Rome, January 1950
A new film called Volcano will be show in Rome next week. Il will tell the story of a woman. But it is the story of the woman behind the film which I’d like you to hear.
Her name is Anna Magnani, and I met her in Rome. Hers is about the best-known face in Italy. She is a film star.
Once, she used to play comedy stuff. She used to carry around quite a few pounds of weight that weren’t absolutely necessary. She used to say that her face was her fortune “because it is ugly and ridiculous.”
When I sat talking to her in her flat the other day, she was slim and had a curious sort of beauty. She had also become a passionate, dramatic actress, and had made a movie which she privately thinks will kick the movie world sideways with surprise.
And thereby hangs the tale I’m going to tell you.
A year ago this month, she was lunching in the Excelsior Hotel, Rome, with a film director called Roberto Rossellini. This Rossellini had directed her in pictures, and had gone as far to indicate — in the modest way Italians have — that he was her inspiration. The way Rossellini figured it to his pals was that while Miss Magnani was a pretty good actress, she needed his direction to add the genius touch.
During lunch they were talking about a film which Rossellini was to direct — and in which Miss Magnani might star — called Stromboli.
Miss Magnani was pretty happy. She had told her friends that, in her opinion, she and Rossellini might even be married as soon as they were both divorced.
She didn’t know that Rossellini had in his pocket a letter saying that Ingrid Bergman would like to work for him.
Rossellini got up from the table and went to the airport. He stepped on a plane and flew to America.
Next day he was dining with Ingrid Bergman, arranging for Ingrid to star in his new film called Stromboli.
Anna waited for a while, at the Excelsior in Rome.
At first she didn’t quite realise what had happened. Gradually the truth became too clear to be blinked at. Rossellini was definitely taking Bergman to the lonely, volcanic island of Stromboli to make the film of that name. In fact, they were there.
For two months Anna sat quiet, thinking, doing nothing else.
Then, suddenly, she moved into action with all the passion of a Latin.
She rushed round to her script writer and producer, Renzo Avanzo. He had written Stromboli.
“I want another script for a film to be made on a lonely, volcanic island,” she said, without a smile. “And I want the theme to show what men are really like. We’ll make it on the island of Volcano. And we’ll call it Volcano.”
Now, the island of Volcano is just four miles across the sea from the island of Stromboli. If the wind is in the right direction you can shout from one to t’other.
Anna Magnani and the unit started in the film a full two months behind “the firm next door.” It seemed impossible that they could ever catch up on such a lead.
But Anna worked with a speed that nobody had ever seen her use before.
All through the shooting of the film she stayed on the side of Volcano from which it was not possible to see Stromboli.
Not until her work was done did she walk across the island and look across at Stromboli. A few friends stood by, silently. But Anna didn’t say anything. She just put her tongue in the direction of the island over the way — and blew a colossal raspberry.
She had finished her movie dead on time with Rossellini‘s. But Anna had spoken her part in Italian, and she wanted this film dubbed in English, for world showing. Dubbing by someones else would take a long time.
So Anna learned English — just like that — in about a fortnight. And she dubbed the picture herself. So she was still neck and neck with Rossellini.
Today, Anna sits in her apartment in Rome, and waits restlessly for the picture to be processed.
The Italian version will be premiered in Rome next week. Nobody has seen it yet.
Several people have seen the Rossellini-Bergman picture, Stromboli, which is still having the technical jobs finished in America. They say it’s good, astonishingly good.
Anna doesn’t sat so — but she thinks her film is better.