Ghosts – Italian Style is really a matter of expectation. It is not a ghost movie, at least by any traditional standards, and it is very Italian in spirit and style. This film from 1969 (or 1967 or 1968, depending on who you trust is a farce and a romantic entanglement comedy, one that features Sophia Loren and a little bit of slapstick. Expecting some sort of eerie ghost story is a mistake.
The trick lies in the “Italian Style” part of the title. Consider 1964’s Marriage Italian Style, a Vittorio de Sica picture that also featured Loren and took an “ultra-modern” look at marriage. That film filtered things through its dutifully Italian lens, so it stands to reason that Ghosts – Italian Style would take a similar bent. To draw further lines of continuity, the director of Ghosts, Renato Castellani, wrote the screenplay for Marriage Italian Style.
Loren stars as Maria, the unhappy wife to Pasquale (Vittorio Gassman). Pasquale is an opera singer, but he has fallen on hard times. Maria perhaps rushed into her marriage with him and now has her eyes on Alfredo (Mario Adorf), a wealthy orphanage director living among some very judgemental nuns. Alfredo is desperately in love with Maria, so much so that he’s willing to throw it all away to be with her.
For Alfredo, his love for Maria means that he’ll help her hapless husband with the bills. When Pasquale urgently takes up residence in a Neapolitan palace on the promise of free rent, Maria’s patience is further tried. And through a series of misunderstandings and closet-hidings, Alfredo’s hand in things is misinterpreted as supernatural.
Ghosts – Italian Style is a farcical comedy of errors and there are plenty of good laughs to be had. Pasquale’s insistence that Alfredo is a ghost who wants to help him financially is hysterical, especially when Alfredo gets caught red-handed in a tricky predicament and backs out of the room slowly. The facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Marcello Mastroianni as a real headless ghost doesn’t hurt either.
Then there’s the awe-inspiring loveliness of Loren. This can’t be understated and Ghosts offers plenty of what brings the boys and girls to the yard. A classic beauty, Loren’s glamour and charisma really comprise the best reason to see this film. She also reveals more of her comic side when she pretends to be a ghost late in the picture.
But a lot of Castellani’s movie is hard to follow, especially as it winds toward the final third. A plotline about Pasquale murdering his wife rings strangely, even if it does produce some amusing misunderstandings as it draws to a watery close. Ghosts – Italian Style is at its very best when it sticks to the cases of mistaken identity and the bizarre.
Also worth noting: Aldo Giuffrè puts in a rather amusing turn as a sleazy, two-faced Raffaele. He puts Maria and Pasquale in the palace to begin with, steals their candles, robs them of their chicken, and opportunistically tries to take Alfredo’s side when Pasquale is imprisoned.
Ghosts – Italian Style is a pretty funny movie. It’s not earth-shattering, but it doesn’t try to be. Castellani manages to provoke some solid chuckles and Gassman makes for an engaging enough comic lead. Throw in Sophia Loren and you’ve got a quality choice for a little forgettable Sunday afternoon entertainment.