Sophia Loren

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Sophia Loren Pencil Portrait
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Whilst most of us receive any communication from the taxman with some trepidation, we nevertheless comfortably expect to resolve any dispute within a matter of months. For some individuals though, an investigation can last years if not decades.

In 2013, a court ruling in Italy put paid to a 39-year legal dispute between the Oscar-winning film star Sophia Loren, and the Italian tax authorities. The 79-year-old Loren, who lives in Switzerland, was quoted as saying she was happy with a ruling by the Supreme Court that said her 1974 tax return was indeed covered by a 1982 tax amnesty. ‘A saga that has lasted nearly 40 years is finally over’, Loren was quoted by the ‘La Stampa’ daily as saying,: ‘I always look to the future and I leave bad experiences like this one behind me’. Loren’s advisers, had applied one of Italy’s more common amnesties, calculating that she owed tax on 60% of her income for that year, with the authorities insisting on an additional 10%.

The actress famously spent 17 days in prison in 1982 in a separate tax dispute — an incident that drew crowds to the jail near Naples. The pink 15 foot square cell with an unbarred window, sported a bed, television and separate bathroom. She was not compelled to share with other inmates and was able to dress as she pleased. Let us therefore not get too carried away with the courage of her convictions. For all the adversities she has faced throughout her life, this incident does not rank highly amongst them.

Interviewed at the time of the publication of her autobiography in 2014, the actress was suitably forthright about details of her life suitable for public consumption, and matters she would prefer to keep private. Interviewed by Chrissy Iley of The Telegraph, La Loren was moved to say:

“I used to write in my diary every day. I am a Virgo, so annoying and boring. I found the diary and I said, ‘Let me see how many years ago I wrote this.’ And I saw many things in it. Many things that I didn’t want to ever let go from my own intimacy. So I tore out the page. And then another. And then another. And then I thought, I don’t want these books to be around if I’m not there one day. I would like to keep my privacy. All these things have to be finished. So I burnt them. All of them. So every year when I write my diary, a phrase here, a date there. A note about meeting someone. And every year I destroy them. There are some things I want to keep just for myself.”

Her admirers have been legion from the moment she appeared on-screen. Richard Burton described her “beautiful brown eyes set in a marvelously vulpine, almost satanic face. Stupendously intelligent, she beat me at Scrabble twice.” Noël Coward said that she should have been “sculpted in chocolate truffles so the world could devour her.” Peter O’Toole, who played Don Quixote to her Dulcinea in the 1972 movie of ‘Man of La Mancha,’ said simply, “The more I was with Sophia, the more edible she looked.” Writer John Cheever, who interviewed her in Naples in 1967 for The Saturday Evening Post, wrote, “Here is the actress; the slum child; the chatelaine of a great villa; the beauty whose pictures, cut from magazine covers, lonely men carry around in their wallets; and the wife of Carlo Ponti. She brings all this into focus with a shake of her head She seems sincere, magnanimous, lucky, intelligent, and serene.”

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a song for her, “Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren),” released on the 2010 remastered version of ‘Exile on Main St,’ and journalist Pete Hamill, who visited her in Naples on the set of ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,’ wrote, “Her nose is too large, her chin too small Her feet are the biggest of any movie queen since Greta Garbo. But head her in the direction of a camera, set her Etruscan eyes dancing, and Sophia is one of the most magnificent women in the world.”

Hamill got it right, of course. When it comes to physical attractiveness, the constituent elements can all be wrong, yet the overall effect will remain devastating. Loren was wise enough to avoid cosmetic surgery early in her career, despite concerns from lighting technicians over her nose.

Recommended viewing

Two Women (1960)

It started in Naples (1960)

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (1963)

Marriage Italian Style (1964)

Arabesque (1966)

Director Stanley Donen continues his homage to Hitchcock – a programme initiated three years earlier with “Charade,” – teaming Gregory Peck and La Loren in a fast paced thriller that zips along at breathneck speed.

Peck is Professor David Pollock, an expert in ancient Arabic hieroglyphics who infiltrates the organization of an oli maganate named Beshraavi, at the behest of a Middle Eastern Prime Minister. Scheming Arabs, working at crosspurposes to decode a secret cipher that will decide the political fate of an Middle East kingdom, are only the tip of Pollock’s problems.

The professor’s host – played by Alan Badel – is involved in a plot against the Prime Minister that will preserve his business interests, the finer details contained in a hieroglyphic code, which Pollock has ‘offered’ to crack. Beshraavi’s mistress, Yasmin Azir (Loren), is a mystery intertwined in the plot, sashaying into an early scene with our reluctant hero in an outfit that may best be described as a sheer black afternoon nightie.

“Hello,” she says, firmly convinced the preoccupied professor’s attention will soon be diverted by her innate class and beauty.

“Hello,” he nonchalently replies, before his brain registers the sheer vision now before him.

One double take and he’s rising to his feet, an increasingly pleasurable inflection in his next felicitations.

“Hello – Hello, hello, hello.”
“What are you doing?” she enquires.
“Oh, these English crosswords are devilish, don’t you think?” he responds.
“You’re an American.”
“Yes, sir. Indeedy-do, ma’am.”
“I don’t meet many Americans.”
“Actually, I don’t meet many people who are dressed like that either.”

“Would you mind fastening my dress,” she murmurs, slithering up to him in a highly charged scene that sets the tone for their forthcoming interplay. Pollock needs her help, but when she repeatedly seems to double cross him in one escapade after another, he can’t decide on whose side she is working.

Within minutes, Peck and Loren are playing footsie in a shower bath with the curtains drawn, after Beshraavi orders her to ‘freshen up.’ Fully clothed at the back, all his Christmas’s come at once as the delectable temptress steps into the cubicle clad only in a towel around her head. Amusing shenanigans with a bar of soap ensue as her lover continues to talk to her, oblivious to Peck’s presence. Eventually, the couple escape, chased by gunmen, before hightailing it to London Zoo. Thereafter, in pursuit of the purloined cipher they high-life it at Ascot, and in a climactic final scene, are hunted down by a helicopter as they flee across a bridge.

Based on the 1961 novel ‘The Cipher’ by Alex Gordon, ‘Arabesque’ went through three screenwriters and numerous changes, before reaching the screen. Initially developed as a project for Cary Grant, the actor was by now – at least in his own mind – too old for leading man roles, and in any event, a third teaming with Loren was an impossibility for personal reasons.

Thankfully, the central pair work well together, though light touch comedy was never Peck’s forte. and there’s sterling support from Alan Badel – all dark shades and refined menace – and the consistently underused Kieron Moore, who should have become a much bigger star than he did. Some scenes were problematic to shoot, Peck’s broken ankle several years earlier in a horse riding accident severely impeding his ability to run quickly in a scene where the couple are chased by a threshing machine. Loren herself, caused some friction on set with her excessive Christian Dior wardrobe requests, including twenty different pairs of expensive shoes for her character, a detail that was explained away in the movie as evidence of her tycoon lover’s foot fetish.

It’s all frothy nonsense, but the tempo and striking photographic effects – close-ups of snakes flicking tongues in the zoo, a nightmare highway montage – inspire perseverence in the viewer. Ultimately, the two glamorous leads carry the day, in a film beautifully underscored by Henry Mancini’s soundtrack music. With ready made audiences still hungry for sophisticated romantic thrillers, Loren’s alluring presence would add the finishing touch to a sure fire box office hit.

Man of La Mancha (1972)

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