Wild Is the Wind (1957): Cukor’s Family Melodrama, Starring Oscar Winning Anna Magnani, Anthony Quinn, and Anthony Franciosa

George Cukor served as replacement director of the family melodrama, Wild is the Wind, at Paramount, made by A-producer Hal Wallis.

The film was originally slated for director John Sturges, but when he became ill, he was forced to withdraw. With a starting date of April 1, Wallis began a hasty search for a replacement.

Anna Magnani, who had won an Oscar for her first American film, “The Rose Tattoo,” in 1955, and was the star of Wild is the Wind, had director approval. When Wallis mentioned to her that Cukor was available, she immediately consented.  Having seen and liked Cukor’s films, Magnani was excited at the prospect of working with Hollywood’s best actors director.

Wild Is the Wind tells the story of Gino (Anthony Quinn), a widowed Italian sheep rancher in Nevada, who marries Giola (Anna Magnani), the sister of his deceased wife, and brings her from Italy to Nevada. Expecting Giola to be a duplicate of his wife, he treats her insensitively. Conflict arises when Giola falls in love with Gino’s adopted son, Bene (Tony Franciosa), but in the end Giola and Gino are reconciled.

Cukor elicited a powerful performance from Magnani in her second American film. “No actress possesses the magic and the fire of Anna,” Cukor later said, “She didn’t know English, but she has such a wonderful ear, that it didn’t make a difference.” Magnani could be temperamental and difficult, but Cukor was used to working with temperamental stars. Magnani was extremely talented, but “perversely unpredictable”–Cukor never knew what she would do.

In style, Wild Is the Wind is a departure for Cukor. For the first time, he attempted naturalism. Indeed, there are sequences of training sheep dogs, and an unprecedented depiction of a lamb’s birth (which created censorship problems in some cities), that you would never see in other Cukor movies.

Also uncharacteristic of Cukor is the film’s overly explicit symbolism. Giola develops a special affection for a wild stallion, because, as she says, “This horse and I speak the same language.” Like the stallion, Giola embodies an individualistic spirit, resisting efforts to tame her.

Wild Is the Wind builds with a brooding tone of an Eugene O’Neill tragedy, but is marred by a sentimentally contrived happy ending, which Cukor reportedly detested. Yet, as Gene Phillips noted, the film features a prevalent theme in Cukor’s movies–illusion versus reality. Gino refuses to accept the fact that the past is buried, that the irrepressible Giola is not a replica of his dead wife. But Gino must face the truth, and give up his fantasy of reliving his first marriage.

Released in December, the sweet smell of Oscars unmistakably hovered over the picture. Both Magnani and Quinn were nominated for lead acting awards.

Quinn, who had already won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, took his first Best Actor nomination with a sense of humor. “Win, lose, or draw,” he told Cukor, “you’re still my buddy.”

Magnani was equally grateful to Cukor’s intelligent and human sensitive help. If the picture will have any success, she said, “It will be thanks to you.” For his part, Cukor told Magnani that working with her was one of the most deeply satisfying experiences of his life, and that he wished from the bottom of his heart to work with her again.