SANDRA (SANDRA OF A THOUSAND DELIGHTS) (VAGHE STELLE DELL' ORSA) (director/writer: Luchino Visconti; screenwriters: story by Suso Cecchi D'Amico and Enrico Medioli; cinematographer: Armando Nannuzzi; editor: Mario Serandrei; music: César Franck; cast: Claudia Cardinale (Sandra Dawson), Marie Bell (Mrs. Gilardini, Sandra's Mother), Michael Craig (Andrew Dawson), Jean Sorel (Gianni Wald-Luzzati), Renzo Ricci (Antonio Gilardini), Fred Williams (Dr. Pietro Formari), Amalia Troiani  (Fosca, maid); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Franco Cristaldi; Columbia Films-PAL form; 1965)

"The sexy Claudia Cardinale in the Electra role steals the film's acting honors."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The retelling in contemporary terms of the Electra myth by Italian film-maker Luchino Visconti ("Senso"/"Death in Venice"/"Rocco and His Brothers") won the Grand-Prix at the Venice Film Festival. It's scripted by Visconti from a story by Suso Cecchi D'Amico and Enrico Medioli. The sexy Claudia Cardinale in the Electra role steals the film's acting honors. The title is lifted from the opening lines of 'Twinkling Stars of the Bear' in a poem by Leopardi. It's set in a conflicted and disintegrating Jewish family's crumbling mansion in the provincial small Italian town of Volterra and is told like a words only Verdi operatic tale that lingers on guilt, tragedy, betrayal and incest. It's visually stylish as shot in black-and-white by first-class cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi, but never mounts to much dramatically as it fails to create sparks in its slow burn of a melodrama.

The 25-year-old neurotic Italian beauty Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) parts Paris with her new naive American husband Andrew Dawson (Michael Craig) for a rare visit back to her ancestral palatial home in Volterra in order to attend a city ceremony honoring her Jewish scientist father killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp and introduce hubby to the family. Tension arises when Sandra's aspiring writer brother Gianni (Jean Sorel) makes an appearance and it soon becomes apparent to her jealous husband that he was in an incestuous relationship with Sandra. If that wasn't bad enough news for the uptight hubby to receive, he meets his wife's first lover at 16, the present Dr. Pietro Formari (Fred Williams), who still has eyes for her. Meanwhile Sandra's mentally ill mom (Marie Bell), remarried to the children's hated stepfather Gilardini (Renzo Ricci), who supposedly denounced their father, is released from a clinic and living in her villa. Mother and daughter can't face each other, as Sandra still has strong feelings that mom is responsible for her father's mysterious death at Auschwitz and finds her stepfather sinister.

It's an ambiguous told psychological chamber piece that is too bleak to enjoy, except for the fine acting, its solid depiction of a decadent upper-crust society and its technical execution by a master craftsman.

REVIEWED ON 3/14/2013       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"