Perhaps The Coolest Two Italian Actors Who Ever Lived

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Stars In An Italian Film Noir

This clip is from the epochal 1949 movie Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice).

The dancers are Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman.

Vittorio’s character, from elsewhere, had recently stolen a diamond necklace and he was keeping a low profile with his female accomplice in the Italian ricefields region north east of Genoa.

Silvana’s character, from the region, had happened upon the necklace, and she is wearing it here.

Bitter Rice was the culmination of the anti-glamorous anti-hip Italian neorealism style which prided itself on being the opposite of Hollywoodism.

This movie paved the way to the astonishing wave of the 1950s through 1970s which included La Dolce Vita, Bicycle Thieves, Amarcord, La Notte, La Strada, 8-1/2, Rocco and His Brothers, and many other Italian classics which did so well.

And Silvana? She paved the way to the emergence of such similarly cool and fearless actresses as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Monica Vitti, Anna Magnani, Claudia Cardinale, Giulietta Masina, and Virna Lisi.

She created the mold. Not bad for an 18-year-old! As Silvana was when she starred in this movie. Two years previously, at 16, she had been crowned Miss Rome, and that led to this first of many starring roles.

The song that so suits this clip is Caballo Viejo, a classic Venezuelan mambo re-recorded worldwide.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 05/18/21 at 08:21 PM in

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This is perhaps the sexiest of all the film noirs, although there is actually not even any serious kissing in the film. The guys ask, the women say no, and the tension jacks up a notch.

“Trust the Italians to make farming sexy, you could say” actor and cook Stanley Tucci recently said about this movie in his recent Italian series on CNN.

This is set in the largest rice-growing area in Europe, where the rice for the rissottos come from.

The hundreds, maybe thousands, of women extras sloshing around in the fields (and at one point in a huge and pretty funny women’s equivalent of a mano-a-mano fight) must have been grateful for the work in this tough post-war time.

This is the same Po Valley region, politically fraught at the time, where the funny stories about the Catholic priest Don Camillo and his communist foes/friends are set. Rather noticeably, women rarely appear - though it was women right there who led the fight for workers’ rights.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 05/19/21 at 09:01 AM | #

Amanda Knox was a porky little thing in comparison.

No wonder her entire love-life in Perugia consisted of a dangerous drug dealer and a computer nerd.

Cause for jealousy to run wild…

Posted by Peter Quennell on 05/19/21 at 10:40 AM | #

Happy Memorial Day to all Americans as we honor U.S. military this weekend in May.

Posted by Hopeful on 05/27/21 at 06:00 PM | #

Thanks for watching the whole of “Bitter Rice” as some emailed that they did.

Silvana Mangano’s much-less-known “Anna” made 2 years later, with the elite of the elite of the Italian movie industry, is even more impactful. There is an astonishing jolt about 1/3 of the way through and another 2/3 way through.

It seems to have been conceived to counteract the bad-girl image of “Bitter Rice” which had most Italian men in a swoon and many Italian women uttering “tut-tut”, not quite what the moralistic neo-realism was meant to be all about!

But it is not about a nun, as publicity images and commentary perhaps deliberately mislead, it’s about a very smart nursing sister as the main associate of the brilliant top surgeon in a huge hospital and why she chose that course.

Nuns in a movie are not a turn-off for me and several have been really good (Shirley MacClaine’s fake nun and Deborah Kerr’s real nun). But such films do do better in RC countries - in Italy, Spain, and Latin America.

“Anna” and Silvana Mangano are still revered there, plenty of Italian and Spanish comments on her many YouTubes like these attest to that.

“Anna” made a lot of money when first released in the US but has been almost completely forgotten since. There are no reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Only the Italian PAL version is available on DVD. It’s on Amazon and Netflix but I haven’t watched.  Quality and translation may be good.

There’s an AVI video online but with no English subtitles online that match up. I have a much enhanced one with accurately translated and timed subtitles and will figure out how to get that out. Any tips? Upload the whole thing to YouTube maybe?

