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Home Classic Movies Anna Magnani Movies: Volcanic Italian Actress Remembered

Anna Magnani Movies: Volcanic Italian Actress Remembered

Anna Magnani Bellissima
Anna Magnani in Bellissima.
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (website) began a mini Anna Magnani retrospective, Mamma Roma: The Films of Anna Magnani, on Friday, Nov. 3. Twelve more films, most of them recently restored, are going to be screened every Friday and Saturday until Nov. 24.

Anna Magnani, one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century, was the cinematic representation of the Earth Mother – raw, sensual, passionate, explosive. Magnani’s exuberance was contagious, and so was her suffering. One could shed tears of laughter while watching her overenthusiastic extra performing a religious scene in Risata di gioia / The Passionate Thief, or weep in sorrow while witnessing her tragic ending in Roma, cittÁ aperta / Open City.

The LACMA retrospective will screen the actress’ better-known films along with several rarities.

Among the series’ more famous Magnani vehicles are Pier Paolo Pasolini’s raw Mamma Roma (1962), in which she plays a former prostitute; Wild Is the Wind (1957), a poorly received melodrama directed by George Cukor, and co-starring Anthony Quinn, Anthony Franciosa, and Dolores Hart – and still unavailable either on video or on DVD; Luchino Visconti’s overlong but amusing Bellissima (1951), in which Magnani plays the most desperate and most big-hearted of all stage mothers; and The Rose Tattoo (1955), in which she delivers an explosive (and Oscar-winning) performance that all but wipes hammy Burt Lancaster off the screen. (Poor Virginia Grey also gets a good – and real – drubbing.)

Among the rarities on this side of the Atlantic are Molti sogni per le strade / Many Dreams Along the Way (1948), a neo-realist drama directed by Mario Camerini, and co-starring hunky Massimo Girotti; the Italian-language version of Vulcano / Volcano (1950), directed by William Dieterle, and co-starring Rossano Brazzi and Geraldine Brooks (she who gets slapped by Joan Crawford in Possessed). This (quite literally) steamy melodrama was Magnani’s answer to the Roberto Rossellini-Ingrid Bergman collaboration Stromboli. (Magnani had been professionally and romantically involved with Rossellini until Bergman came along.)

Also, Nella cittÁ l’inferno / Hell in the City (1958), Renato Castellani’s over-the-top dramatic-comedy, with Magnani – in excellent form – and Giulietta Masina, both suffering and making merry behind bars (also in the cast, Italian superstar Alberto Sordi and Renato Salvatori); and Vittorio De Sica’s romantic comedy Teresa Venerdi (1941), in which Magnani steals the show in a supporting role as a jealous and short-tempered entertainer.

And finally, Katia Ippaso, Linda Ranalli, Fausto Galosi’s new documentary, Anna Magnani – Portrait of an Actress (2006) will be screened on three different occasions. See schedule below.

Full LACMA schedule:

Friday, November 3, 7:30 PM
Roma, cittÁ aperta / Rome, Open City
(1945/b&w/103 min.) scr: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini; dir: Rossellini; w/ Anna Magnani, Aldo Fabrizi, Francesco Grandjacquet, Maria Michi.

Based on actual events and shot on location using fragments of painstakingly spliced film negative and still photographer’s stock, Rome, Open City told of the hunting down, capture, and torture of a Communist resistance leader and his friends by the Gestapo. Yet it was not merely the proximity to the actual events that made Rossellini’s film so spellbinding, but the directo”s sure-handed blend of gentle humor and terrifying violence, a melding of documentary-style camera work with other, more boldly melodramatic ingredients. The film also featured two superlative performances – by Anna Magnani as as an impoverished widow and Aldo Fabrizi as a parish priest whose loyalties are tested – but most of the performers were non-professional. “The film’s finest overall quality is its immediacy”¦ the raid on the bakery, the arrest of the priest and the partisan leader, and a sequence in which all the inhabitants of a tenement are hauled down into the courtyard by a German search party are as shatteringly uninvented-looking as if they had been shot by invisible newsreel cameras.” – James Agee

