Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 16 July 2010

People We Like: Silvana Mangano

Above: Silvana Mangano and Tony Perkins in THE SEA WALL (THIS ANGRY AGE). Below: Silvana in MAMBO.
Silvana Mangano [1930 – 1989] was one of the great Italian post-war beauties who had a great career in Italy and did some interesting international films in the '50s, '60s and '70s. She is unusual in that she was not ambitious to be a great movie star (as were Loren and Lollobrigida), but as Mrs Dino De Laurentiis she was often starred in her husband’s films.

Anna Magnani and Alida Valli were the great Italian discoveries of the ‘40s, followed by Mangano in BITTER RICE in 1949 – by the early 50s Gina Lollobrigida and then Sophia Loren were forging ahead, followed by Monica Vitti first as the arthouse goddess of the Antonioni films and then as a comedienne, and Claudia Cardinale a new muse for Fellini and Visconti before she too hit the international trail with THE PINK PANTHER and the like.

Mangano though is probably the most fascinating and, like Loren and Vitti, is one of the great faces, with that incredible profile. Like Jeanne Moreau, she had an English mother. She started out as a dancer and RISO AMORO (BITTER RICE) in 1949 was a sensation with her working in the paddy fields cutting rice, with Raf Vallone and Vittorio Gassman. She had already married Dino De Laurentiis, and continued in his films, like ANNA in 1951.

MAMBO in 1954 is a film I had never heard of until recently, but having just watched it it’s a fascinating puzzle. It’s a Paramount film directed by Robert Rossen (an odd choice for him) but its also a Carlo Ponti-Dino De Laurentiis production set mainly in Venice and Rome with two Italian stars, Mangano and Vittorio Gassman – if only it had been in color with that great scenery and Venetian masked balls and the colourful Katherine Dunham dance group, which Silvana joins. She looks terrific here and in the dance numbers (the mambo must have been big about then as Loren does a terrific one in her ‘working in the river in shorts’ film WOMAN OF THE RIVER). MAMBO’s convoluted plot features Shelley Winters (Mrs Gasssman at the time) in what is surely one of the first clearly implied lesbian roles as she has a major crush on Silvana which naturally ends in tears, with Michael Rennie as a very odd count completing the quartet. Essential viewing now!

ULYSSES was another De Laurentiis hit with Mangano as both Penelope and Circe opposite Kirk Douglas. GOLD OF NAPLES is an unseen item these days but she features in this De Sica film, along with the rising Sophia Loren.

I first became aware of Mangano in her two 1958 De Laurentiis films which I saw as a child and both made vivid impressions on me. Rene Clements’ THE SEA WALL [or THIS ANGRY AGE] is an very unavailable title now (but I am getting a copy from a friend soon) but was very engrossing with Mangano and Tony Perkins as brother and sister and the great Jo Van Fleet playing their mother, trying to guard her plantation in Indochina from the sea. Both siblings have their own plans however in this Marguerite Duras adaptation. This was recently remade with Isabelle Huppert. I shall be looking forward to re-seeing the 1958 version again and its in Italian!, so more on that in a few weeks.

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.
For posts on Sophia Loren, Monica Vitti, Anouk Aimee, Romy Schneider, Jean Seberg please check blog archive details to locate items...also Kay Kendall, Joan Greenwood, David Hemmings, Stewart Granger, Michael Redgrave, Jean Sorel, Capucine, Genevieve Bujold, Dolores Gray, Gladys Cooper, James Mason, Susan Hayward, Shelley Winters etc.


  1. Although, I'm somewhat of a cinemaphile, her name is one I've heard but her work is foreign to me (no pun). However, in certain pics, she reminds me of the beauteous Ava Gardner.


  2. great post !
    This is such a good Projector! Not something I'd spend my money on but still so cool :)