Despite Anthony Quinn’s top billing, this trashy melodrama is a vehicle for glamorous French actress Dominique Sanda, who plays a money-hungry vixen sleeping her way through a dysfunctional family while trying to seize control of a fortune. Produced in Italy and shown on American screens with some iffy dubbing transforming supporting players into English-language speakers, the picture evokes novelist Harold Robbins’ style of sexualized upper-class intrigue, although it’s a period piece instead of a modern story. Together with gauzy cinematography, extensive location photography, and relatively ornate production design, the vintage setting gives the piece a deceptive quality-cinema veneer. For while the characters are credible, the narrative is logical, and the themes are serious, the movie slides into the gutter at regular intervals. Director Mauro Bolognini spends almost as much time pointing his camera at Sanda’s naked body as he does recording her actual performance, and the way her character uses sex ensures that most of the movie feels lurid. Sure, Robbins often took similar material to even sleazier places, but it’s really just a matter of degrees.
Set in the late 19th century, the film begins abruptly, with cruel patriarch Gregorio (Quinn) announcing that he’s dissolving the family business, a huge commercial bakery, and giving his three adult children their inheritances while he’s still alive. Long-suffering elder son Pippo (Gigi Proietti) gets a pittance, handsome Mario (Fabio Testi) receives only repayment of his massive gambling debts, and daughter Teta (Adriana Asti) gets nothing because Gregorio dislikes the man she married. Set adrift, Pippo starts a hardware business and marries the beautiful Irene (Sanda), who seems like a saint at first blush, given how she mediates various squabbles between the siblings. Alas, Pippo discovers her true character once he realizes that Irene is sleeping with Mario. Later, she makes her way into Gregorio’s bed, though it’s never clear whether that was her plan all along or whether she simply pursued an opportunity once it became visible. Although it’s made skillfully, The Inheritance is forgettable. Among other problems, it’s impossible to root for any of the characters, who run the gamut from avaricious to entitled. Moreover, while Sanda possesses a certain kind of regal allure, she’s too much of an ice queen to generate empathy. Go figure that she won the Best Actress prize at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival for her work in The Inheritance.
The Inheritance: FUNKY