Friday, November 3, 9:30 PM
Campo de’ Fiori / Peddler and the Lady
(1943/b&w/90 min.) scr: Aldo Fabrizi, Federico Fellini, Piero Tellini, Mario Bonnard; dir: Bonnard; w/ Peppino De Filippo, Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding

A film quite unique for its time, Campo de’ Fiori, set in Rome’s famous open-air market, is a hybrid of commedia all’italiana and affecting neorealist drama. The story concerns a fish peddler (Fabrizi) who courts a wealthy young lady (Caterina Boratto). In her first proletarian role, Magnani is consigned to the supporting part of an earthy fruit vendor who pines for the fishmonger at the adjacent stall. The postwar American popularity of Italian film stars Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi resulted in the belated U.S. release of many of their earlier efforts and thus The Peddler and the Lady made it to America in 1949 with Magnani billed over the title as the star – Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Saturday, November 4, 5:30 PM
Anna Magnani – Ritratto d’actrice / Anna Magnani – Portrait of an Actress
Free Screening (2006/color/53 min./Beta SP) dir: Katia Ippaso, Linda Ranalli, Fausto Galosi.
Screening and Beta courtesy Sky Cinema.

Fifty years ago Anna Magnani became the first Italian actress to win an Academy Award (for The Rose Tattoo) Opening with footage of the1956 Academy Awards and closing with shots of Magnani’s casket carried aloft through narrow Roman streets lined with mourners, this recent documentary, produced by Italian broadcaster Sky Cinema, brings Italy’s beloved “Nannarella” vividly to life and traces her rise from music hall comedienne to national icon through film clips and personal reminiscences. Among those interviewed are Magnani’s only son Luca and her niece Olivia, the actor Giancarlo Giannini and the actress Marisa Pavan – who played Magnani’s daughter in The Rose Tattoo and who accepted her Oscar at the awards ceremony – and the directors Francesco Rosi and Federico Fellini. In Roma, Fellini urged the actress to speak about the city that called her Mamma, but a weary, bemused Magnani responded “Go home Federico. It’s late and I don’t trust you.” and disappeared behind her villa door. It was her last appearance on film.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 PM
Mamma Roma
(1962/b&w/110 min.) scr: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Citti; dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini; w/ Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti.
Restored print courtesy Mediaset.

Hell hath no fury like Mamma Roma, the virago played so stormily by Anna Magnani in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s astonishing 1962 film, the second feature (after Accatone) made by this protean and increasingly perverse film maker, poet, novelist, and playwright. Here she plays a former prostitute who brings a feverish, unexamined intensity to the job of bringing up her sexually ripe adolescent son. The boy’s destiny is thus shaped in fearsome ways by his mother’s eroticism. Indeed, beyond this film’s stark visual beauty and its madly inappropriate Biblical references, there lies a murky, overheated sexual melodrama, suggestive of Tennessee Williams, himself a great admirer of La Magnani’s raw histrionic style”¦. The film’s cast consists mostly of voluptuous-looking
non-professionals variously listed in the credits as “thug”, “pimp”, “male prostitute” and so on. One familiar face is Lamberto Maggiorani, so memorable as the father in Bicycle Thieves, who here plays a hospital patient robbed by Ettore. Only a film maker of Pasolini”s dauntlessly operatic intensity could follow the boy’s petty crime with imagery suggesting the Crucifixion. – Janet Maslin, New York Times

Saturday, November 4, 9:30 PM
Wild is the Wind
(1957/b&w/114 min./VistaVision/Eng.) scr: Arnold Schulman; dir: George Cukor; w/ Anna Magnani, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Franciosa, Dolores Hart.
New print courtesy Paramount Pictures

Cukor, speaking of his one time association with Magnani, called the star “perversely unpredictable” but allowed that “no actress possesses the magic and fire of Anna. . . She didn’t know English but she had such a wonderful ear that it didn’t make a difference.” In this film, shot on location in the extreme heat and cold of the Nevada plains, Gino (Quinn), a wealthy Nevada sheep rancher, brings over his late wife’s sister (Magnani) from Italy as his bride in the vain hope of recreating his first marriage. Her robust humor and rowdy sensuality make her loneliness and isolation all the more poignant as she embarks on an affair with ranch hand Anthony Franciosa; she has something in common with the doomed animals, as Cukor’s direction makes clear. For her second American film, Magnani received her second Oscar nomination. “[Magnani] endows small details with the complete illusion of spontaneity, whether exploding with mirth at the sight of a paper cup emerging from a coffee machine, or expressing a swift and sympathetic concern for a lassoed stallion as it tumbles to the ground.” – Gordon Gow, Hollywood in the Fifties

