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De Sica's 'Umberto D.': A tightly focused gem


In 1952, the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who had already collaborated with Vittorio De Sica on a succession of classics (the best known is The Bicycle Thief), declared that he hoped to create a movie so full of "truly significant and revealing" details that it would seem like "90 minutes in the daily life of mankind." That same year, De Sica and Zavattini came as close as anyone ever has to achieving this goal. Their eruptively moving Umberto D., the story of a debt-ridden retired civil servant who's forced from his home by a cruel landlady, is neorealism at its peak.

On the surface, Umberto D. simply follows the title character, played with a tattered bourgeois hauteur by the retired professor Carlo Battisti, as he and his dog wander through Rome in a futile search for money and fellowship. But De Sica and Zavattini turn mundane rituals into searing presentations of character. The movie starts with its only panoramic scene: elderly men demanding an increase in their pensions. (The sequence is echoed later in a dog pound.) De Sica tightens his focus so unerringly that the final shot - of Umberto D. playing fetch, trying to win back his dog's alienated affections - is a prodigious expression of modern man's aloneness.

Umberto D. screens at noon tomorrow at the Charles. Admission: $5.

'Films About Films'

The glorious 1952 musical satire of Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies, Singin' in the Rain, just landed in 33rd place on the list of all-time favorites in the brand-new Zagat Movie Guide. It can be seen (and relished!) for free at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Towson University's Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium, as part of the school's fall series on "Films About Film."

Adventurous students may want to compare it to Sid Caesar's parody of Sunset Boulevard - Aggravation Boulevard - in which Caesar's silent-screen star Rex Handsome, like Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont in Singin', turns out to have a voice like "a screaming chicken." (Aggravation Boulevard is available on video in The Sid Caesar Collection.)

Local scenes I

Local and national acting hero Edward Norton will be the host at a benefit screening of his latest film, Red Dragon - the Baltimore-set prequel to Silence of the Lambs, filmed on location in Charm City - at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Senator Theatre. The $100 admission includes a champagne reception. Proceeds benefit brain tumor research at the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurosurgery. Tickets: 410-516-6234 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Local scenes II

Creative Alliance tonight is the host of At Home and Asea, an acclaimed 70-minute digital-video feature by Mark Street, an assistant professor of visual arts at University of Maryland Baltimore County. LA Weekly praised this "collage of portraits," centered on five struggling Baltimoreans, for Street's ability "to capture intimate and casual moments with his subjects" and for his deftness "at aligning invisible emotions with their physical counterparts." Street and his cast will attend. The movie starts at 8 p.m. at 413 S. Conkling St.

Admission: $4 for members, $6 for non-members. Information:

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