Log Line

An actor in a small-time variety troupe attempts to gain the success that he has long envisioned as his due—on the stage and in his love life.

Overview

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Federico Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano

Director(s): Federico Fellini, Alberto Lattuada

Production Co.(s): Capitolium

Story by: Federico Fellini

In Variety Lights (Italian title: Luci del varietà), the main character, Checco Dal Monte, is an aging actor/comedian in a small-time traveling variety troupe whose ranks include musicians, dancers, and his long-time girlfriend and performing partner, Melina Amour. The troupe functions and behaves like a dysfunctional artistic family each member of which is dedicated to a life in the theatre... as well as his or her own ego. Unfortunately, the talents of the troupe do not match the dreams of its members, and it appears to be in constant financial distress.

When we first meet the variety troupe, it is performing at a tiny theatre in a small Italian town. And although the acts are not first-rate, the audience seems appreciative—especially Liliana Antonelli, a beautiful young woman who is greatly enamored with the show and imagines herself to be destined for a life in the theatre. When the show is over, Liliana slips backstage to introduce herself to the troupe, in the hopes of being invited to join their ranks, but her attempt is waylaid by money squabbles—owing to the confiscation of their box-office receipts by the hotel owner to whom they owe a great deal of money.

That night, as the troupe slumbers on the train traveling to the next stop on its tour, Liliana introduces herself boldly to Checco and expresses her desire to join the company—an offer that he attempts to parlay into a quick-and-secret sexual opportunity, which she rebuffs summarily. Her dreams of success in theatre are as firmly held (though more naïvely) as his and, like him, she believes herself to possess the talent to deserve them on their merits alone. Unfortunately, the rebuff loses her the opportunity to become part of the troupe on her first attempt to do so.

The next day, however, circumstances brought about by the poverty of the group provide her with the opportunity to come to its rescue and endear herself, at least temporarily, to its members. And ensuing complications with the "commendatore" who has booked the group allow her to join its chorus of dancing girls that very night—a serendipitous turn of events that not only saves the evening but turns the show into a temporary success, due in large part to her physical beauty and shapely legs.

As the audiences get bigger, Checco finds himself more attracted to Liliana, not only for her beauty but for the chance for personal success in life and love that her very existence represents—a possibility for which he proves willing to sacrifice his honor and loyalties, even to Melina, whose dream is to quit the business one day and open a market together with their shared savings.

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