Supervisore alla regia: Piero Fosco [Giovanni Pastrone]. Sog.: dal dramma La Femme de Claude di Alexandre Dumas figlio. Scen.: Dante Signorini. F.: Antonio Cufaro [Segundo de Chomón]. Int.: Pina Menichelli (Cesarina Ruper), Vittorio Rossi-Pianelli (Claudio Ruper), Alberto Nepoti (Antonino), Arnaldo Arnaldi (Moncabré), Gabriel Moreau (Enea Cantagnac), Antonio Monti (Daniele), Gina Marangoni (Edmea). Prod.: Itala Film 35mm. L.: 1403 m (incompleto, l. orig.: 1798 m) D.: 68′ a 18 f/s. Desmetcolor
Some of the most significant titles in the diva film genre derive from the encounter between Giovanni Pastrone and Pina Menichelli. After the actress became successful, she tried to distance herself from the role of the femme fatale, but she revisited it in La moglie di Claudio, her final collaboration with Pastrone.
At the end of World War I, Itala Film adapted Dumas’ story, keeping the patriotic theme in the background in order to create a stage for the actress’s dramatic, uninhibited ‘Menichelli’ mannerisms.
In the opening sequence, a splendidly dressed Cesarina (Pina Menichelli) provokes her suitors by voluptuously biting a rose in the middle of a salon. It is a gesture that the Countess Natka dared to make in Tigre reale (1916), but from inside a carriage and thus flirting only with the spectator. Claudio’s wife returns home after the failure of her escape with Moncabré and the murky episode of her convalescence (an euphemism for a pregnancy or maybe an abortion). We suddenly and unexpectedly see her through a window: this image of Cesarina, ready to grasp other victims, echoes Menichelli’s owl-woman in Il fuoco (1915).
The protagonist is a woman without feelings or morals – a shamelessly unfaithful wife – surrounded by intrigue, espionage, passion, dishonour, violence and, above all, death. Some sections of the narrative, such as the appearance of a secret society, are difficult to follow because of gaps in the only surviving print; others are obscured by prudent discretion of the intertitles, mentioning ‘the consequences’ of yet another relationship which almost cost Cesarina her life.
After attempting to reconquer her husband, seducing his favourite student and stealing secret documents, Cesarina is betrayed and unmasked by the light of a ‘damned moon’; then Claudio stops her with a gunshot. Menichelli rewards us with a textbook ending: mortally wounded, she grasps the curtains sensuously before falling to the floor enveloped in their folds, as if wrapped in a funeral shroud.