Decameron Nights. 1953. United Kingdom/Spain. Directed by Hugo Fregonese. Written by George Oppenheimer, Geza Herczeg, from stories by Giovanni Boccaccio. With Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Godfrey Tearle, Joan Collins, Binnie Barnes. 35mm I-B Technicolor print courtesy of Eastman House. 129 min.
Decameron Nights is a handsome, confident omnibus film, cleverly structured to show off both its Spanish locations (mostly doubling for the Florentine hills) and the considerable gifts of its cast. Once again, we find Fregonese’s familiar themes of imprisonment and escape, here transposed to the erotic realm. In his pursuit of the beautiful widow Fiametta (Joan Fontaine, in the most sensual performance of her career), the poet Giovanni Boccaccio (the unshakably urbane Louis Jourdan) pursues her to her country estate, where she is hiding with five ladies in waiting while Florence is under siege. Boccacio talks his way into this improvised convent (where Fontaine is dressed in nunnish black and white) by offering to entertain the ladies with stories. The tales are presented as a witty, ironic dialogue of seduction, as Fiametta and Boccacio imagine themselves in three different erotic scenarios.
Working with the cinematographer Guy Green (an Oscar winner for David Lean’s Great Expectations), Fregonese subtly manipulates the color palette, contrasting the natural lighting and earth tones of the framing story to the expressionistic shadows and bold, primary colors of the imaginary tales. It’s a shame the original Technicolor negatives to longer seem to exist; this is a lush and generous film that stands as a delightful contrast to Fregonese’s darker works.