With it he thrust a satiric sword into the corruption of the Florentine society of his day. He used humor and wit in a story that is as ribald as anything in the "Decameron."

BASICALLY the plot is a one-note exercise in vulgarity as an amorous young man schemes to seduce the beautiful and virtuous wife of a rather oafish husband. He has the assistance of a greedy hanger - on, an avaricious monk and the woman's ambitious mother.

In a marriage not blessed by children, the husband submits his wife to every quack doctor of the period to remedy the situation. The young man poses as a doctor, suggests a potion made from mandrake root ("la mandragola"), but so deadly is the medicine that the next man to make love to her will die.

He convinces the stupid husband that a substitute must be found (any young lout will do) and from there on he has clear sailing.

THE FILM'S virtues include an adherence to Machiavelli's witty and biting dialog; its faults include the freedom of the camera to roam the boudoir.

Although "Mandragola" is as frank as any movie in this age of cinematic frankness, director Alberto Lattuada has a circumspect camera technique that suggests much but reveals less than most of his colleagues do. Consider, for example, the Bardot epics or a Swedish import still playing Cleveland.

Nevertheless, this is a touchy movie so far as taste is concerned. It is not for youngsters, and not for all adults.

Lattuada has assembled a remarkable cast. Rosanna Schiaffino fits all of the adjectives applied to her in the script as her desirability is described. Philippe Leroy is perfect as the handsome young man and Romolo Valli as the husband is an excellent study in dim wittedness.

In some of the publicity for this movie, the play is described as a "forbidden classic." Forget it. The play was reputedly a favorite of Pope Leo X.

And that's enough of a surprise for one day.