A wonderful little joke establishes the hearty-droll tenor, the first scene finds the rakish doctor (Vittorio De Sica) in the middle of the surgery of the day, plucking a hair from Anna Magnaniís eyebrow. Strapped for money and besieged by a trio of creditors (Mussoliniís buffoons, who believe that "unity is strength" while scuffling for the comfiest chair in the room), he has no choice but to take his impresario fatherís offer as a health inspector. The orphanage heís assigned to is a cittŗ di donne with something of a Suspiria whiff to the matronly management and castor oil as the official cure-all. "Well, severity doesnít seem to work," De Sica shrugs before one cheerily unruly cherub. One of the orphans is Teresa (Adriana Benetti), a great thespianís daughter who carries on his theatrical tradition with bits of makeshift Shakespeare in the attic. If the kitchen sweeper dreams of becoming a principessa, the scattered heiress (Irasema DiliŠn) fancies herself a poetess and gets mistaken for a maid; the doctor loves one but steals a kiss from the other and finds himself forcibly engaged. Keeping its comic complications whirling with svelte technique in the d'Arrast-La Cava-Leisen vein, De Sicaís white-telephone screwball romance contrasts with Shoeshine as fascinatingly as BuŮuelís El Gran Calavera complements Los Olvidados, and with as many gems of unruffled surrealism: DiliŠn reciting inane rhymes while painting the tennis court, the ex-stableman valet (Virgilio Riento) polishing boots like horseshoes, the gowned and plumed Magnani nonchalantly vamping through a line of chorines as the theater director begs for more emotion. With Guglielmo Barnabo, Olga Vittoria Gentilli, Elvira Beltroni, and Annibale Betrone. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce