Volcano with Anna Magnani

Anna Magnani, the well known Italian actress, is outstanding as the fallen woman, and one feels considerable sympathy for her

Annunci

Volcano directed by William Dieterle with Anna Magnani

June 1953

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.

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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.

Bellissima Human Drama

Anna Magnani prize-winning actress in striking interpretation of motherhood. Her vivid touching performance makes this film one of Italy’s all-time best.

chiari-apicella-magnani
Walter Chiari, Tina Apicella, Anna Magnani at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome

New York, May 1953

Il can be truthfully said that Bellissima, the new Italian film at the Trans Lux 60th St., glorifies motherhood, but —all praise to Anna Magnani the star; Cesare Zavattini, the writer of the screen play, and Luchino Visconti, the director— there isn’t an ounce of sentimentality in the picture. Sentiment, yes; vivid emotion, oh my yes; brillant handling of the relationship  of mother and child most decidedly yes. Bellissima achieves something that has often been reached for in a film; but is seldom realized: a characterization of universal womanhood at its best. With Anna Magnani as the mother, this universal woman is also an earthy character, aggressive, quarrelsome, passionate, loud violent, with a broad streak of humor. She’s a conniver, who will double-cross her own husband if she thinks it wild benefit her children: she’ll do anything for the youngster but —and this is the crux of the story— she’ll make any sacrifice rather than imperil her child’s happiness.

Bellissima is a fiery drama which has so little plot that its hold on the imagination os nothing short of phenomenal. It’s the story of a movie-fan of a mother, who tries to win security for her five-year old daughter by getting her into pictures. Just as she gets the offer she has been phenagling for, she realizes that, psychologically, it’s not, the best thing for the child, and turns down the contract.

The mother does not put in this way in explaining her action to herself and others. Her abrupt refusal to accept what she worked so furiously to get is based simply on her fact that studio heads find her child’s screen test comic. They laugh at the kid, make fun of her looks and awkwardness, not knowing the mother is within earshot. They find they have a place just such a comically unattractive child, bu the mother will have none of it. It one of the picture’s great scenes, the greatest of all, she says, with the quiet dignity, the of her and the child’s father the little girl is the most beautiful child in the world, and she won’t have her laughed at.

Most of the action takes place  at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome, the center of Italian film-making, with a few excursions to the tenement home where Miss Magnani and Gastone Renzelli, as her husband, are saving and making plans for a home of their own. The mother doesn’t hesitate to use her savings, unknown to her husband, to pay for diction and dancing lessons and beauty treatments for the youngster and to bribe a studio hanger-on, Walter Chiari, a young man who claims to have the contacts that will further the chid’s career.

A great deal of this realistic Italian import is very funny, but there is no straining for humor, it’s the natural result of the mistaken ambition of a not too well informed mother and the efforts of a plain, untalented child to do as she is asked. But under the broad comedy and the sharp  satire, aimed at too-ambitious mother and child stars in general, there is always an undercurrent of deep pathos.

Anna Magnani, who last year received the Italian Silver Ribbon, comparable to the Hollywood Oscar, for her performance in this film, lives up to her reputation as Italy’s most distinguished dramatic actress. In three scenes, in particular, she is superb. Two deal with her disillusionment with a film career for her child, and in one she tells off the studio heads in a wild burst of fury, the little girl clutched to her heart. In the other she refuses the contract in her own home, surrounded by her husband and neighbors, but this time her manner is one quiet dignity, following a storm of weeping on a park bench.
The third scene is in humorous vein and has Miss Magnani and Chiari, the studio opportunist, in a river bank, with the young man propositioning the woman and getting a most amusing brushoff.

The rest is an objet lesson in excellent casting. Besides those already mentioned, Alessandro Blasetti is a standout in the role of a director. He should be, since he is in real life one of Italy’s top film directors. Little Tina Apicella plays Miss Magnani child and she is just as she should be —plain, pathetic and childish. Luchino Visconti, the director, known as one of Italian realism, has given Bellissima vital direction, and Zavattini screen play is an understanding, witty human document. Dialogue is in Italian, with unusually spirited English titles.

Bellissima belongs among the top ranking Italian films. It is easily the best so far this year.

J. Corby

Anna Magnani Scores As Bellissima Star

Anna dominates the picture, but not to the extent that the other performers  are completely overshadowed.

Anna Magnani in Bellissima by Luchino Visconti

New York, May 17, 1953

Anna Magnani came, saw and conquered New York, leaving behind an impression of a tremendously vital personality. She is now back in Italy, but an aura of the great Magnani remains here on Bellissima, Anna‘s latest starring picture, which had its first American exhibition at the Trans-Lux 60th Street Theatre yesterday. It is being released by Italian Films Export Company.

Bellissima was written and designed to display Anna‘s virtuosity as an actress. In it, she runs the gamut of emotional histrionics as a determined mother whose frantic efforts to have the world acknowledge her little ugly-duckling of a daughter as a beautiful and accomplished child bring her only tears and near-heartbreak.

The idea conceived by Cesare Zavattini is a fine subject for satire but, like most Italian directors, Luchino Visconti has a fancy for crowding the screen with shrieking, hysterical people, so, some of the finer points of the story are lost in scenes that develop into sheer bedlam. This is Italian realism, no doubt, but it is hard on the nerves of an American audience.

In spite of the noise and hysteria that run rampant through the picture, Anna gives a fine and affecting performance of a woman obsessed by the idea that her homely, ungainly daughter, Maria, is so beautiful and graceful that she is destined to become a famous child star of the screen. She fights her way into a movie studio, after a call for a child actress has been broadcast, and keeps on fighting to have Maria  given consideration by the director of the picture. Everything she does to improve Maria’s looks and posture turns out disastrously, and the final humiliation comes when she makes her way into a screening room, where her daughter’s test is on display, and discovers that the child’s picture has sent the director and his cohorts into hysterical laughter.

Anna dominates the picture, but not to the extent that the other performers  are completely overshadowed. The child is well represented on the screen by an appealing youngster, Tina Apicella, Gastone Renzelli is good in his first screen role, as the child ‘s father and Anna‘s husband, Walter Chiari plays an unscrupulous actor effectively and Alessandro Blasetti and Tecla Scarano help to make Bellissima into a touching and amusing film.

Kate Cameron 

Angelina: this admirable woman

Angelina is one of those happy pictures in which everything seems to have gone right, from script to screening.

Angelina (Anna Magnani)
Anna Magnani (Angelina)

London, April, 1949

At last, with the first quarter of the year behind us, we have 1949’s first major film. It comes from Italy, where they have a knack, just now, of making pictures that make pictures really seem to matter. The star is Anna Magnani, whom British audiences saw in Open City. The director is Luigi Zampa, who made Vivere in pace. The script — and even with a very small knowledge of Italian, hardly more than a mixture of half-remembered Latin, the Italian of the opera scores, and happy guesswork, it is possible to appreciate that the script is keen and delicate — is by the young writer Piero Tellini, who was responsible for the screen-writing of Vivere in pace and Four Steeps in the Clouds.

A lot of talent may add up to a very small result in the cinema, where so many imponderables can dull the bright edge of imagination, but Angelina is one of those happy pictures in which everything seems to have gone right, from script to screening.

Angelina is a comedy, which is not to say that it is either a romp or a trifle. Its pace is tremendously fast, and its tone is predominantly light, but it is full of moments when humour is very close to pathos. Director and script-writer have done here for urban folk very much what they did for country people in Vivere in pace.

The scene is a derelict housing estate on the out-skirts of Rome; not the heady Rome of the sight-seer, nor the grand Rome of history, but the poor slum district of Pietralata. Angelina is the wife of a local police-sergeant and mother of many children, who is gradually edged into the position of a sort of housewifely agitator for her neighbours. Because she can shout loud, talk volubly, and is utterly fearless; because she has no malice in her bones and not a scrap of self-consciousness in her body, she becomes the terror of black marketeers, grasping landowners and civil authorities, and official spokesman for all the wives and mothers of Pietralata. For a time her successful efforts to get the workers moved out of their flooded houses, into a vast new block of luxury flats, put her under suspicion and conniving with the landlord, a suspicion that is heightened by her son’s hanky-panky with some free medical supplies, and the fact that the landlord’s son is in love with Angelina’s daughter. For a few weeks she goes to gaol, but to everybody’s intense relief, the film ends happily; and the men in the audience will be delighted to find that this admirable woman eventually gives up politics and decides that her real place is with her husband and children.

For her performance in this piece Anna Magnani was awarded the International prize for the best actress of the year at a recent Venice festival. I can only say that the award has my loudest cheers, for Mme. Magnani is one of the very few ladies of the screen, at any time, in any country, who can fairly be described as a great actress. A slight, dark woman, with strong features and no remarkable beauty, she suggests a combination of our Gracie Fields and a minor Duse. It would be hard to say which she has studied the more deeply, the technique of acting or human nature. This is one of the rare, real performances that enrich the screen, and gives films the sort of prestige the often seen so willfully anxious to avoid.

A. Lejeune

Anna Magnani Columbine

Anna Magnani, The Golden Coach, directed by Jean Renoir
Anna Magnani (The Golden Coach)

London, December 1953

The Golden Coach resembles those expensive, gorgeously coloured cards depicting some exotic scene or object — a Venetian ball, an Audubon bird, perhaps as here an eighteenth-century coach, or Harlequin and Columbine.

Anna Magnani is not obvious casting as Columbine. Yet she becomes the only human reality of The Golden Coach. All else is a sumptuous riot of colour and costume music and movement, of the fierce white light supposedly of Latin America (actually of Cinecittà, Rome) or the fresh, clear blues and greens and reds of Harlequin’s and Columbine’s patchwork. For this dazzling frivol about the visit of a troupe of Italian players to Spanish America in the eighteenth century is as artificial as the Commedia dell’Arte, with English dialogue and Italian noises, including music by Vivaldi.

Freda Bruce Lockhart

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In order to cut a deal of argument, the facts about this oddly international piece had better be made clear.

It was filmed in Rome by the Renoirs of France. Jean Renoir directed, while Claude Renoir was responsible for the photography. The star is Italy’s Anna Magnani, with Duncan LamontPaul Campbell and Ricardo Rioli in the supporting cast. The players, whatever their nationality, spoke their lines in English, as well as they were able. The version we see and hear in London is the original version. (French and Italian versions were later dubbed.)

The story, intelligently scripted in detail but rather loosely constructed, deals with the adventures of a Commedia dell’Arte troupe invited to perform at Viceregal Court in eighteenth-century Latin America. Magnani appears as the troupe’s leading lady, courted by three admirers; the Viceroy, a young officer whom she meets on the voyage, and a popular bull-fighter. The plot revolves round the proposed gift to her of a golden coach, the symbol of political power and favour.

The film has its elegancies. The Renoir‘s grouping lighting and arrangements of colours are the quintessence of good taste. The gracious music is by Vivaldi. But to me the of romance, of delicate enchantment that should have surrounded The Golden Coach was never securely woven. I found myself longing for a star like Edwige Feuillère, or Arletty, as we remember her in Les Enfants du Paradis. Anna Magnani, in the right – down – to- earth, bone – honest part, is one of the greatest of the greatest actresses; but I simply cannot see her as a femme fatale.

C. A. Lejeune

The Rose Tattoo film version of Tennessee Williams play

The glowing and impetuous performance given by the Italian star will be long remembered and will certainly win an Oscar nomination

Hal Wallis' production of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo

The highly gifted Italian actress, Anna Magnani, is the emotional and unpredictable heroine of The Rose Tattoo, a tragicomedy based on Tennessee Williams‘ stage play and produced for the screen by Hal Wallis. Burt Lancaster is Miss Magnani‘s co-star and Marisa Pavan heads the large and capable supporting cast, both delivering top notch performances. But the major share of the acting honors goes to the dark-haired star whose performance covers an extraordinary range of human emotions from high comedy to deep tragedy as she characterizes a woman who was in love with love and refuses to have her images shattered. From a box-office standpoint, the film should be in the top gross class, especially in the larger situations. It’s an “unusual” and off-beat type of production that is sure to command attention, and word-of-mouth should be so effective that its appeal should not be limited to any type of run. Even if some patrons don’t like the story, the acting of Miss Magnani should be such a conversation topic that others will want to see it out of curiosity. Most critics will miss their guesses if she doesn’t win an “Oscar,” or, at least, a nomination.

The story concerns a small colony of Sicilians, hot-tempered by nature, who have settled in a seedy, semi-tropical Gulf Coast town where Miss Magnani lords it over her neighbors in the belief that her truck-driving husband’s pure love has endowed her with the dignity of a baroness. She boasts with equal pride of the rose tattooed on his chest and strives to bring up their daughter, Marisa Pavan, in the strict ways of the old world.

But three years after her husband is killed while on a smuggling venture, rude disillusionment begins to set in. She learns that her husband had not been as faithful as she had believed, and the romance of her daughter with Ben Cooper, a sailor on leave, does not add to her comfort. When she meets Lancaster, also a truck-driver of Sicilian parentage, their romance is a stormy one, actually riotous and well sprinkled with comedy that borders on slapstick. But she resists all his attention until she determines the fact that her husband had not been true to her. Eventually she gives her blessings to the marriage of her daughter to Cooper and then accepts Lancaster.

While the action at times is violent, the interjection of comedy is well placed. Especially good are Miss Magnani‘s neighbors, a collection of gossipy and witch-like characters who represent the result of expert casting. And Lancaster‘s characterization also is deserving of Academy attention.

Daniel Mann‘s direction is excellent. The screenplay by Williams and the adaptation by Hal Kanter have intensified the best ingredients of the stage play.

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The Rose Tattoo is a most unusual motion picture starring a superb performer. Sex-conscious, earthy, and unusually hilariously funny, the film was adapted from a prize-winning New York stage play by Tennessee Williams. The story, decidedly off-beat for a U.S. film, takes place in a seedy, semi-tropical Gulf Coast town, where a highly passionate Sicilian seamstress played by Anna Magnani is so proud of her Italian-American husband that she lords it over her neighbors. When he is killed, she assumes an epic grief and goes into virtual seclusion for three years, restraining her passion in pathetic and comic ways. Finally, she learns that her beloved husband had been unfaithful to her, and allows her ardor to be rekindled by a benevolent village simpleton, played by Burt Lancaster.

The glowing and impetuous performance given by the Italian star will be long remembered and will certainly win an Oscar nomination, perhaps the acting plum itself. Whatever she does —chasing a wayward goat in her filthy back yard, hysterically arguing with her priest and neighbors, trying to squeeze herself into a corset, expressing her mute love to her sleeping husband, or forcing her daughter’s sailor boyfriend to kneel before the Virgin Mary and pronounce his good intentions — Miss Magnani rates superlatives, and her magnificent performance will create tremendous word-of-mouth. Also designed to send the customers away talking is the daring casting of box-office draw Lancaster as a harmless moron whose grandfather was the village idiot, and who only wants to marry a plump older woman who has a business on the side. Another surprise is Marisa Pavan, until now known mainly as Pier Angeli‘s sister. She registers in The Rose Tattoo as a potential star with a rich and moving performance as Miss Magnani‘s teen-age daughter, hot-blooded like her mother. Jo Van Fleet, as a lady of shady reputation, and a group of magpie-like, gossiping neighbors also add to the lustre of the production and will cause favorable comments.

Response to the film will probably vary according to locality, with the more sophisticated big-city audiences certain to bring in top grosses, and less worldly audiences a more doubtful proposition. Every exhibitor will be wise to help along the inevitable word-of-mouth with strong selling of his own, and he can recommend the film without hesitation to all those who want a rare treat in film fare.

November, 1955

 

La Lupa Anna Magnani Company

The play is plainly suitable as a gilt edged star chariot, and Magnani by all accounts does magnificently

Photo of Anna Magnani and Osvaldo Ruggeri in La Lupa
Photo of Anna Magnani and Osvaldo Ruggeri in La Lupa taken by Michelangelo Durazzo

London, June 1969

Nothing to tell about the Anna Magnani Company‘s work because it doesn’t exist. It’s simply formed whenever the occasion demands it to perform La Lupa. It opened the production in Florence in 1965, and since then has played in Milan, Rome and Genoa as well as visiting Russia, Austria, Switzerland and France. Not unusually, England is last on this impressive list: without Peter Daubeny it’s doubtful if it would be on it at all.

The production marks Anna Magnani‘s return to the stage. The occasion of its opening in Florence sounds pretty impressive, the whole audience going wild after Magnani‘s fifteen-year absence from the stage. It was performed at the Maggio Musicale which was coincidentally (or maybe deliberately) the scene of so many extravagant and hugely expensive productions just after the war. It was then a theatre run on the lines of an opera-house, with just three or four exclusive productions running for just a few nights each. Critics feared Magnani‘s return would revive the grand occasions of the past, but in fact the production turned out far better than anyone could have expected.

It is directed by Franco Zeffirelli. I can, if you like, rehearse Zeffirelli‘s credentials, but they’re well enough known to make familiar reading. I’ve been taken through his 1961 Old Vic Romeo and Juliet line by line by God knows how many avid admirers, and listened to implausible stories of just what went wrong with the Gielgud Othello he directed in the same year. More significantly, Zeffirelli was assistant to Visconti on one of Magnani‘s most famous films Bellissima in 1953. His attempts to film Shakespeare have met with varying success, and his most recent English production of Much Ado About Nothing for the National Theatre seemed to me to elaborate more than it illuminated. His facility for swamping a text with miscellaneous campery has given him a controversial reputation, and he might, were he running true to form, have been expected to revel in the nineteenth-century melodrama. Instead, he has tailored it down.

To understand the temptations, it’s worth explaining that the author Verga was basically a short-story writer, who originally wrote La Lupa as a simple tale and intended to adapt it as an opera libretto. Instead, he wrote a play, with a text close to the libretto but with dialogue turned from verse to prose. It was first performed in Turin in 1896. Verga is now remembered, or rather placed, as the original author of Cavalleria Rusticana on which Mascagni based his opera in 1890, making his adaptation without the author’s permission. Verga became involved in a long drawn-out law suit over the adaptation, which was still going on when he died.

Zeffirelli has rediscovered the work and directed it, not at all as an opera-manqué but is realistically as possible. The moonlit Sicilian country scene is naturalistically designed, and he has tried to remove the extreme sentimental trappings of the character of the she-wolf. The story tells of a middle-aged woman who falls in love with a young man, who rejects her to marry her daughter instead. Insanely jealous, she returns and ruins her daughter’s household, driving the man to lift an axe to ill her as the curtain falls. As realistically as possible.

The play is plainly suitable as a gilt edged star chariot, and Magnani by all accounts does magnificently. She is, I suppose, the world’s most accomplished emotional actress, here offering a performance that will probably put in the shade the whole debate about whether Joan Plowright should have been allowed to ride in on an emotional vehicle at the National Theatre a few months ago. She’s an actress I tend to respect rather than to venerate, but she does have an enormous and authoritative following. Born in 1908, Magnani began her career in night-clubs and repertory companies before making her first appearance on film in 1934. She’s best known in this country for her appearances in Rossellini‘s Open City (1946), Renoir‘s The Golden Coach (1954) and The Rose Tattoo which Tennessee Williams wrote specially for her in 1955. In fact, he wrote a number of plays with her in mind, but she never appeared on stage in any of them.

The Times wrote of her playing in La Lupa that “hers is a very great performance, a deeply tender and moving study of a woman who is the victim of her own sensuality”. Playing in a lower key, Osvaldo Ruggeri is excellent as the boy, and the dancers in the company are apparently remarkable for looking as if they learnt to dance naturally, and not in some highly artificial ballet school.

Verga‘s play survives the star treatment unusually well. He is finally a difficult figure to place in Italian drama, writing only a few plays which inadequately bridge that odd gap between melodrama and the world of Pirandello. Zeffirelli, who worked on Visconti‘s film of La Terra Trema, based on Verga‘s novel I Malavoglia, seems to have realised that Verga does not at all belong to the tradition of Italian showmanship initiated by the theatre of D’Annunzio. La Terra Trema is one of the great films of the neo-realist cinema, and it has in it the remains of a style of writing that is really never continued on the Italian stage, but which does deal with an area od Sicilian life with unusual realism and sympathy.

David Hare