Friday, November 10, 7:30 PM
(1951/b&w/114 min.) Scr: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti; dir: Visconti; w/ Anna Magnani, Walter Chiari, Tina Apicella, Alessandro Blasetti.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding.

Based on a story by Cesare Zavattini and set in the surreal world of aspiring child stars, vulgar, aggressive stage mothers, and shallow studio types, Bellissima is Visconti’s least typical film, but it is also one of his most sensitive and audacious. With the air of an insider sharing secrets, Visconti surveys two distinct and opposing worlds – the movie set with its artificial glamour and the harsh reality of life in a Roman tenement – before his eyes settles on one mother among hundreds. This a working-class woman who has travelled to CinecittÁ Studios to enter her daughter in a talent competition, hopeful that her child’s success will ensure a better life for her family. As the deluded stage mother, driven by unrealistic expectations and the mounting cost of acting lessons, Anna Magnani gives a bravura comic performance, marching exhausted and dishevelled from one cattle call to another, ever ready to charm, cajole, or elbow her reticent daughter to the head of the line. When ambition turns to obsession and tragedy seems inevitable, Magnani, in the words of critic Andrew Sarris, “builds up her emotional force very slowly and solidly in a series of scenes”¦ She becomes a loving lioness, and her maternal fury is a glory to behold as she comes to accept her hopelessly untalented and ungainly child.”

Friday, November 10, 9:40 PM
Molti sogni per le strade / Many Dreams Along the Way
(1948/b&w/82 min.) scr: Piero Tellini; dir: Mario Camerini; w/ Anna Magnani, Massimo Girotti.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding.

Magnani adapted the boisterous comedy of her irreverent stage revues to the gentler, sadder aspects of neorealism in this tale of a Roman housewife who innocently thwarts her luckless husband’s efforts to make a dishonest living. As in many a pungent commedia all’italiana, the setting is a harsh one: poverty, unemployment, and the petty crimes of a man caught between economic pressures and family devotion. Still, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther found this portrait of the little guy to have”a gentle and fragile poignancy (that) runs through the salty sidewalk vigor of its comical episodes.” Magnani’s warmth and coarseness are a perfect foil for the taut misery of Massimo Girotti who is best known to American audiences from Visconti’s Ossessione and Antonioni’s L’Avventura. – Pacific Film Archive note

Saturday, November 11, 5:30 PM
Anna Magnani – Portrait of an Actress
Free Screening (2006/color/53 min./Beta SP) dir: Katia Ippaso, Linda Ranalli, Fausto Galosi.
Screening and Beta courtesy Sky Cinema.

See Nov. 4th listing for film description.

Saturday, November 11, 7:30 PM
Vulcano / Volcano
(1950/b&w/106 min.) scr: Piero Tellini, Victor Stoloff, Erskine Caldwell; dir: William Dieterle; w/ Anna Magnani, Rosanno Brazzi, Geraldine Brooks, Eduardo Cianelli.
West Coast Premiere of the Italian version with English subtitles. Restored by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata.

Volcano, with its Stromboli-like setting, was the film Anna Magnani made with Hollywood director William Dieterle as a defiant gesture toward Roberto Rossellini, who had transferred his personal and professional allegiance to Ingrid Bergman. It is a tale of cruel lives in a harsh landscape, with Magnani in an expressive performance as a prostitute sent by Neapolitan police back to the island of her birth. She is shunned by the islanders, who extend their hostility to her sister (Brooks) and little brother (Enzo Stajola from Bicycle Thief). To save her sister from the wiles of a handsome deep-sea diver (Brazzi), she commits murder in a wordless, haunting sequence. Filmed under harrowing conditions on a volcanic island, Volcano weaves fascinating, documentary-like sequences of tuna fishing and pumice mining into its picture of lives lived under the constant threat of eruption. – Pacific Film Archive note

Saturday, November 11, 9:40 PM
Tempo massimo / Full Speed
(1934/b&w/82 min.) scr/dir: Mario Mattoli; w/ Vittorio De Sica, Milly, Camillo Pilotto, Anna Magnani.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding.

