Arabella (Mauro Bolognini, 1967)


It starts as it means to go on: a party of beautiful people ecstatically dancing the Charleston to a frivolous Ennio Morricone score. This is Arabella (1967), a fun, farcical film with whose flimsy plotline is compensated by glamorous costumes, beautiful scenery and humorously exaggerated cultural stereotypes.

Part of its appeal is due to Virna Lisi. As the eponymous socialite, she is on a mission to pay back the obscene amount of back-taxes that her Grandmother (Margaret Rutherford) owes. Despite a business engagement to the wealthy Filiberto (Antonio Casagrande) – a casual arrangement preceding an open marriage – she attempts to raise the money by seducing and conning various men (Terry-Thomas in multiple roles) out of the money.

What the film lacks in plot it makes up for in details. Lisi parades around in a collection of costumes where each is more beautiful than the last. Her gowns (orange, purple, black, sheer, feathered) and her accessories (a collection of wigs, long cigarette holders, turbans, diamond brooches and smoky cats eyes) are part of the film’s charm. She seduces with her clothes as much as her sex appeal.

However, the film’s scene stealing moment comes in the form Giancarlo Giannini as Saverio, the camp son of Thomas’ English duke. Here the cultural stereotypes come to the fore, with the flouncing, effeminate Roman waving a rose around – his arms filled with gold bracelets – and recoiling in horror at the sight of the maid’s exposed cleavage. Riffing on the Valentino-Latin lover stereotype is by no means the most original idea, yet it is extremely entertaining.

Arabella it is not a meaty film by any means but the intricate details make it irresistible.