Variety Lights (Italian: Luci del varietà) is a 1950 Italian romantic drama film produced and directed by Federico Fellini and Alberto Lattuada and starring Peppino De Filippo, Carla Del Poggio, and Giulietta Masina. The film is about a beautiful but ambitious young woman who joins a traveling troupe of third-rate vaudevillians and inadvertently causes jealousy and emotional crises. A collaboration with Alberto Lattuada in production, direction, and writing, Variety Lights launched Fellini’s directorial career.
Variety Lights is a bittersweet drama about a group of second-rate theatrical performers on tour. The actors, dancers, and performers struggle to make money from town to town, playing to minimal crowds, while the ageing manager of the company falls in love with a newcomer, to the chagrin of his faithful mistress Melina Amour, played by Fellini’s real-life wife, Giulietta Masina. The movie begins with a sold-out vaudeville show in a small Italian town. A young woman, Liliana, played by Carla Del Poggio, sits in the appreciate crowd, enraptured by the performers. That evening, as the troupe boards a train, with two of the performers forced to sit in the train toilet to evade paying the fare, the young woman also boards the train. During the night, she unsuccessfully requests the head of the group, Checco Dal Monte, played by Peppino De Filippo, to join the group. In the morning when the group realizes it does not have enough money to pay for a carriage, Liliana hires the carriage with the last of her money. This saves the group several miles of walking and leads to them accepting her. At the performance that evening, a sparse and hostile crowd mocks each performer in turn. When the local promoter notices that the crowd responds approvingly to Liliana, he interrupts the performance and directs the group to feature the newcomer. This leads to repeat performances over the next two days to increasingly larger crowds. After the third and final performance, a local wealthy man invites the group to his mansion for dinner. That night Checco realizes he desires Liliana. In the morning, as the group walks towards the train station, Checco abandons his mistress Melina to walk alone with Liliana. When the group arrives in Rome, Checco leaves it in order to form his own troupe featuring Liliana. However, as this new group practices, Liliana arrives to tell Checco she has signed with a competitor. Checco collapses. The movie then follows Liliana in her brilliant debut in a minor role, hinting that she has a bright future ahead of her. The movie ends with Liliana, sporting an expensive fur coat, boarding a first-class train carriage en route to Milan. On the adjoining track, Checco and his old troupe board a train for Formaggio. In the final scene, the two trains leave the station as Checco, reunited with Melina, begins to flirt with a young woman who sits across the aisle from him. This suggest he is about to begin the cycle once again.