A dreamy, repressed young professor (De Sica) is awakened to life by Dora (Milly), who literally lands in his lap – via parachute. His attempts to pursue the manly arts in order to win Dora’s love are comically unsuccessful. This delightful, fast-moving comedy of errors features Magnani in a small but spirited part as a maid, songs by Vittorio De Sica, a rather funny bicycle race, and a breakneck chase through the bustling streets of Milan. The first film of Mario Mattoli who produced some of the best theatrical revues of the day, Tempo massimo will be screened in a rare archive print, restored from excellent Nitrate materials.

Friday, November 17, 7:30 PM
Nella città l’inferno / Hell in the City
(1958/b&w/110 min./ CinemaScope) scr: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Renato Castellani; dir: Castellani; w/ Anna Magnani, Giulietta Masina, Alberto Sordi, Renato Salvatori.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding.

Falsely convicted of theft, a naive housewife (Masina) is sentenced to a women’s prison in Rome where she quickly acquires survival skills and a bad attitude, thanks to hard-bitten cellmate Magnani, a veteran con with a marshmallow heart. Not withstanding the high-profile pairing of two of Italy’s two greatest actresses in roles tailored to their respective temperaments, this tightly directed, highly entertaining melodrama with a social conscience is virtually unknown in the U.S. thanks to the cut, dubbed version, released with the title Wild Wild Women. Shot in striking black-and-white CinemaScope by veteran cinematographer Leonida Barboni (The White Sheik and Divorce, Italian Style), and fuelled by a Magnani performance that Variety described as “probably her best to date”,” Hell in the City fans the dramatic fire between society’s outcasts while decrying the poverty and government corruption that condemned them to hell.

Friday, November 17, 9:30 PM
The Fugitive Kind
(1960/b&w/119 min.) scr: Tennessee Williams, Meade Roberts; dir: Sidney Lumet; w/ Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapleton.

From its compelling opening soliloquy – Marlon Brando pleading before an unseen judge – The Fugitive Kind, based on Tennessee Williams’ play Orpheus Descending, announces itself as a film that, like its protagonist, takes crazy, brilliant risks. Brando’s Val “Snakeskin” Xavier is a wayfaring stranger who has wandered into a Louisiana backwater where the men are sadists and the women are caged birds. Magnani plays Lady Torrence, the wife of Jabe, a tyrannical invalid. Her desire, ambivalence, and beauty are aroused by Snakeskin whom she takes on as her shop assistant, and then as her lover. “Anna loved playing Tennessee’s women, but always felt they were somewhat weak and so her whole drive during the shooting of The Fugitive Kind was to make sure that her characters, to quote her, ‘have balls.’ The result was a fighting, driving Tennessee Williams heroine who was not going to be defeated by life; a Lady who was quite capable of killing Jabe. Conversely, Marlon gave his character a very gentle tone, resulting in one of the few Williams’ pieces where the male and female characters were almost reversed.” – Sidney Lumet

Saturday, November 18, 5:30 PM
Anna Magnani – Portrait of an Actress
Free Screening (2006/color/53 min./Beta SP) dir: Katia Ippaso, Linda Ranalli, Fausto Galosi.
Screening and Beta courtesy Sky Cinema.

See Nov. 4th listing for film description.

Saturday, November 18, 7:30 PM
Teresa Venerdì
(1941/b&w/92 min.) scr: Gherardo Gherardi, Franco Riganti, Vittorio De Sica, Margherita Maglione, Cesare Zavattini (uncredited); dir: De Sica; w/ De Sica, Adrianna Benetti, Anna Magnani.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding.

