Miracolo a Milano (Miracle In Milan) (1951)




Director:     Vittorio De Sica

Starring:     Emma Gramatica (Lolotta), Francesco Golisano (TotÚ), Paolo Stoppa (Rappi), Brunella Bovo (Edvige), Anna Carena (Marta).

a fantasy concerning the post-World War II poor in Italy



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

An elderly woman is tending her garden.  She hears a baby cry and searches for it.  She finds the baby on the ground in the garden.  It's a baby boy.  She picks up the boy and takes him inside her house.

The boy is four of five years old now.  He is wearing girl's clothing, probably because this was all the old woman had.  She enjoys playing games with the boy called Toto.  Two doctors come in and check grandma's pulse.  A little later the woman dies.  The little boy walks alongside or behind the hearse wagon.  A man escaping from the police walks alongside the little boy for awhile pretending he is a mourner.   

Two men take the boy to an orphanage.  Many years later Toto emerges as a young man.  He asks a streetcar track supervisor for a job, but he has no work for him.  Watching the rich people come out from an opera or something similar, he sets his bag down on the sidewalk.  A tramp picks up the bag.  Toto notices the bag is gone and looks for it.  He sees the tramp with the bag and he follows him.  Toto catches up with him and he tells the fellow that the case belongs to him.  The bum sets it down and walks a few steps away from it.  Toto picks it up and tells the fellow that there wasn't much of value in the case.  The tramp says he just liked the case.  So Toto gives him the bag after having taken out the few things that were in it.  

Toto asks the fellow if there is a place where he can stay for the night.  The bum tells him that those places are in the center city and he just missed the last streetcar to the central station.  Toto is disappointed, but the man tells him he can stay with him.  So Toto follows the tramp.  The fellow lives in an lot that is empty except for a number of shacks or sub-shacks.  The bum's place is little more than a structure that imitates a tent. 

Toto awakens in the morning and it's cold.  He starts moving his feet up and down to warm up.  The bum does the same.  A little bit of sunshine shines through the clouds and everyone rushes over to it to warm themselves.   The sunny area is filled with men, some women and a few children.  A newcomer named Rappi comes in to join the group.  He doesn't stomp his feet like the others, so they tell the fellow to leave.  He does so when he sees a new sunny area open up.  The crowd loses the sun, so they rush over to the spot where Rappi is standing.  After a while, the sun disappears again and the crowd splits up. 

Toto plays with a little girl.  A strong wind comes up and starts destroying all the make-shift shacks set up on the lot.  It even starts blowing the little girl around.  Toto picks her up and takes her to her mother. 

After the wind storm, it's time to rebuild the shacks.  This time some thought is put into the matter and shacks are built along "streets" on the lot.  Toto is active in this endeavor.  He is ja very cheerful fellow regardless of how tough things get.  Other men are drawn to him and help him in his attempts to built a nice shanty town.  Toto stops a fight between two large men over a statue of a woman ballerina.  The guys stop fighting and Toto takes the statue and erects it in the middle of the shanty town "square". 

Toto saves a man from being run over by a train in an attempt at suicide.  He tells the man that life is wonderful despite its problems.  Soon Toto is assigning people to the various shacks built for the poor people.  He takes a liking to a young woman named Edvige who has a young child.  He helps her carry some of her many things.  Edvige works for a woman, who is not the greatest of bosses.  The child throws some water on Toto and the woman says that Edvige is fired.  Toto says he likes to have water thrown on him, but the woman is skeptical.  So Toto grabs a bucket of water from a passing man and pours it over his head.  So the woman forgets the matter.  Toto leaves, but Edvige follows him.  She grabs a bucket of water and gets in front of Toto and throws the water in his face.  Toto just smiles and so does Edvige. 

All of a sudden two sets of automobiles come driving up to shanty town.  One very rich man wants to buy the land from another very rich man.  The two men look at the property boundaries document and negotiate a price.  They go back and forth shouting price and sale offers at each other.  Soon they just sound like two dogs barking at each other.  The poor people who have gathered around the men start imitating their barking. 

The men settle on a price, but then the buyer, named Mr. Mobbi, wants to know what are all these people doing here?  The seller says that they are the poor and if he doesn't want them around, all he has to do is shoo them off.  Mobbi is not so sure of that.  The poor keep coming closer and closer to Mobbi and he starts getting a bit scared of their reaction.  Toto calls him over to warm his hands by the fire and Mobbi takes advantage of the offer to get out from being surrounded. 

The poor crowd around Mobbi again and he starts talking like a real democrat.  He says that everyone is the same, equal.  A nose is just a nose.  As he leaves he starts handing out his business cards.  When he gets to safety, he wipes his brow off with a handkerchief. 

The people of shanty-town have a "grand opening" of the new community.  There are balloons and they even raffle off a cooked chicken.  The winner is an old man who sits down and eats the entire chicken as everyone watches him.  A woman puts up chairs and charges people one lire to sit and watch the sun set.  Toto sits down with Edvige. 

The people start putting  up a maypole.  As they go deeper into the earth they hit water and its spurts up high in the air.  Other people make other holes and water also shoots up.  One person strikes oil and it spurts up.  The oil is accidentally ignited and there is a huge spout of flames coming out of the ground.  The people are happy with their two finds.

