Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria

Stanley Kramer examined some 165 villages over a period of four months before finding Anticoli Corrado

Annunci
Rosa (Anna Magnani) The Secret of Santa Vittoria
Anna Magnani as Rosa (The Secret of Santa Vittoria 1969)

November 1968

Anticoli Corrado is normally a quiet village. Thirty-five miles out of Rome, it is perched on a 2,000 ft peak among the mountains of the Appeninni Abruzzesi. Before this year it had been overrun by invaders three times. Around 700 AD Saracens decided it was a safe place to camp as it was well stocked with water and firewood. Some 600 years later the Normans took it over. The Germans invaded it twice, in both World Wars, Uniformed Germans were to be seen yet again this summer in the steep, narrow streets of the village, part of an invading force of some 500 people. This time the invasion was unaggressive, though not exactly peaceful. Commands echoed through the streets and across the piazza, and the inhabitants lined up. The invasion’s general, with his aides, inspected the lines, returned to his platform, and issued the instruction ‘Azione!’ To say that chaos ensued would be an understatement. Carts, jackasses and people would dash madly in all directions. Wagon-loads of bottles crash into each other and disintegrate. People scream abuse and snarl at each other. The command of ‘Cut!’ and relative order is restored.

Stanley Kramer examined some 165 villages over a period of four months before finding Anticoli Corrado, which he decided best fitted the name part for his The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Although Santa Vittoria is a real village in the province of Cuneo, post-war development there made it impossible for Kramer to shoot his film in its ‘original’ setting.

The film was proving to be a very strenuous task for Kramer, who apart from directing the film, which meant handling over 500 villagers in a scene as well as the main actors, he had the problems of organising his own army of 500: the actors, the crew and their families, and the re-wiring of the village to withstand the demands of their equipment. Evidently before that if an electric razor was plugged in the village was plunged into darkness. But the biggest technical problem for Kramer was that of sound recording, since he was determined to use only live sound, and here he was working in a country which dubs all its films. And to be able to get complete silence in an village that could not comprehend his necessity was quite a task. But, with patience, it was eventually achieved.

Kramer was filming in Anticoli Corrado for almost three months, living in a villa just a few yards from the village square where all the main crowd sequences took place. He said he felt like a bullfighter going to face the bull in the arena every morning when he walked into the piazza. Like the problems of sound recording, just getting each member of the crowd to do the right thing at the right moment in a village completely ignorant of the requirements of film-making was an ordeal. There were other minor problems; for instance, the fact that one-third of the villagers were against the film being made there, since the company had been given permission by the mayor for whom only two-thirds of the population had voted. So some would go and sit down in the middle of the ‘set’ and hold up production. The unit could’t bribe them to keep out of the way, otherwise the idea might have caught on with others, and the local police were a little powerless since, as they pointed out, they had to live there after the film unit had gone.

One of the most violent and complicated scenes they had to shoot was where everyone tries to hide his wine at once when they hear that the Germans are coming, and their hilarious and disastrous traffic jam which results in the piazza convincing Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) that it won’t work without a plan. Kramer had assembled 500 villagers, fifty jackasses, a hundred vehicles of all kinds and some 30,000 bottles of wine for a scene with Quinn, Magnani, Sergio Franchi and Giancarlo Giannini. Anna Magnani, dozing under an umbrella, suddenly jerks her head up, rolls her eyes and groans as only she can, ‘Ah, Di, fa caldo’ (God, it’s hot!). It is her first English-speaking film in nearly ten years. ‘This rehearsal business, I don’t like, believe me!’ she said. ‘My best scene is the first time: from then on I go downhill, you watch.’

Villages, jackasses and people collided with each other after Kramer had set the take in motion. In the midst of all the confusion Quinn and Magnani snarled eyeball to eyeball at each other in front of the Fountain of the Pissing Turtle. Quinn, in his excitement, tripped and fell into the fountain, Magnani broke up and Kramer yelled, ‘Cut!’ Two villagers fighting in the background evidently didn’t hear the command and when one accidentally received a finger in the eye, he retaliated by wrapping a wheelbarrow around the other’s head, leaving him with a large lump and trickle of blood. Village police broke up the fight and led the two away. Magnani rehearsed the scene again with Quinn. ‘If you call this rehearsal business ‘going downhill’, Anna, then Heaven save me,’ said Quinn. Then to Kramer, ‘She’s getting stronger and better each time we do it.’ Quinn made a face at Magnani who replied by throwing a bucket of water over him.

One of Kramer‘s favourite stories about Anna Magnani occurred in his office in Rome shortly before he started shooting. Kramer asked that coffee be sent in. In the meantime, Magnani went on about how she loved ‘sophisticated men, you know, the type who shave, smell nice and wear elegant clothes’. Her comments did little to lessen the tense air. Kramer fidgeted, Magnani cleared her throat. Then the coffee arrived. Magnani tkok a sip.

‘Where did you get this coffee, Mr Kramer?’

‘From the studio restaurant,’ answered Kramer, anxious to gain a rapport.

She retorted: ‘Well, eet steenks!’

When Magnani has to act the enraged woman in a scene it is quite an event. The camera was set in motion. Something Quinn said pulled the trigger. Magnani‘s lips pulled back in scorn and her deep green eyes flashed with fury. Then came the explosion. Suddenly Quinn was reeling out of the room towards the door beneath a shower of pots, pans, mops and kettles. She was shouting. “And again, you snivelling great hulk of a man. Get out of my sight and out of my life forever!’

Quinn, now in full retreat, protested, ‘I’m ashamed of you. OUCH!’ He staggered to the door and outside, but not in time to dodge a cascade of fettucini over his head and down his neck. Then, from an upstairs window, a shower of pillows, clothing, suitcases, shoes, pots, pictures and other things came flying through the air and down on top of him. A thousand men, women and children were gathered in the piazza to witness the final insult as the outraged Magnani appeared with a large pot in her hand.

‘You didn’t have a pot when you came here…’ she shouted. With deadly accuracy she bounced the old-fashioned chamber pot off Quinn. Other actors raced to the rescue, and Kramer shouted, ‘Cut!’ It was the kind of scene Magnani likes best.

‘I’ve had plenty of practice, she said.

Robin Bean