London, December 1952
If you can bother to recall the fuss that eventuated when Miss Ingrid Bergman decided she would like to marry the Italian film director, Signor Rossellini, you may also remember that at the time she was being directed by him in a film called Stromboli. Rossellini had originally planned to make the film with Italian leading dramatic actress Anna Magnani, but the rumpus that began to surround the project sent Miss Magnani off to America’s William Dieterle to see if they couldn’t beat the other team to it. So while Miss Bergman was busy walking bang into Stromboli, Miss Magnani was tearing headlong into Volcano. It became, in fact, a fight to a volcanic finish: but who won is anybody’s guess.
It is a couple of years since we saw the Rossellini-Bergman epic. The Magnani-Dieterle piece, after being held up for some twelve months, has at last appeared and, if we are not exactly staggered, we are at least interested. Perhaps in our opinion Miss Magnani wins by a short 1500 feet, which is the amount of cutting her film had to undergo before we were allowed to see it.
If you like a meaty novelette, coupled with some first-rate acting, and dubbed into American, because this is the English version, then Volcano is your picture. The story is about a prostitute who has made Naples too hot to hold her, and who has been sent back by the police to her native island. Finding that a deep-sea diver has evil designs on her young sister, she saves her from a fate worse than death by first seducing the would-be seducer, and then eliminate him good and proper by cutting off his air-supply. After this, she decides she is tired of life, and walks into an erupting volcano.
Just for good measure there are some unpleasantly realistic scenes of a harpooned corpse dragged up in a net for tunny-fishing, and a little dog deliberately smothered under a load of shoveled pumice. Not exactly a story that would qualify Volcano to rank as one of the world’s classics.
The trouble is that, while the film does present a classic actress in the person of Anna Magnani, it only presents half of her. You see her, but you don’t hear her. Except when she sings, or utters ejaculations that can’t be dubbed, you hear instead a synchronised voice speaking fluent American. It is certainly well done. If there is anything to be said for dubbing, it can be said of this specimen of it: but the fact remains that Miss Magnani with an American voice is not Miss Magnani, whose every inflection and twist of dialogue has a calculated characteristic style.
The whole film, in fact, is predominantly a Hollywood product: and for all the sense you get of its being made in Italy, it might just as well have been made in California, with back projection. And this impression is heightened by the charmingly fresh performance of Hollywood’s own Geraldine Brooks as the younger sister. She is sweet, and acts far better than she has been encouraged to do in any of her American pictures, but never for one moment could anyone believe she was a native of the Eolian Islands, tumbled hair, bare legs and tattered dresses notwithstanding. She is simply another chip from the well-carved Hollywood block.
C. A. Lejeune