Wild Is the Wind: Cukor Taming Anna Magnani

In 1957, George Cukor directed Wild is the Wind at Paramount, with Hal Wallis as producer. The film was originally slated for director John Sturges, but he became ill and was forced to withdraw. With a starting date of April 1, Wallis began a hasty search for a replacement.

Anna Magnani, who won an Oscar for her first American film, The Rose Tatoo, 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 him.

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.

Throughout the film, Cukor had to stand with a whip to keep his performers from acting all over the place. As soon as casting was announced, insiders in Hollywood made jokes about the film’s “heavy-breathing, highly-charged actors.” Franciosa was trained in the moody, depth-probing Method Acting, and Magnani subscribed to psychological naturalism. Cukor was known for his aversion to Lee Strasberg’s much touted Method. If there was one thing Cukor couldn’t tolerate, it was overacting and excessive emotionalism.

With the delays involved in the change of director, the shooting date was pushed back to June. Quinn recalled that Magnani was supposed to show up in Carson City, Nevada, where Cukor the other actors were already staying in the motel. Every day, they were told Magnani was coming the next day, but she didn’t show up for a week. Finally, a big car brought Magnani, who went straight into her cabin. “There was a lot of anticipation,” Quinn recalled, “all the actors were looking through the windows of their cabins.”

Half an hour later, Magnani sent notes inviting Cukor and the cast for a spaghetti dinner at her cabin. “We were all excited,” said Quinn, “it was a great honor to meet Miss Magnani.” Magnani poured wine as they made small chat. “Suddenly, Anna said, `You know, on Monday we start this picture, and I’ve been working on the script with my dialogue coach, but I don’t know Mr. Quinn, and I’ve just met Mr. Cukor–I would like to know more about all of you.” “You’re not going to ask us a lot of questions, I hope,” Cukor quipped drolly. “No, no,” Anna said, “In Italy, we have a game, it’s called the truth game. We sit around and we ask each person a question, and he has to answer truthfully, because if he doesn’t, everybody will know that he is a liar, and it will smell in the room and create bad feelings. I will start asking questions, and then we go around the table.”

“Excuse me,” Cukor immediately said, “I’m leaving.” After he left, Magnani said, “The hell with him, we know all about him. Now, Mr. Quinn, I’m gonna ask you the first question–do you want to fuck me” “No,” said Quinn. Then she asked Dolores Hart, “Do you want to fuck Tony Quinn” Dolores turned pink, stammered, and said, “Well…” But Anna interrupted, “You better tell the truth, ’cause if you don’t, you’re gonna be terrible in this picture.” So Dolores said, “Yes!” Then Anna turned to her dialogue coach, “Have you ever been fucked in the ass” and the poor girl had to say yes. Finally, Anna turned to Tony and said, “Mr. Franciosa, do you want to fuck me’ And he said, “Absolutely.” So Anna said, “O.K. everybody, the game is over!” The next day, when Cukor was told the story, he laughed hysterically, wishing he had stayed.

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.

Cukor’s reputation as the best woman’s director in Hollywood made Quinn initially fear that Cukor would concentrate on Magnani’s performance. On the first day of shooting, they filmed a scene where Magnani gets off the plane from Italy. “Anna started talking Italian and a whole ad lib,” Quinn recalled, “I ad libbed right along with her. When we walked off the camera, Anna turned to me and said, `I’m gonna have trouble with you.'” Cukor, who overheard the conversation, said to her, `You certainly are, because he can ad lib as well as you do.’ From that point on, Cukor and Quinn had a very good working relationship.

“George was a wonderfully sensitive director,” said Quinn, “he was not only great for women, he was great for men. It’s also unfair to say that he was just a great actors’ director, because he told a story magnificently with the camera.” Quinn liked Cukor’s ability to communicate with rich language. “It’s interesting,” he said, “that George did not get along with Gable, but he did with Tracy; Gable probably could not understand his poetic imagery.”

Cukor had a very good sense of what a scene needed to be effective Indeed, one day, Franciosa said, “I wanna make this moment very important.” “What do you mean Mr. Franciosa” asked Cukor. “It is my moment,” the actor said, to which Cukor responded, “Your moment You just have to look over there and walk away.” “No,” said the insistent Franciosa, “I want to stay here and react to it.” Finally, the impatient Cukor said, “You can stand there and react as long as you want, because I’m gonna cut it later in two seconds!”

Quinn enjoyed an utmost respect from Cukor, who gave him the freedom to experiment. “Basically, George liked a good script,” the actor said, “but of necessity, he would sometimes improvise. Even if you say the lines in the script, you still have to improvise the movement and the attitude.”

Cukor was very open to Quinn’s suggestions. “There is a scene where I dance alone with the guitar. I felt that I couldn’t put my arms around my wife, and the only thing I could do was hug my guitar. George thought that was very good and he let me do it. But he also turned me down, when I was not thinking of the script, when I was thinking only of my part.”

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

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