Teresa Venerdì was De Sica’s third film as a director, his third made under Mussolini and his first collaboration with the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini with whom he would later make Shoeshine, Bicycle Thief, and Umberto D. Beneath its comic surface, Venerdì shares with those masterpieces a heightened sensitivity to society’s loners and outcasts and a horror of institutional authority. De Sica himself stars as a charming physician who takes a job in an orphanage in order to escape Loletta, a flirtatious but feisty singer (Magnani) who has drained him financially. But a whirlwind romance with the beautiful and wealthy daughter of a matress tycoon hits a snag when he becomes an object of infatuation for a determined young orphan named Teresa “Venerdì” or Teresa “Friday”, because that was the day she arrived. “Although Loletta (‘The Queen of Jazz’) is really only a bit role, Magnani infuses the character with an inimitable raffish vitality which anticipates her tour-de-force a decade later in Renoir’s The Golden Coach.” – Stephen Harvey, The Museum of Modern Art

Saturday, November 18, 9:15 PM
Le Carrosse d’or / The Golden Coach
The Golden Coach
(1953/color/100 min./English version) scr: Jean Renoir; Jack Kirkland, Renzo Avanzo, Giulio Macchi, Ginette Doynel; dir:Jean Renoir; w/Anna Magnani, Duncan Lamont, Paul Campbell, Ricardo Riccardo Rioli.

Set in 18th eighteenth-century Peru, The Golden Coach opens upon a stage as the camera pans inward. The theatrical stage then becomes the world of the film, a reflection of Renoir’s central theme of life as theater. As the film begins, the new day brings the simultaneous arrival in town of a commedia dell’arte troupe and a magnificent golden coach. It is the new and latest toy for the colony’s Viceroy (Lamont), a rich and self-important man. But the focus quickly turns to the troupe of actors and their temperamental star, Camilla – Anna Magnani, at her comic best. Camilla is courted by three suitors:, an actor, a bullfighter, and the Viceroy himself, each of whom loves her for something different, and for something different than she loves in herself. In the end, she renounces all three for her true love – the theater. This sublime comedy of manners is a tribute to Magnani, who soars above the other actors and is only matched in the film by Renoir’s own intelligence and expansive humanity. The burnished red and gold-hued cinematography is by the incomparable Claude Renoir.

Friday, November 24, 7:30 PM
The Rose Tattoo
(1955/b&w/116 min.) scr: Tennessee Williams, Hal Kanter; dir: Daniel Mann; w/ Anna Magnani, Burt Lancaster, Marisa Pavan, Jo Van Fleet.

Anna Magnani made her American film debut with The Rose Tattoo in the role of Serafina Delle Rose, a part created by Tennessee Williams especially for Magnani. In a small bayou town, Serafina, the widow of a banana-truck driver, wears widowhood like a mantle, living in remembered passions, and stifling her own boisterous eccentricity as surely as she hopes to stifle the sexual curiosity of her adolescent daughter. Alvaro Manziacavallo (Lancaster), a joyful lummox with a full heart and a full bottle, cajoles Serafina out of this morbid post-facto adoration, releasing her explosive emotions with his own. In his clumsy love, he is determined to emulate the husband, rose tattoo and all. Magnani’s performance was unlike anything ever seen in an American film and Hollywood repaid her with a well-deserved Oscar. Cinematographer James Wong Howe also received an Oscar.

Friday, November 24, 9:40 PM
La Sciantosa / The Chanteuse
(1970/color/93 min.) scr/dir: Alfredo Giannetti; w/ Anna Magnani, Massimo Ranieri, Rosita Pisano, Nico Pepe.
Print courtesy of CinecittÁ Holding.
In the early 1970s, Magnani enjoyed a last burst of acclaim in four television films designed to showcase her range as an actress and to affirm her status as a living legend in Italy. In La Sciantosa, Magnani plays an irritable, embittered singer on the cafe-chantant circuit who agrees to sing for the Italian troops at the front during World War I in an attempt to renew her failing career. One night, while singing the Neapolitan song “O surdato namurato” to a wildly appreciative audience composed entirely of wounded soldiers, she is deeply, inexplicably moved, and almost breaks down. She realizes the joy she can bring to these men at on the front lines, and the epiphany transforms her. “It is a vehicle made for her, but what a vehicle! And the image of Magnani with the Italian flag draped about her is one of the most memorable from all her films.” – Gerald A. DeLuca

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