What is it that the Italian film makers have that America and Britain lack? Certainly not material resources, for their films, at least the early post-war ones, are made in the streets and byways with deteriorating stock and players who are innocent of studio glamour and enchantment. Nor are the stories they use possessed of any striking originality. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, as Luigi Zampa, the director, expressed it at the London Premiere of this excellent film, they make use of ordinary people like Angelina and Pasquale as if they really were (as indeed they are) the most important people in the world. In other words, there is a sense of reality about these Italian characters; one is not asked to accept them as real and credible; one knows they are, they exist and have flesh and blood like the important but overlooked people who inhabit our own slums. There is about these characters ab air of humility, a humour, a pathos, a bitterness, a note of patient endurance in adversity, a tenderness often canceled by a rough exterior which all priest who have worked in the decaying quarters of our big cities will recognize. When America puts them on the screen it is to patronize them; when Britain uses them it is too often to make fun of them. Only the Italians seem to be able to combine humour with justice and charity when taking a camera among the poor and their miserable dwellings.
There is also a sense of vitality and bustling movement about this film which is quite infections. Every character lives. The frame of the screen is filled with shifting patterns of Roman life that leave one almost breathless.
The acting of Anna Magnani must be ranked with the greatest performances of the best actresses. She is without obvious or easy beauty but she has a tremendous glowering power which is transmitted across the screen and captures the imagination and sympathy of the audience. A word must also be said for the large cast of Italian women who support her. This is a woman’s film, maybe, but it is a powerful piece of cinema preaching with much to say to all who care to think on the potentiality of the screen in the formation of ideas.