Stromboli (1950): Revisiting Rossellini-Ingrid Bergman First Collaboration

The first collaboration of Italian director Roberto Rossellini and Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman, Stromboli (aka “Stromboli, Land of God” (Italian: Stromboli, terra di Dio), is a neo-realist film.

It is better known for the couple’s extra-marital affair than for its artistic merits.

Stromboli
Stromboli poster.jpg

Italian theatrical release poster

Bergman plays Karin, a displaced Lithuanian in Italy, who secures release from  internment camp by marrying an Italian ex-POW fisherman, (Mario Vitale), whom she meets in the camp.

He promises her a great life in the island of Stromboli, a volcanic island located between the mainland and Sicily.

But she soon discovers that Stromboli is harsh and barren, and its conservative people hostile and disdainful of her as “foreign” woman.

Increasingly despondent, Karen eventually decides to escape the volcano island.

The film also features documentary-style segments about fishing and actual evacuation of the town after a volcano eruption.

In the U.S., initial reception for Stromboli was very negative. When the film opened on February 15, 1950 in the US, it was a box office failure, and RKO declared a loss of $200,000.  But the movie fared better overseas, where Bergman and Rossellini’s affair was deemed as less scandalous.

Not many Italians had chance to see the film until it was screened at the 1950 Venice Film Fest, on August 26, 1950.

In Italy, Stromboli was awarded the Rome Prize for Cinema as the best film of the year.

Most villagers are played by actual people from the island, as is typical of neorealism.

The film is the result of a famous letter that Ingrid Bergman wrote to Rossellini, in which she expressed admiration for his work and wish to make a movie with him. She and Rossellini set up a joint production company, Societ per Azioni Berit (Berit Films), and she also helped securing production and distribution deal with RKO, then owned by Howard Hughes.

Originally, she had approached Samuel Goldwyn, but he bowed out after having seen Rossellini’s film Germany, Year Zero.

The contract stipulated that footage had to be turned over to RKO, who would edit an American version  based on Rossellini’s Italian version. However, the US version was eventually made without the director’s input. Rossellini protested, claiming that RKO’s 81-minute version was radically different from his original 105-minute cut.

He was supported by Father Félix Morlión, who was involved in the screenwriting, and sent telegram to Joseph Breen, director of the Production Code Administration, urging him to consult the original script, which contained religious theme.

The conflict eventually led to legal action over the film’s international distribution rights. The unrestored RKO version runs 102–105 minutes, including credits that were omitted from the first RKO version, but it still has 1950 as the production year, and the same MPAA number as the 81-minute version.

Stromboli is mostly remembered for the extramarital affair between Rossellini and Bergman that began during production, as well as their child born out of wedlock just weeks before the US release. The affair caused such a huge scandal in the U.S. that church groups, women’s clubs and legislators in several states called for banning the film. Bergman was denounced as “a powerful influence for evil” on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Colorado Senator Edwin C. Johnson.

Bergman was blacklisted and her Hollywood career was halted for half a dozen years–until she made a comeback in the 1956 Anastasia, for which she won her second Best Actress Oscar.

 

Cast
Ingrid Bergman as Karin
Mario Vitale as Antonio
Renzo Cesana as The Priest
Mario Sponzo as The Man from the Lighthouse
Gaetano Famularo as Man with Guitar
Angelo Molino as Baby, uncredited

Credits:

Directed, produced by Roberto Rossellini
Screenplay by Sergio Amidei, Gian Paolo Callegari, Art Cohn, Renzo Cesana, story by Roberto Rossellini
Music by Renzo Rossellini
Cinematography Otello Martelli
Edited by Jolanda Benvenuti

Production company: Berit Films, RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: February 15, 1950 (US); October 8, 1950 (Italy)

Running time: 107 minutes; (US cut: 81 min.)
Budget US $900,000