THE TEMPEST from Pushkin’s novel is a sprawling film by Alberto Lattuada featuring the Russian steppes and hordes of Cossacks. Geoffrey Horne (from BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and BONJOUR TRISTESSE) is the young officer who falls drunk at the feet of Catherine the Great (the splendid Viveca Lindfors) as she inspects her troops and is banished to a remote outpost of the empire. Mangano is Masha the daughter of the outpost commander – and a genius stroke of casting has Agnes Moorehead as her mother. Van Heflin is the mysterious stranger whose life Horne saves in the snowy wastes, and it ends back at the court of the great Catherine. Its all splendid stuff and was a joy to see again recently.
FIVE BRANDED WOMEN in 1960 is certainly an oddity – another De Laurentiis co-production, this time directed by Martin Ritt and certainly a downbeat war film about the Yugoslav resistance in World War II and the 5 women whose heads are shaved for getting involved with the enemy, and who join the partisans. The intriguing cast is headed by Mangano and Jeanne Moreau, with Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes among the women, and Van Heflin, Richard Basehart. (Interesting footnote: Vera Miles’ next movie was PSYCHO where she had to wear that unflattering wig as her hair had not grown back!).
Left: Loren and Mangano with William Holden, circa 1958.
BARABBAS in 1961 was another of Dino’s epics and one I had not seen until recently but its very worthwhile using a real eclipse of the sun for the crucifixion, great sets and score and action by the ever reliable Richard Fleischer, and again, a great cast including Jack Palance who has a great scene in the arena, Borgnine, Jurado, Gassman and of course Quinn. Silvana is Rachel, Quinn’s woman who is tastefully stoned to death by the mob about 45 minutes in and promply forgotten about …..
IL DISCO VOLANTE (THE FLYING SAUCER) is a new discovery – thank you, Timshelboy – a so-so Italian comedy from 1965 starring Alberto Sordi, about incompetent policemen and a flying saucer causing chaos. Mangano and Vitti are featured though and both are are the only reasons to watch it, Silvana being very droll as a poor peasant woman.
A new phase of Silvana’s career began in the late 60s when she returned to the screen for Pasolini and Visconti in those popular arthouse crossovers like Pasolini’s OEDIPE RE as Jocasta with that chalk face makeup in a marvellous re-telling of Euripides, followed by the lead in Pasolini’s TEOREMA in 1968 where Terence Stamp as the beautiful stranger/angel ? sleeps with the entire household: husband, wife (Mangano), son, daughter and maid. It’s a metaphysical fable which people either loved or hated, but like BLOW-UP or BELLE JE JOUR it was one to see and have a view on.
As was DEATH IN VENICE in 1970, Visconti’s recreation of pre-first world war Venice with Dirk Bogarde in probably his best ever role as the composer (based on Mahler) becoming obsessed about the perfect beauty of the boy Tadzio. Mangano wafts around practically silent as the mother in this lovingly made version of the Thomas Mann novella, the lush period detail, the costumes, the music all contributing to the overall effect. It may seem a bit pretentious or risable now – that ending with the mascara running down Bogarde’s face as he expires on the beach while the boy points to something on the horizon, but its still very effective.
She also appeared in Pasolini’s DECAMERON in 1971, as the Madonna. Then back to Visconti for his 1972 epic LUDWIG where she and Trevor Howard are both perfect as Wagner and his wife Cosima. Helmut Berger is actually very good as Ludwig and certainly looks the part, while Romy Schneider reprises her Elizabeth of Austria and finds a lot of brittle humour and insight in the role. Its another lush overlong telling of the Ludwig story with some great set-pieces, with assorted grooms and others involved with Ludwig and good to finally get a 2 disk dvd of it, as it never played commercially here in the UK and I only managed to see it at a late night London Film Festival at the time. The dvd also includes a good documentary on Silvana, with clips from lots of her early films unseen here.
Visconti’s CONVERSATION PIECE in 1974 was another leading role in this odd drama of a reclusive professor, Burt Lancaster, becoming involved with the noisy eurotrash family who move into his apartment block, headed by Mangano as the mother and Helmut Berger again as her lover. It was not a commercial success at the time but a fascinating movie to see now, incorporating lots of Visconti’s themes in this his penultimate film before his final masterwork L’INNOCENTE in 1976.
She had by now separated from De Laurentiis though they did not divorce, and she more or less gave up her career and moved to Paris and Madrid where she devoted herself to the arts and her tapestries. She returned though in an odd role in DUNE, the sci-fi De Laurentiis epic of the early 80s with shaved head – the film though was a baffling mess even to those devoted to the cult book.
Her final movie is DARK EYES in 1987 – as Mastroianni’s wife in this unseen tale. Silvana Mangano died of lung cancer in 1989 – I read her obituary at the time which detailed that had she been able to stop smoking she may have lived longer.
She was never ambitious as such, but certainly contributed to international cinema and remains one of the great Italian stars. Again, I have only noted the films I know, there are a lot more that never played outside of Italy it seems. Below: Eve Arnold's photograph of Mangano in New York in 1956.