Its second world war time. Mussolini is just been deposed and Germans are occupying most of Italy. Santa Vittoria is a small village/town where Wine is the back bone of the society. Bombolini is considered a drunken clown, as he is always drunk and his wife Rosa treats him like a worker or dog. She has utter contempt for the man who is just drunk all the time, a useless husband and father. Bombolini climbs up the huge water tank to earse the words praising Mussolini, but he is too drunk that he is just weak to do anything. Villagers think he is going to kill himself and Fabio, the only university student in the village, climbs up the tank to bring him down. Villagers chant the name of Bombolini, just to motivate him, while he is climbing down the tank. The fascist members of the council, who are in the town hall, afraid to go out, hear these chants and thinks the villagers have selected Bombolini as the next mayor. To save themselves from the mob (fascists have treated the peasants really bad during Mussolini's reign) they come out of the hall and announces Bombolini will be the new Mayor. Bombolini is shocked, but accepts this chance without a second thought. He reads Machiavilli's Prince and earms some weird idea about administration and manipulation. To appease the villagers, he select the most prominent people in the village as his council of ministers. He hope all this will find him some credit in his home, but Rosa is a strong woman and treats him even harder than earlier.
Fabio brings in the news that Germans will come to Santo Vittario to take their wine. The village is shocked. Tufa, a fascist soldier, who left the army, advise Bombolini to keep all the wine in the tunnels in the ancient Roman cave and cover up the tunnels. More than a million bottle of wine are transfered by hand, by the Santa Vittorians, to the tunnels in the Roman cave and are covered with double brick walls. They leave about 300000 bottles in the cooperative cellar, to deceive the Germans. They now wait for the Germans and a small team of Germans led by Captain Von Prum arrives in Santa Vittoria. Bombolini have decided to butter the German noses so that no harm is done to any villagers. When Von prum asks for the wine, Bombolini negotiates with him desperately for some percentage of the wine, in the cooperative cellar, to be left for the villagers, if not that would be a disaster for the village. Von Prum beleives him. However, from the records of the company, who used to buy the wine from Santa Vittoria, German special services understand that there were more than a million bottles of wine in Santa Vittoria and the villagers are cheating. Von Prum asks for 36 hours, before the special services can torture some villagers to find out the truth about the wine. His troups search the whole village but they cannot find the wine. At the end of 36 hours, Bombolini, intelligently, presents two ex fascists as the villagers to the special services to torture. Finally the special services are sure that there is no more wine in the village and agrees with the Captain that its time to leave the village. Von Prum, by now, is sure that Bombolini is cheating him and as a last ditch effort, announces Tufa would be shot at 06 am, the day when the Germans have to leave the village, if the secret is not revealed. In the morning, he points a gun at Tufa and screams for the whereabouts of the wine, but Tufa, Bombolini and the whole village keep on saying there is no wine. Von prum sets Tufa free and just before he leaves, pleads to Bombolini to reveal the secret, only the secret he doesnt need the wine, but to no avail. Bombolini then presents a bottle of wine to Von Prum and as the Germans leave he dances out his joy with the whole village. Even Rosa appreciates him now and joins him.
What a beautiful movie. Here is a movie where within few minutes we know that we are watching a great movie and as time pass our appreciation for the movie only grows. Brilliant scenes follow one after another that by the end, we would like to join the dancing Santa Vittorians. The scene where Fabio saves Bombolini is well taken and I thought excellent. But the scenes that follow are even more excellent. This movie can be treated as a comedy or even an adventure, it offers everything. Most scenes inlcuding Bombolini, and he is there in almost all the scenes, are so funny but towards the end when Bombolini acts more like a responsible Mayor the movie is kind of a thriller and there is enough drama too through the characters of Tufa, Catarina and Von Prum. The love between Tufa and Catarina and the forceful intrusion by Von Prum is an excellent sub plot which makes the final scenes more dramatic in this comic thriller. This sub plot is still not permitted to take away the attention from the major plot. Excellent script and direction I must say. The scene and dialogues between Bombolini and his daughter and with Rosa and the daughter are brilliantly hilarious. No words to describe. So is the final scene with Bombolini and the captain.
Bombolini presents the wine bottle to the captain and says 'its not a great wine, but its not bad'.
The captain replies 'are you sure you can spare it?' and
Bombolini 'oh theres one million more where this came from'.
It has to be seen to realise the magnificence of the expressions on the face of Bombolini and Van Prom at this stage.
This movie is all about the character of Bombolini, more than brilliantly played by Anthony Quinn. Bombolini is present in all most all the scenes of this movie and he grows as a character scene by scene and Quinn seems to instill more and more life and blood into it as he grows. He keeps on surprising us with his performance that by the end I was wondering, if there is anything that is impossible for this man to perform. Here is a magician of an actor. If I must list, I will have to list almost all the scenes where he is brilliant, but some of them were hypnotic. The scene when he reacts to the announcement that he is the Mayor, when he listens to his daughter, who proclaims her love for Fabio and his looks at her breasts, when he pleads to Rosa to not beat him on his head, when he announces the council of ministers, when Tauf tells him how to hide the wine, his welcome of Germans, his reaction and bargaining when the captain ask for wine, when he pleads his idea to torture only the two fascists and his reactions when they are tortured and so on and finally the scenes at the square. I would rate this performance from Anthony Quinn as one of the very best performances by any actor I have ever seen.
But it is not completely a one man show. Anna Magnani as Rosa Bombolini is brilliant. She has taken Rosa to a different diamension I think, with the few scenes she got. The other major players like Van Prom, Catarina, Tauf, Fabio and Bombolini's daughter all are excellent.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria was an American production, but it is more like an Italian movie, except for the language of English. All these Italian characters speaking in English was the only serious draw back for me. They do talk with Italian accents and with perfect Italian mannerisms, but that was a sour point. I would really love to see this in Italian.
It is surprising that this movie is highly under rated. The Secret of Santa Vittoria would be an all time favourite for me.