Bellissima (1951): Visconti Directs Anna Magnani

Luchino Visconti made this comedy, starring the great Anna Magnani, early on in his career, before he became internationally famous with his more ambitious, epic-scale pictures (“The Leopard,”  “The Damned”)

Magnani plays the tempestuous Maddalena Cecconi, an overbearing stage mother, who may or may not fully realize that her daughter Maria (Tina Apicella) has no acting talent. She throws such a tantrum at the studio after the girl’s abortive screen test that the producers feel obligated to cast the girl.

However, renouncing show business she and her daughter in tow, return to her patient husband, who has been waiting for his wife to get her dreams of vicarious stardom.

Based on a story by the scenarist and major neo-realist figure Cesar Zavattini, Bellissima received mixed reviews upon initial release, largely due to its excessive running time (130 minutes) and the obviousness of the material.

Beware of what screen version you are watching: There’s also a cut running 112 minutes.

In its secod release, Bellissima was truncated to 90 minutes, which is too bad, because the film is one of Visconti’s underestimated works as well as a showcase for the hughely talented Magnani.  The screen character of a relentlssly pushy stage mother is by now overly familiar, but it was not back then.

Several years later, Magnani would go to Hollywood and win the 1955 Best Actress Oscar for The Rose Tattoo, based on Tennessee Williams’ famous play.

Credits

Directed by Luchino Visconti.

 

Cast

Anna Magnani as Maddalena Cecconi

Walter Chiari as Alberto Annovazzi

Tina Apicella as Maria Cecconi

Gastone Renzelli as Spartaco Cecconi

Arturo Bragaglia as Photographer

Alessandro Blasetti as Himself