Luchino Visconti's last film based on a novella by Gabrielle d'Annunzio is a haunting account of aristocratic chauvinism and sexual double standards in turn of the century Italy. Giannini as the psychotic husband whose lust cannot be satisfied. Antonelli as his sensitive and tormented wife and O'Neil as cunning possessive mistress.
In his last film, Visconti returned to the widescreen costume melodrama, but chose a surprisingly intimate story (there are only three leading characters) rather than yet another sweeping portrait of high society decadence, as seen in The Damned and The Leopard. Turn-of-the-century aristo Giannini neglects his wife (Antonelli) for his mistress (ONeill), but is wooed back to the conjugal bed when Antonelli has a fling with an author, and becomes increasingly uptight (and deranged) when he learns that his wife is carrying her dead lovers child. For the most part, it is a poised melodrama of stiff characters in stiffer costumes (Scorsese borrowed a lot for The Age Of Innocence), but there is an extraordinary sensual interlude as the couple find brief erotic happiness in extensive breast-fondling intimacy. The latter stretches are especially powerful, as tragedy, guilt, murder and suicide force the characters to become less emotional.
A heavy duty costume drama with plenty of plot and varied emotions.