Story by Federico Fellini, who also directed this picture, and Tullio Pinelli tells of a blunt, brutal wandering carnie performer (Anthony Quinn) who ‘buys’ a girl (Giulietta Masina) to serve as his assistant. She’s on the nutty side, but falls for him despite his many affairs with other women and his poor treatment of her. Her poetic conversations with a similarly dim-witted clown-trapezist (Richard Basehart) anger the brute, who finally accidentally kills his rival in a fist fight. The death completely unbalances the gal’s mind, and the brute abandons her.
Many years later, alone and broken, he hears someone whistle a tune she used to play on trumpet, and learns she is dead. That night after a violent drunk, alone on a deserted beach, he breaks down his lifelong reserve.
Story reads badly, but is filled with pathetic and poetic moments, and often is both very touching and extremely amusing. Acting by Quinn and Basehart is tops, but Masina, one of Italy’s best performers, easily steals show with her clownish mimicry.
The on-the-road atmosphere, the slum area showbiz aspects typical of some parts of Italian life, are realistically pictured by Fellini’s story and Otello Martelli’s camera in this intelligent film.
1956: Best Foreign Language Film