A mental hospital somewhere in Tuscany during the thirties. Far away from fascism, this closed world is ruled over by Dr. Bonaccorsi, a passionate and benevolent psychiatrist whose dream is to isolate the germ of madness. He’s also a very active womanizer and three women benefit from his sexual itch: Francesca, the hospital manager’s wife, Bianca, his devoted nurse and Carla, the nymphomaniac wife of a doctor. His well-ordered universe starts to be challenged with the coming of Anna, a trainee psychiatrist, who disapproves of his theory on the origin of madness. Worse, she resists his advances. Since Bonaccorsi is more insecure than he looks, what will become of him?
DOWN THE ANCIENT STAIRS has Marcello Mastroianni playing the head doctor in an insane asylum of fascist Italy of the thirties. Director Bolognini probably intended the hospital to represent a microcosm of the Italy of the times. The doctor is working on the theory that schizophrenia is caused by a physical virus that can be isolated and treated. This controversial film examines the repressive mechanisms common to fascism and institutional psychiatry. The doctor is loved by three women and has simultaneous affairs with a nurse, a nymphomaniac, and the hospital director’s wife. Although somewhat sensationalized, this film was made by a director of some renown, Mauro Bolognini, who gave us gems like BELL’ANTONIO (also with Mastroianni), LA GRANDE BOURGEOISE, METELLO, AGOSTINO, and LA VIACCIA.
Gerald A. DeLuca @IMDb