During planting season in Northern Italy s Po Valley, an earthy rice-field worker (Teorema s seductive Silvana Mangano) falls in with a small-time criminal (Il sorpasso s Vittorio Gassman) who is planning a daring heist of the crop, as well as his femme-fatale-ish girlfriend, played by the Hollywood star Doris Dowling (The Lost Weekend). Both a socially conscious look at the hardships endured by underpaid field workers and a melodrama tinged with sex and violence, this early smash for producer extraordinaire Dino De Laurentiis (Blue Velvet) and director Giuseppe De Santis (Days of Love) is neorealism with a heaping dose of pulp.
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Originally released as Riso Amaro, Bitter Rice was one of the landmark films of the postwar Italian neorealist movement. Silvana Mangano portrays one of hundreds of women toiling slavishly in the Po Valley rice fields. She is courted by two men: respectable Raf Vallone and no-good fugitive from justice Vittorio Gassman. Mangano chooses Gassman, a decision which brings disaster not only to her but to her co-workers. The rice-field scenes are realistic enough to pass muster as documentary footage, though they tend to be undercut in the English-language version by the amateurish dubbing. Critics were unanimous in their praise for Bitter Rice; their words were, however, ignored by the male fans who came to see the film solely on the strength of the now-famous production still of the buxom Silvana Mangano standing in the rice field wearing tight shorts and torn black stockings.