Il Grido / The Cry film review: Excellent Steve Cochran in Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic neorealist drama
One of the best of the early Michelangelo Antonioni efforts is the black-and-white drama Il Grido / The Cry (1957), which he also co-wrote along with Elio Bartolini and Ennio de Concini. Yet so much attention has been paid to Antonioni’s films of the 1960s that his earlier neorealist features have been overlooked – as if they represented the work of nothing more than a talented tyro.
Although Antonioni was not as consciously “experimental” in his early films as he was in those of his Alienation Trilogy (L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse) and in later classics like Blow-Up and The Passenger, his neorealist features are both capably written and visually accomplished, playing upon the viewers’ emotions while providing them with believable characters and situations.
That Antonioni’s big-screen career started out in documentary shorts (e.g., People of the Po Valley, Roma-Montevideo) should come as no surprise to those familiar with his earlier narrative output.
From Hollywood gangster to Italian proletarian
Il Grido has much in common with Federico Fellini’s 1954 classic La Strada, save that Antonioni’s film is a bit more believable and less patently heart-tugging. Also worth noting, Il Grido prefigures many of the themes that would recur in the director’s later work – e.g., alienation, apathy, anomy – in addition to possessing a political edge lacking in those later films.
As opposed to Antonioni’s upcoming interest on the idle bourgeoisie, Il Grido focuses on Italy’s working class. Set in a small-town – actually, a village with crappy shacks and huts – the film revolves around Aldo, a refinery worker and mechanical engineer played by American actor Steve Cochran, whose reputation in the United States rested mostly on his crime dramas (e.g., White Heat, The Damned Don’t Cry).
Cochran is utterly believable as this (dubbed) member of the postwar Italian proletariat who takes to the road with his young daughter, Rosina (Mirna Girardi), after discovering that his companion, Irma (Alida Valli), is about to leave him for another man. Regarding the film’s ending, the idea that Aldo is a victim of his social status has some merit, for although he is a skilled worker, Aldo cannot get back on his feet. After all, as a single parent, he must reject jobs that he could have taken if alone.
That Cochran lucked out by getting this role after years mostly playing one-dimensional heavies shows that an actor’s career is as dependent upon luck as that of any other person.
Beckett + Dreyer comparisons
Il Grido has been compared to the plays of Samuel Beckett, and this is one of the rare times when such comparisons are apt. No, Antonioni’s landscapes are not as bleak and his characters are not as satirical as Beckett’s, but much of Il Grido is a physical journey to nowhere, for Aldo ends up back where he started – a failure.
Besides, the shots of depressed industrial landscapes enshrouded in fog lend the film a dreamy state not unlike Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr. Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo does an excellent job, but even better is Giovanni Fusco’s musical score, especially a haunting Erik Satie-like piano theme convincingly detailing Aldo’s inner turmoil.
Only the film’s rather abrupt, if appropriate, ending can be argued against its greatness – just as Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon can be said to miss greatness only as a result of its weak ending.
Though not as widely praised as Antonioni’s later efforts, Il Grido, while skirting near and above greatness, is better than the one that followed, L’Avventura – in which the filmmaker totally broke with his past.
In fact, Il Grido contains numerous moments proving that Antonioni and his collaborators were more than just capable screenwriters. Among those is the scene of a man asking Aldo’s former lover, Elvia (U.S. actress Betsy Blair, Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Marty, 1955), out on a date only to be casually rejected while being offered a potential date on some future Sunday. He then cynically scoffs that her promise will be “like every other Sunday.”
In that brief scene, we know all we need to about Elvia – that she is still obsessed with Aldo. There is no need for a flashback on her past with either man, for that moment sums it all up with wonderful poesy and concision.
In the next scene, as she is out dancing with Aldo, we can actually be a witness to Elvia’s feelings; when she realizes he is using her to forget Irma, her pain is genuine.
If only more filmmakers learned the lessons Michelangelo Antonioni taught by way of Il Grido half a century ago. More of them would produce films of quality, and a few would even augur great art.
Il Grido / The Cry (1957)
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni.
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, and Ennio de Concini.
Cast: Steve Cochran. Alida Valli. Betsy Blair. Dorian Gray. Jacqueline Jones (as Lynn Shaw). Gabriella Pallotta. Mirna Girardi.
“Il Grido / The Cry Film (1957): Antonioni’s Neorealist Classic” review text © Dan Schneider; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Il Grido / The Cry Film (1957): Antonioni’s Neorealist Classic” is a condensed/revised version of Dan Schneider’s text currently found in its original form here.
“Il Grido / The Cry Film (1957) Review” endnotes
Betsy Blair, Alida Valli, and Steve Cochran Il Grido / The Cry film images: CEIAD.
“Il Grido / The Cry Film (1957): Antonioni’s Neorealist Classic” last updated in September 2021.