The epic-romantic-tragedy is not really De Sica’s bag. Sunflower was mediocre, and justifiably regarded as one of his lesser films. but it wasn’t totally without merit. The Voyage, on the other hand, is a complete write off. The acting is bad, even terrible. Sophia Loren is not a good actress most of the time. Yes she was great in Two Women, and decent in comedies, but in most serious dramas, she isn’t convincing, and Burton is even worse. Has Richard Burton EVER given a decent performance?!?!? His line readings are affected to the point of nausea, and he is even less believable as an Italian than Nolte in Lorenzo’s Oil. The Voyage follows every cliche of the tragic-romantic-historical-melodrama, about two star crossed lovers whose union is ultimately destroyed by illness, circumstance and rigid social mores, and even fails to deliver on that ‘modest’ level of ambition.
De Sica’s direction is flat, the photography surprisingly bland, and the predictability of the story grows tiresome without compelling leads. Sunflower was at least visually interesting, and featured an excellent musical score, and a real sense of emotional gravitas, despite its numerous flaws, but this has nothing. It saddens me to think The Voyage was De SIca’s parting ‘gift’ to the world, and not A Brief Vacation, which he made only a year earlier. The difference in quality between the two films is stark and apparent to the point that the only conclusion one can reach is that The Voyage was simply a money project, directed with casual indifference, whereas A Brief Vacation was more personal, handled sensitively, with tender loving care. Those with even a modicum of knowledge of De Sica’s gambling addiction, and the impact it had on his career choices, would at least acknowledge the possibility of this being true, especially as his personal projects often lead him to the brink of financial ruin. Was A Brief Vacation really that much of a failure?
Questions aside, De Sica just wasn’t the right man for the job; Visconti, for example, could have produced far more interesting results, even within such a limited framework. Epic historical dramas are more his forte. De Sica’s speciality lies in capturing the gritty struggle of poor and/or marginalised figures, with complete compassion, clarity and insight. There is certainly a struggle to be overcome in ‘The Voyage’, but the weak direction and generic soft focus gloss produce an arch distance that is not only uncharacteristic, but antithetical to the material, freezing the emotional effect of the narrative dead in its tracks. It’s easily De Sica’s coldest film, and i seriously doubt it was intentional.
Overall, a rather dispiriting end to a spectacular, if uneven, career.