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  Miracle in Milan Make A Wish
Year: 1951
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Stars: Francesco Golisano, Emma Gramatica, Paolo Stoppa, Guiglielmo Barnabó, Brunella Bovo, Anna Carena, Alba Arnova, Flora Cambi, Virgilio Riento, Arturo Bragaglia, Erminio Spalla, Riccardo Bertazzolo, Checco Rissone, Angelo Prioli
Genre: Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Once upon a time a little old lady (Emma Gramatica) was tending the cabbages in her garden when she heard the cry of a baby. On closer investigation, she discovered the infant amongst the cabbage leaves and scooped it up, taking it indoors. He grew into a little boy, Totò, who looked up to the old woman and her way of turning any mishap into an opportunity to see the brighter side of life, but little old ladies do not last forever and one day she fell sick and died. Poor Totò (Francesco Golisano) had to be taken into the orphanage, having no money, but when the day came to leave, he was nevertheless optimistic about his prospects...

Another collaboration between director Vittorio De Sica and writer Cesare Zavattini after their world-beating The Bicycle Thief, Miracle in Milan, or Miracolo a Milano if you were Italian, was a different beast, at least at first glance. Taking the same concerns of the poor and their status in society, this was a far lighter work that plunged headlong into all out fantasy in its final half hour. Where The Bicycle Thief left you depressed and dejected, this counterpart was meant to have you feeling warm and cosy by its ending, although it was a more cynical effort than its surface implied.

On his exit from the orphanage, Totò finds himself one of the poor, and not only that but his sunny and friendly disposition does not go down well with the Milanese locals - even a cheery "Good morning" is greeted with a sour face and harsh words. He ends up wandering the streets until his case is stolen when he is distracted by the rich at a posh do, which he dutifully applauds. However, he notices the culprit making his getaway and catches up with him, so the thief has no option but to give the case back, muttering that he liked the look of it.

Totò's heart melts and he says he doesn't really need it, whereupon the two strike up a friendship, with the would-be thief telling him to come back to the wasteground where he lives so Totò will have a place to sleep. Thus begins our hero's role as a reformer, proving himself to be far more socially conscious than perhaps his most obvious antecedent, Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, would have been. Chaplin's character may have been a champion of the disadvantaged, but you always got the impression he would put himself first, whereas De Sica's down and out is there to improve the lives of his new friends without thinking of number one.

So it is that the poor's shacks are made into a proper village thanks to Totò's suggestions for putting the nearby scrap heap to good use, as he in the meantime will, for instance, save a man from committing suicide on the railway tracks. In some ways the hero is too benign to be true, but if you thought this was sentimental without the supernatural element, then that's nothing compared to what happens when the capitalists turn up. These fat cats, straight off the Monopoly board, decide they are going to force the poor off their land when oil is struck there, so what else can they do but, erm, call on the assistance of the little old lady's ghost? She is now an angel, and gives Totò a magic dove which grants any wish, but De Sica is not so schmaltzy that he does not accept that this will lead to greed and misplaced faith in your heart's desire. Miracle in Milan is charming if not entirely convincing, but offers food for thought without getting bogged down in dour, finger-wagging lessons. Music by Alessandro Cicognini.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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