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/09/21 at 12:33 PM | #

Several informed Italian comments online suggest Silvana was somehow used or disadvantaged at the start of her career, and was sometimes unmotivated and gloomy from then on.

That inspired me to track down some more information about her. A bit of a shocker is the result.

This review I just submitted to Amazon of her oldest daughter Veronica’s book Rivoglio la mia vita (Rewind my Life) explains it somewhat.

The book is not in English, so this opinion is based on reviews. I’d have rated five stars for “outing” her own family trauma and how Veronica has tried to come full circle since.

But in the reviews, she is said to damn her mom Silvana with faint praise (cold, disinterested,  remote, maybe mental trauma in her past) and apparently even assigned her some blame. And she adores her dad, who seemingly could do no wrong.


Silvana was a mere teenager of 19 year and 3 months with zero financial security and few job skills when the aggressive producer Dino de Laurentiis who was then aged THIRTY ONE married her on 17 July 1949.

Only six months later, Veronica was born, on 13 January 1950, when her mom was still only 19 years and 9 months old.

Few teenage mothers saddled with babies at that age go on to do the very best for their kid. Or to find themselves and to find the career they really want.

Silvana did not set out to make herself Italy’s first global sex symbol, Dino did that (and then in later films tried to pull her back). She had to live with stern disapproval in some quarters (hint: they were generally not men) for the rest of her life.

And though Silvana had great talent and great looks, her career and casting in individual movies as the wife of Italy’s #1 producer was always suspect.

It seems to me that Veronica really owes it to her mom to now write a sympathetic biography to make up.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/09/21 at 07:44 PM | #

The dates above are easy to confirm though I did not ever see them both together in the same place.

Amazon’s fact-checkers have okayed the review and it’s now online, the one-star review here.

Sophia Loren appears quite conspicuously as a cocktail waitress in “Anna” mentioned above. She was seventeen. She was pretty but it was unmistakable that Silvana was more so - and she sang a haunting song, the second link in the “Anna” comment above.

Sophia took sole control of her career, went to acting school, and appeared glamorous and often funny in many films of her own choice.  She did not get married until 32 (to Carlo Ponti) and her two sons were born when she was 34 and 39.

The kinds of choices Silvana might have liked? In one of her films (the funny first segment as an aging star in “The Witches”) she actually makes a sardonic remark about Sophia Loren suggesting this.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/12/21 at 08:50 AM | #

Relevance of this to our case?

Well, one main prong of Italy becoming “persona grata” in the world’s eyes again after World War II was to set up one of the world’s best justice systems.

It’s been slightly perverted by politicians and mafias, as we see in our case, but has stood up pretty well as a model - toward which the US is now in effect gravitating.

Italian movies were the second main prong, the politico-economic one. A way of showing the world that Italy was a moral decent nation of attractive people who can unflinchingly address hard truths, and so okay to deal with.

And without the right charismatic actors the effort would have gone nowhere. They HAD to resonate internationally.

Silvana was the very first. Others came along later - Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida - but Silvana was first out of the box and blazed the way for them.

Read this? British film analyst Leon Hunt gets it right in a way that almost no other living movie commentator does now.

Just how big was Bitter Rice internationally?  It had a three month run in New York.  In the UK the subtitled version played in the West End for eighteen weeks, seen by 100,000 people – they were allegedly turning away 400 people every night. It even played some of the provinces (almost unheard of for a subtitled film) – it made more money in Leeds than any film to that date.  Then came the dubbed version, which was even bigger.  The early 50s was the peak of her international stardom – when Il Brigante Musolino (Mario Camerini 1950) was released as Outlaw Girl it went out with the tagline ‘Don’t tangle with Mangano!’  Given how many people owned the Bitter Rice pin-up, tangling with her was exactly what they were dreaming of.

And Silvana’s second (Lupo), third (Musolino), and fourth (Anna) movies also created international windfalls.

One woman (half English by the way) who altered the prospects of an entire nation. Quite awesome.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/26/21 at 04:37 PM | #
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