Rabbi looks at Mobbi's business card.  He is thinking of informing Mobbi of recent events in shanty town.  He goes the next day and when he comes back Rabbi has a nice fur-lined coat and a fancy top hat.  The people make fun of his fancy clothing.  When he starts to enter his shack, his hat gets knocked off his head and everyone laughs at him. 

All of a sudden Mobbi's men show up.  They change the "Brambi Property" sign to the "Mobbi Property" sign.  The leader says that everyone in shanty town has to clear out!  This makes the people really angry and there definitely exists the possibility of violence breaking out directed toward the Mobbi personnel.  The mob starts coming closer and closer to the Mobbi men and soon they are chasing these men off the property and through the streets. 

Toto runs and catches up with the leader and asks him if they could see Mr. Mobbi.  The leader says no at first, but when he is hit by something thrown by the crowd, he quickly says yes.  A delegation of the poor, led by Toto, go in to see Mr. Mobbi.  The businessman's office is so huge and expensive-looking that it is almost obscene.  Mobbi has the men served tea.  What he is really doing is detaining the men with him, as the police move out in trucks to assault shanty town.  When he has occupied them long enough, he tells the poor fellows that they can go now.   The delegation leaves, but quickly realizes that it was all a charade.  The police are forcing everyone out of shanty town.  But when the leaders arrive, the people form up, chase the police back and tell the people leaving to come back. 

The police send for reinforcements and when they arrive, along with Mr. Mobbi, they throw tear gas bombs into the town of shacks.  Mobbi then gets on a loud speaker and shouts for the poor to surrender!  The poor start moving back and back to get away from the clouds of tear gas.  In order to get a view of what is going on, Toto climbs up the maypole.  From there he waves a white handkerchief as a sign of surrender.  But all of a sudden grandmother as an angel appears to him.  She gives him a dove and says anything he wishes for he can have or accomplish. 

Toto climbs down the maypole and goes over to the poor who are on the side of the railway embankment.  He tells everyone to start blowing.  They all do, and as they do, the tear gas moves back and back.  And now the gas starts overwhelming the police and they have to move back.  When all the gas is gone, the police bring out the fire hoses and start spraying the people.  But soon all the people have large black umbrellas and use them to prevent themselves from getting soaked.  Then the water pressure fails and the hoses have to be abandoned.  Then the police fire their rifles in the air as a warning to the poor people.

Mobbi tells the police commander to attack, but when the police leader tries to shout the order it all comes out wrong.  So Mobbi puts the second-in-command in command.  But this man's voice comes out like that of a female opera singer.  Finally, the police start forward, but then the road becomes suddenly iced over and the policemen start falling down on the ice. 

The people now turn on Rabbi and chase him out of Shanty town.  Toto scares the heck out of Rabbi by having all the men wearing the same type of coat and hat that Rabbi has.  Rabbi runs away as fast as his legs can carry him.  But now people start asking Toto to give them things.  Toto tells them to queue up and he starts granting wishes:  shoes, a wardrobe, a house, a blouse, a dress, a doll for a little girl, etc..  Then the men start asking for Italian lira and get up to requests for trillions of lira.  Toto even makes the female statue come alive and a beautiful ballerina dances around with all the men following her. 

Mobbi and his police return during the night.  They look ridiculous with their helmets camouflaged with lots of leaves and flowers.   Mobbi sends a spy in to see what's going on in shanty town.  The spy sees Toto cure a man of his stutter, so he lines up and asks to be made a general.  The spy sudden is wearing the uniform of a general.  He goes back to Mobbi who is furious with the man and has him taken into custody.  Mobbi says they will wait until dawn to attack. 

Toto asks Edvige what she wants.  She says she wants a new pair of shoes. Meanwhile, two angels come down and snatch the magic dove.  So when Toto tries to give her the shoes, he cannot.  Now Toto and Edvige have to start looking for the dove.  The ballerina kisses Toto when he comes to the town square.  This makes Edvige jealous and she starts crying.  Toto consoles her.  He gives her a kiss, she smiles and then kisses him back. 

Toto and Edvige find the dove and they ask for the sun to come out.  The sun comes out.  The angels return and take the dove back again.  The police now pounce on shanty town.  They start chasing the people out.  They put many of them in paddy wagons.  Edvige desperately searches for the dove again.  This time she finds it with the chickens.  She runs after the paddy wagons with the dove in her hands.  She catches up to the paddy wagon with Toto in it and gives him the dove. 

When the paddy wagons arrive at the station square, Toto has all the walls of the wagons just fall out and down.  The police now descend on them and fights break out.  There is a large group of sweep cleaners in the square and Toto and Edvige grab a broom and start flying away.  They sweep low over the crowd and tell the poor to get on the broomsticks and follow them.  They do so and soon there is a large formation of the poor on broomsticks flying up toward the sky . 


This film is a criticism of Italy and its ignoring the serious poverty present following the end of World War II.  The poor are left to fend for themselves and build a shantytown on an empty lot.  The poor are also left to the vultures of big capitalists.  The rich don't care about the poor at all.  A Mr. Mobbi buys the property, but decides to do nothing with it because of the threat of possible violence being used by the shantytown residents.  But when oil is discovered on the land, Mobbi comes back with policemen in force and tries to force them out.  He make no attempt at any accommodation for the poor at all.  He just tells them all to get out.  The police start to enforce the ruling.  The residents fight back.  With the power of the state behind Mobbi, it is obvious that the poor are going to lose their battle, but then a "miracle" happens.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:


See Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thief) (1949).


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