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Film / Poverty and Nobility

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Poverty and Nobility (Miseria e nobiltà) is a 1954 film from Italy directed by Mario Mattoli.

It is an adaptation of an 1888 play by Eduardo Scarpetta. Felice and Pasquale are two men in Naples, trying to earn money as, respectively, a scribe for the illiterate and a photographer. They are not doing very well; at the start of the film they are five months late on the rent for the threadbare little apartment their families share. They haven't eaten in three days and are constantly sniping at each other.

Into this Black Comedy, Played for Laughs existence comes one Count Eugenio. Eugenio is in love with the luscious Gemma, a ballet dancer (Sophia Loren, just breaking out as a star of Italian cinema). Gemma is a commoner, so even though her family is wealthy—her father Gaetano is a former cook, now Nouveau Riche—Eugenio's father refuses to approve the marriage. Eugenio is still determined to marry Gemma, however, so he needs to impress Gaetano.

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Eugenio recruits Felice and Pasquale to impersonate his family, so he can get Gaetano to consent to the marriage. Pasquale will pretend to be Marquis Ottavio, and Felice will play Eugenio's uncle, the Prince of Casador. Pasquale's wife and daughter will also impersonate nobility—and Pasquale's daughter Pupella happens to be in love with Gaetano's son (and Gemma's little brother) Luigino.


Tropes:

  • Black Comedy: Felice and Pasquale and their families are literally starving, having gone three days without food. This is Played for Laughs. In the opening scene Pasquale's daughter Pupella is eating an onion, apparently the only bit of food in the apartment. Pasquale says that his daughter shouldn't have to eat an onion, she should be eating rose petals...then he takes the onion from her and eats it.
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  • Cat Fight: Everybody in the two poor families impersonates nobility as part of the ruse, except for Felice's common-law wife Concetta, who is left out. Enraged, she borrows a rich lady's dress and arrives at Gaetano's home pretending to be "Prince Casador"'s wife. A confrontation with Pasquale's wife Luisella starts a Cat Fight which leads to the scam being revealed.
  • Comedy of Remarriage: The sub-plot with Felice's legal wife Bettina being a servant in the Gaetano house is resolved when they get back together, after Bettina comes up with the 257 lira required for Felice's common-law wife Concetta to retrieve her pawned possessions and get lost.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Felice and Pasquale are hired to visit Don Gaetano's house and impersonate nobility. Who works as a maid at Gaetano's house? Felice's wife that he hasn't seen in six years.
    • The whole impersonation ruse is to get Gaetano to sign off on Eugenio's marriage to Gemma. Gemma has a younger brother, Luigino, who is dating...Pasquale's daughter Pupella.
    • Felice's little boy Puppeniello is told to find work. Where does he get hired as a servant boy? Gaetano's house, of course.
  • Double Entendre: Felice can't stop himself from staring at busty, gorgeous Gemma. In character as Prince Casador, he tells Gaetano that "We'll welcome you into the bosom of our family...and you'll welcome us into yours." As he says this he hugs Gemma and rests his head on her generous bosom.
  • Dramatic Irony: Felice's little son Puppeniello is basically thrown out of the apartment and told to find a job, because they can't feed him. He gets hired on as a servant in Gaetano's house. Gaetano's valet Vincenzo, who has passed Puppeniello off as his own son in order to get him the job, says that he wishes he could find the boy's real father so he could tell him what a "dirty scoundrel" he is. Naturally, he says this to "Prince Casador", who is actually the boy's father.
  • Foreshadowing: Some dialogue reveals that Felice and his "wife" Concetta actually aren't married; Felice has a wife still around somewhere, whom he left six years ago in favor of Concetta. Naturally Felice's legal wife Bettina pops up later in the movie.
  • Framing Device: The film opens with theater-goers arriving to see Eduardo Scarpetta's play. One of them wonders who's in the play, and consults a program, which turns out to be the movie's opening credits. The action then starts with the actors on a stage. This is abandoned as the film shifts to "reality"—until the end, where the actors are again on a stage and bow to the audience as the curtain falls.
  • High-Class Glass: Pasquale adopts one of these for his impersonation of an aristocrat.
  • Mock Millionaire: Two dirt-poor families impersonate aristocrats. They ham it up relentlessly, but sometimes can't stop themselves from acting like commoners, like when they descend on Gaetano's ice cream like wolves.
  • The Noun and the Noun: Poverty and Nobility
  • Of Corsets Sexy: A random segment has Felice and Pasquale flirting with a downstairs neighbor, a young woman from Piedmont who thinks nothing of bustling around her apartment in a corset while she talks to them. Felice and Pasquale's wives are not happy about this.
  • The Reveal: Gemma is engaged to Eugenio, but has another suitor in the person of Mr. Bebe, a rich man who wants her to be The Mistress. The ending reveals that Mr. Bebe is actually Eugenio's father, Marquis Ottavio. When Eugenio catches his father and calls him out, Ottavio drops his objection to the marriage.
  • She's Got Legs: Gemma is introduced in costume at the ballet, extending a long leg as she adjusts her tights.
  • Title Drop: Puppeniello has been pretending to be Vincenzo's son, but when he sees Felice he calls him "Dad!", and hugs him. With the whole gang having been revealed as impostors, Felice says "Yes, I'm your father, and I've had a lot of trouble with real poverty and false nobility."
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