Bitter Rice (1949)

Vittorio Gassman, Doris Dowling, Silvana Mangano, Raf Vallone,
Riso amaro is a movie starring Vittorio Gassman, Doris Dowling, and Silvana Mangano. Two criminals on the run end up working in a rice field and decide to recruit other workers for their next robbery.
  • 7.7 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Carlo Lizzani, Gianni Puccini, Corrado Alvaro, Carlo Musso, Ivo Perilli, Writer:
  • Giuseppe De Santis, Director:
  • Producer:

All subtitles:

7 / 10

A Star Is Born

Along a few weeks in Northern Italy, many women leave their families and jobs and move to the rice fields to work in the harvest of rice. The lovers Francesca (Doris Dowling) and Walter (Vittorio Gassman) has just robbed a valuable jewel from a hotel, and Francesca joins a group of workers while escaping from the police. A silly and sensual worker, Silvana (Silvana Mangano), gets closer to Francesca fascinated by the precious necklace she found hidden in Francesca's mattress. When they arrive to the lodge, they meet Sergeant Marco (Raf Vallone), who is discharging the army and feels attracted by Silvana. A square of love is formed with tragic consequences.

"Riso Amaro" is an original neo-realistic dramatic romance that presented Silvana Mangano to the world, leading her to a position of star. She is extremely beautiful and sexy in the role of the peasant Silvana, especially while dancing with the handsome Vittorio Gassman. Doris Dowling is also excellent, performing the suffering Francesca, a women abused by her scum lover. This movie was presented in the fourth Cannes Festival, without awards. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Arroz Amargo" ("Bitter Rice")

9 / 10

Still great after not having seen it since 1949

First saw Bitter Rice in 1949 and it has haunted me for 51 years. Recently rented it (2000) and it's still compelling. The verrismo genre was new at the time; in 2000 it doesn't have the same impact that it did when Open City, Bicycle Thief, La Strada, et al were all showing at about the same time, and showing us that there was a true, artistic alternative to Hollywood pap.

The then 18-year old Silvana Mangano's earthy performance will endure forever. My only memory from 1949 was of her working and chanting in the rice fields. And her doing a sensual Lindy with Vittorio Gassman. Those scenes were still compelling, half a century later.

9 / 10

Just misses being a masterpiece

The principal flaw of this film is the performance of Doris Dowling, mistakenly cast in the role of Francesca. Dowling seems capable of only one facial expression, something between a scowl and a sneer. Why such a wooden American actress was cast in this role when there were so many budding actresses in Italy at the time must remain a mystery.

This film ranks just below such classics of the Italian neo-realist movement as The Bicycle Thief, Shoeshine, Open City, and La Strada. Turner Classic Movies is to be applauded for making this rarely seen gem available on their channel. There is a nearly show-stopping performance by Silvana Mangano, a performance that must have been electrifying at the time. Earthy, sensual, voluptuous, Mangano performs with unshaven armpits which she puts on full display when she puts her hands behind her head. This was a gutsy move for an unknown actress who was a former beauty queen presumably aiming for stardom, but this little touch adds immeasurably to the brooding sense of poverty and desperation that pervade the film. It has been said that if Mangano had had more drive and been less controlled by her husband, Dino de Laurentiis, she might have achieved the stature of Loren and Lollobrigida. But alas, it was not to be. The only other notable performance of her career was in Visconti's Death in Venice.

If this film seems excessively proletarian, even Marxist, in its outlook, it is important to remember that Italy was impoverished after WWII and that the Communist Party very nearly came to power in 1948 and probably would have done so had it not been for CIA intervention. The crane shots and other camera work, as well as the superb acting of the women in the smaller roles, are masterful in depicting the drudgery of the toil of the women working in the rice fields. Other aspects of the camera work are masterful. Probably the most famous, or notorious, scene in the film is the one where Mangano takes a reed and playfully pokes Vittorio Gassman with it. Gassman's character is not amused; he takes the reed from her and proceeds to whip her with it repeatedly. Notice the way the camera moves with Gassman as he approaches her, then moves with Mangano as she tries to move away from him in terror. This is masterful camera work. The finale of the film, which I won't reveal here, is shattering as well. The acting of Gassman and Raf Vallone is superb as well.

Until recently this film was unavailable on DVD with English subtitles, but it has recently become available and can be ordered on Amazon. It would be a great addition to anyone's film library. And one final note: another reviewer cautioned parents that there is nudity in this film. This is incorrect. I think he is probably referring to the crane shot that shows the women bathing in the river. They do indeed appear nude, but if you look more closely you will see that they are wearing body stockings and are fully clothed.

9 / 10

a true Italian classic

Although its mold of 1949 appears somewhat melodramatic today, the black and white 'Riso Amaro' (= Italian for 'Bitter Rice') surely ranks among the classics in film history.

This very Italian product by Guiseppe de Santis shows a pretty ordinary crime story, excellently interwoven with an impressive decor of harsh season labor in the rice-fields of Northern Italy. The thousands of women, up to their ankles in the water, breaking their backs in the burning sun to earn a few bucks, make a truly great setting.

'Riso Amaro' has been labeled as 'neo-realism'. Another issue worth mentioning is its female lead Silvana Mangano, ex miss Rome. To the standards of 1949 miss Mangano's performance in this film was shocking. This earned 'Riso Amaro' a lot of publicity, in particular in strongly Roman Catholic Italy.

8 / 10


The beginning of the end of Italian neorealism was when managers began to inject sex and violence for a better box office. This film explores the exploitation in the Italian countryside of female rice pickers and ends in a black shootout. We have mud wrestling in between, stunning 18-year-old silvana mangano dancing and vittorio gassman as a gangster running from the police, but after 50 weird years, the movie holds up remarkably well. Suggested