“The Witches” is essentially a vanity project with five different stories designed to show off the range of actress Silvana Mangano, the Miss Italia contest winner who went on to marry Dino De Laurentis in 1949 and became something of a star. The film became a instant curiosity piece because of Clint Eastwood’s participation. Each story stars Silvana Mangano and the results are hit-and-miss, with some moments of interest but there is little depth and cohesion in any of the five stories. There is really no theme that connects the stories which makes it impossible to review the film as a whole. As if that is not enough, the title “The Witches” only really is for the first story and only as the name of a song.
“The Witch Burnt Alive”
Luchino Visconti directed the first story, which is the longest of the five, taking approximately a third of the film’s running length. Mangano plays a superstar actress and model who travels to a mountain resort, only to find the well-to-do inhabitants have prejudices and preconceived notions about her based on her public persona. The women are all jealous and the men all want to sleep with her, but all Mangano wants is to be left alone. This is a satire about the realities of being famous.
Mauro Bolognini directed this visual gag that features Mangano offering to take an injured man to a hospital, driving him at breakneck speed throughout the city, but not stopping at locations where he might find aid.
“The Earth Seen from the Moon”
Pier Paolo Pasolini directed the most artistic and memorable of the five films. Reminiscent in style to “Don Quixote”, a recently widowed father and his son travel around the country in search of a new wife and mother, and after a long period, they discover the literally speechless Mangano. She brings joy into their lives, but they are poor, and in order to find a better life for themselves, they concoct a scheme to try to make some quick cash. The story is contrived but the outlandish performances, artwork, and costumes does evoke great charm and likeability. Although she plays mute, this is probably the most appealing of Mangano’s five performances,.
Franco Rossi directs the fourth and shortest piece. It is a straight-forward revenge story that comes and goes before it ever has a chance of becoming interesting. It’s violent, and, for me, the least satisfying of the five stories.
“A Night Like Any Other”
Clint Eastwood’s appearance is clearly the biggest attraction here and it is an enjoyable departure from his normal roles, playing a comedic romantic lead. Director Vittorio de Sica does a great job with the story that blends the mundane and fantasy in a visually satisfying way. The story is about a bored housewife who tries in vain to get her husband to realize that he is not as romantic as he used to be. The scene is interspersed with comedic romance sequences revolving around the couple’s past romantic interludes, and dreams of how their lives should be.