by Ian Johnston
Raffaello Matarazzo is perhaps less of a forgotten name now thanks to the four “Runaway Melodramas” from the late forties-early fifties that Criterion released in 2011 on their Eclipse label. Those films – Chains, Tormento, Nobody’s Children, and The White Angel – certainly fit the bill if you’re after lurid melodramatic excess kept in check by a coolly elegant classicism. They’re interesting and enjoyable enough, but I’m not so convinced at the attempts to sell Matarazzo as some kind of Sirkian or Minnellian master. On the other hand, I have no qualms at recommending the delights of his very first film, Treno Popolare.
Taking its name from the Sunday train that took Roman working-class day-trippers on an outing to the Umbrian hill town of Orvieto, the film sketches a number of characters – amongst many others, a middle-aged shop owner planning a romantic escapade with his young employee but pursued by his termagant wife; an overweight man travelling on his own; a father struggling with a swarm of offspring – but focuses on two co-workers. Prissy Giovanni is making the trip with the gorgeous Lina, who clearly will not be reciprocating his romantic intentions, and they fall in with the handsome Carlo. After some mild mishaps and misunderstandings the inevitable romance is cemented between Lina and Carlo, it all balanced nicely with extensive location footage (both on the train and in Orvieto), brief scenes with a host of other characters, and a Nino Rota song (“Treno popolare,” of course) which gets played twice. Clocking in at barely an hour, it’s quite simply charming.