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Film / The Italian

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The Italian is a 1915 film directed by Reginald Barker.

Beppo is a gondolier in Venice. He is in love with Annette, but her father won't let them get married until Beppo makes enough money to support her. Beppo sails to America, where he sets up a shoeshine stand while getting a side job turning out the Italian vote for Corrigan, an Irish political boss. Eventually, he sends for Annette to join him. They get married and have a baby they name Tony, but their happiness is interrupted when Tony comes down a fever during a New York heat wave.

The Italian is startlingly sophisticated for a film made in 1915, to the point where many viewers regard it as superior to The Birth of a Nation (1915)—and not just because the latter film is blatantly racist. Like The Birth of a Nation (1915), The Italian has a place in the National Film Registry.

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Not to be confused with the Gothic Horror novel by Ann Radcliffe.


Tropes:

  • An Immigrant's Tale: Italian immigrant Beppo lives a hardscrabble existence in New York City's Lower East Side.
  • Brain Fever: This non-specific condition is what's wrong with Corrigan's daughter, per the newspaper.
  • Broken Pedestal: Beppo loses respect for Corrigan when the latter doesn't lift a finger to help his son Tony pull through his illness.
  • Death of a Child: Little Tony dies from the heat and a lack of access to pasteurized milk.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Two young lovers are kissing in Beppo's gondola. He gets distracted watching them and crashes the gondola, thus pitching himself into the canal.
  • Downer Ending: Weeping at the grave of your dead baby? Yep, doesn't get any sadder than that.
  • Framing Device: A seemingly pointless one in which lead actor George Beban, apparently playing himself, is shown at his home reading a novel called The Italian. Then the story, with Beban playing the lead character, takes place. Then the film ends with Beban-as-Beban finishing the book.
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  • Funetik Aksent: Beppo's Italian accent is rather awkwardly rendered via title cards.
    "I must get-a-de-milk or my babee is die."
  • Police Are Useless: Or worse than useless. No cops are in sight when Beppo is mugged and robbed of the money he needs for Tony's milk. But when he sees the muggers and attacks them, he's arrested.
  • Red Herring: An older merchant in the town also wants Annette's hand. It seems like a setup for Arranged Marriage or Star-Crossed Lovers or some other complication to Beppo and Annette's romance. In fact, the merchant is irrelevant to the plot, as Beppo and Annette get married.
  • Revenge by Proxy: After Corrigan refuses to help Beppo and Beppo's son dies as a result, Beppo sets out to kill Corrigan's little daughter.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film was made in 1915, but it takes place between 1912 and 1914, as shown in a letter Beppo sends to Annette (dated April 11, 1913).
  • What You Are in the Dark: A month after the unfortunate death of his baby son Tony, Beppo hears about how Corrigan (one of the men who refused to help Beppo out with his sick baby) had a baby daughter who was seriously ill. Beppo has a chance to avenge his late son by killing Corrigan's daughter. If he did kill the daughter, nobody would know he did it because they'd all assume the fatal illness killed her. Beppo almost succeeds in doing so, but when he sees the daughter making the same finger his son used to do, he gets memories of Tony and cannot bring himself to do the dirty act.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: A huge newspaper headline and article proclaims that Corrigan's daughter is ill.
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