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.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Magnani & Visconti: Bellissima

Antonioni and Vitti, Godard and Karina, Von Sternberg and Dietrich, De Sica and Loren - now add Visconti and Magnani. Funny how some performers shine when back in their native tongue. I have seen several Yves Montand films lately, but he is stilted and unconvincing in English (one only has to remember Pauline Kael's hilarious demolition of his English in ON A CLEAR DAY...] but back in his native languague in a film like LA LOI he is mesmerising. So it is with Anna Magnani - I just did not care for her over the top dramatics in THE ROSE TATTOO when I finally saw it a few years ago, but curiously loved her in Cukor's '57 WILD IS THE WIND, and I also love her in Renoir's THE GOLDEN COACH from '53 (one to have another look at, its been years...), now seeing her as Maddelena in Visconti's BELLISSIMA made in '51 (but not released outside Italy until 1953) one is enthralled with every aspect of her performance and the valentine the film is to her. She is the whole show as this poignant, affectionate comedy drama unfolds - her devotion to her little daughter whom she thinks should be in the movies and the various entanglements that ensue with her fending off dramatic teachers, finding the money for haircuts (the child is hilariously passed down to the most junior salon staff who cuts off her plaits), and new material for a dress etc while all the time exasperating her husband and being the centre of gossip to the neighbours in her apartment block. Then there is the chancer at the studio (Walter Chiari, who seems best known as a companion of Ava Gardner's) who takes her money for bribes but treats himself to a new scooter. But Anna realises that money has to be spent.... finally, the daughter is picked and ready for the screen test, to be shown to the great Alessandro Blasetti but of course it all goes wrong with the child crying and the people watching the tests laughing at her, as the proud mother listens up in the projection booth as she faces the cruel truth about the illusion-making cinema industry. After giving them a piece of her mind she takes the daughter home, sadder but wiser, as the studio people change their mind and send a contract - will she sign it? It is all nicely played out and leaves one with a warm glow, and lost in admiration of the great Magnani.

One nice sequence is the outdoor cinema as she and her husband Spartaco, looking fit in his vest, watch Hawk's RED RIVER and one sees the attraction between them - on the documentary he reveals he had no previous acting experience. It is amusing too seeing Anna at work dispensing her injections. The 'Masters of Cinema' dvd is a perfect print with fascinating extras, inclulding a 32 page booklet, and documentaries featuring co-writers (from a story by Cesare Zavattini) director Francesco Rosi and the venerable Suso Cecchi D'Amico [who co-wrote scores of Italian classics and who died aged 96 last year], and also with comments from Franco Zeffirelli on Visconti [I was fascinated to see a favourite picture of Elizabeth Taylor taken by Bob Willoughby on the set of RAINTREE COUNTY (its in my previous post on ET) pinned to Zeffirelli's wall]. The booklet also has a glowing recommendation from Bette Davis! (click image to enlarge).

There is a lovely scene too where she is lovingly shot and looks radiantly beautiful when at her dressing table mirror, and that nice moment as her temper erupts when her mother-in-law's comment causes Anna's shoe to go through a window! The prattle of the stage mothers all trying to push their kids forward is not only funny but still relevant today. Thank goodness no-one came up with the idea of casting Bette Midler in a remake!


  1. Visconti also directed Magnani in a short film, which was a section of the omnibus film WE THE WOMEN; the others were Ingrid Bergman (in a section directed by Roberto Rossellini), Alida Valli and Isa Miranda. I've seen the Visconti and Rossellini segments, and they are charming. But Visconti certainly seems to have been sympathetic to Magnani, and she seems to have responded with her volatility but also her considerable charm.

  2. I should be seeing WE THE WOMEN (SIAME DONNE) before too long, as a friend has sourced a copy! Magnani was one of those women, like Callas and Romy Schneider, whom Visconti showcased and were part of his imperial court/circle of friends ...