La bella mugnaia, a costume comedy of vivid colours shot in the visual magnificence of CinemaScope, has a feel of joyful freshness to it, the result of several factors. One is the expert hand of Mario Camerini, lending the film the fast-paced and wonderful story-telling that are typical of his style (indeed, in Italy they use the phrase “Camerini-esque comedy”). Behind an ancient story of taxes, proclamations and discontent, lies a veiled reference to contemporary Italy. The fantastic cast make the film a joy for the eyes and the spirit: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio De Sica, Yvonne Sanson. Referring to the monumental presence of Sophia Loren, a New York Times reviewer exclaimed: “Having the mere opportunity to observe her is a privilege”.
In 18th century Naples, under Spanish rule, the governor taxes everything – even the rain. Carmela, who works in a mill alongside her husband Luca, uses her looks to charm the powerful and avoid paying tax, all the time remaining faithful to her husband. Luca is imprisoned following a people’s revolt. The governor promises to free him if Carmela gives herself to him. She refuses, but when Luca escapes from prison he is convinced she has betrayed him. He decides to take his revenge by seducing the governor’s wife. His attempts are also unsuccessful, and everyone can return to their respective partners.