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.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Anna / Mangano / Loren / Gold of Naples

A Silvana Mangano double feature, with Sophia Loren too !

1949's BITTER RICE was the successful Italian film which introduced Silvana Mangano to international audiences. I have not seen it yet (but will be shortly) - producers Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti who combined to produce all those Italian films of the 50s, repeated its success, along with co-stars Raf Vallone and Vittorio Gassman, with Silvana as ANNA in 1951, a torrid melodrama reuniting its 3 young stars (who would all have great international careers). As per my other posts on Silvana she was never an ambitious actress (like Loren or Lollo) but as Mrs De Laurentiis she headlined her husband's films. Also on the fast track then was the next Italian sensation, Sophia Loren, who had Carlo Ponti to guide her career. It is amusing seeing Sophia here in the more or less silent bit part as one of the nightclub girls (with Gassman, below left); 3 years later by 1954 Sophia (barely 20) was headlining those terrific movies I love like WOMAN OF THE RIVER and TOO BAD SHE'S BAD (where is SCANDAL IN SORRENTO ?) after working her way up in films like the amusing Sordi vehicle TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA, by which time Gina Lollobrigida was also another major Italian star, heading for international movies.

Back to ANNA - this may well be my discovery of the year. Silvana is luminous as the indispensible hospital nursing nun (but she has not taken her final vows yet....) beloved by her patients and the surgeon she assists at operations, but what is her secret?
One night we find out as wounded Raf Vallone is brought in, Sister Anna rushes to the opera to get the head surgeon who is needed to operate and we see in flasback, that she was a nightclub singer and was going to marry country boy Raf, but her jealous lover Vittorio cannot let her go .... after tragedy she finds peace as a nun. Silvana gets to sing here, two delightful numbers which were released on disk and it seems they are still available (I shall have to investigate...). This is an engrossing drama that still works now - it is in fact an ideal "woman's picture" much better than any today. The three young stars in their youthful prime command the screen, Silvana framed by that nun's habit looks sensational - that face and profile, with that long nose and expressive eyes. The drama continues as Raf comes out of surgery, Sister Anna tries to evade his attention but can the lovers get back together or will her life at the hospital, as an emergency train crash victims arrive, prove too strong? Terrific stuff then. Alberto Lattuada directs - he also helmed Silvana's THE TEMPEST which I liked a lot back in 1958, the year Silvana did Clement's THE SEA WALL (THIS ANGRY AGE) with Tony Perkins (see labels for more on these), 1960 saw Martin Ritt's downbeat FIVE BRANDED WOMEN - all Laurentiis productions as was ULYSSES in '53 with Silvana as Penelope and Circe, 1954's MAMBO where Silvana also sings and dances up a storm in another torrid melodrama by Ponti-De Laurentiis but releases by Paramount, with Gassman and wife Shelley Winters; in this one though its Silvana whom Shelley has a yen for! ANNA though is a great discovery with great Lux film production values. I loved it.

After some 60s films like BARABBAS and the amusing IL DISCO VOLANTE (see post below) Silvana mainly worked for directors like Pasolini (OEDIPE RE, TEOREMA) and Visconti (DEATH IN VENICE, LUDWIG, CONVERSATION PIECE) in the 70s, she had more or less retired from cinema as Vitti and Cardinale took centre stage; a heavy smoker she died in 1989, aged 59; one of her final appearances being in De Laurentiis's DUNE.

Finally one can see GOLD OF NAPLES (L'ORO DE NAPOLI) De Sica's 1954 portmanteau collection - which he followed in the 60s with his segment in BOCCACCIO 70 and the Loren-Mastroianni hit YESTERDAY TODAY & TOMORROW. GOLD OF NAPLES though showcases Naples in all its vibrancy and is where director De Sica spent his first years, this is a collection of Napolitean episodes : a clown (Toto) exploited by a gangster, he is even paid to say prayers at the grave of the gangster's wife, its richly comic when the worm turns; an unfaithful pizza seller (Sophia) losing her emerald ring - and the young Loren is sensational walking through those Neapolitan streets; the funeral of a child; the gambler Count Prospero (Vittorio himself) defeated by a kid; the unexpected and unusual wedding of Teresa (Silvana), a prostitute, a touching tale, Mangano has a long climactic close-up. With Eduardo De Fillipo and scripted by De Sica regular, Cesare Zavattini. Bliss to finally catch up with now. Like Rossellini's VOYAGE TO ITALY it captures that early 50s Italian scene perfectly. and now for BITTER RICE .... see Italian label for more on all these; Vittorio's return to Naples in the first segment of YESTERDAY TODAY & TOMORROW being particularly choice, (and whose locations seem the same as the Toto episode here in GOLD OF NAPLES), also his Loren segment of BOCCACCIO 7O, and those other Italian portmanteau 60s films like LE BAMBOLE and LE FATE, with Vitti and Lollobrigida..

5 BRANDED WOMEN: Mangano, Moreau, Vera Miles, Barbara Bel Geddes, Carla Gravina; TEMPEST - Agnes Moorehead ideal as Mangano's mother.

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