An interesting but sordid and unpleasant melodrama of love and murder, produced in Italy and expertly dubbed in English. Its story about a prostitute who commits murder to prevent her younger sister from falling into a life of sin has a fascinating quality, mainly because of the unusual locale — a real barren volcanic island, where the natives depend on deep-sea fishing and pumice stone quarrying for their existence. Fascinating as they are, however, the stress placed on the authentic settings, the habits of the islanders and their industries tends to detract from the story’s emotional quality — a condition that could be corrected by some judicious cutting. Anna Magnani, the well known Italian actress, is outstanding as the fallen woman, and one feels considerable sympathy for her because of the manner in which she is shunned by the narrow minded islanders. Geraldine Brooks, too, turns in a fine performance as the head-strong younger sister, and so does Rossano Brazzi, as a deep-sea diver who pursues her. The direction is good, and the photography fine.
Back in 1949, while Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini were raising eyebrows with their Stromboli collaboration, Anna Magnani, an earlier Rossellini discovery, was furiously at work on another Aeolian island filming Volcano.
Stromboli has, of course, come and gone, a sorry testament to two great talents. Volcano, so far as can be ascertained, just got around to its American premiere at the Studio Saturday.
As a Magnani admirer since she made her screen mark in Open City, it would be a pleasure to be able to report that she scores a resounding triumph under the highly explosive conditions surrounding production of Volcano. The plan truth, alas, is otherwise. For neither the fiery Italian actress nor those involved with her in this jerrybuilt yarn of a strumpet returned by the Naples police to the island of birth, manage to breathe conviction into their roles.
The dialogue is in English—and such English!— while from the sound track comes a variety of weird and disruptive accents, some obviously from dubbed-in voices of off-screen players, some of the actual speech of English-speaking members of the cast. Twice, Magnani‘s own distinctive voice is recognizable: once in a drunken singing bout, again when after murdering her sister’s would-be betrayer she climbs toward the volcano’s crater muttering “mia culpa, mia culpa.” What comes from her embittered lips the rest of her time is astounding.
The script, hammered together by writers who should have known better, and embellished with additional dialogue by Erskine Caldwell who seems to have mistaken Italy for Tobacco Road, revolves about the tramp who turns out to be noblest person on her natal isle. The virtuous fiends kill her little dog, won’t speak to her or let her enter the church. But that doesn’t stop Maddalena from saving her sister from sin and for the boy friend who went off a few years ago to America.
Produced and directed by Hollywood’s William Dieterle (who probably by now wishes he had stayed home), Magnani‘s supporting cast includes Geraldine Brooks, Rossano Brazzi, Enzo Staiola (the Bicycle Thief‘s boy), and, in addition to numerous seeming amateurs, Eduardo Ciannelli.