All movies which affect a ‘documentary feel’ owe a debt of influence to Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945). Much of the emotional force of this drama of Italian resistance against Nazi occupation (filming started months after Rome was liberated) is derived from the coiled tensity of Anna Magnani’s (1908-73) performance. The scene where Magnani’s Pina breaks through a SS cordon, rushes after the truck where her husband is bundled in and then is shot down is one of cinema’s authentic portrayals of casual brutality—more powerful for its being startlingly sudden. Born to an Italian mother and Egyptian father, Magnani attended drama school, was an acclaimed stage actress by the ‘30s and acted in many small roles in films (eg, Teresa Venerdi, 1941, by Vittorio De Sica), cast often as a singer, and often hard up. After Open City, she was famous, but pushing forty, and a certain matronliness stopped her from lunging for glamourous Hollywood. Her most prominent post-war Italian film was, with Rossellini again, L’Amore (‘48) where her prowess—emotionally coloured acting in the higher register—was shown to great advantage. Still more acclaimed was The Golden Coach (‘52, Jean Renoir). In two Hollywood films, The
Rose Tattoo (‘55, opposite Burt Lancaster, a role written for her by Tennessee Williams, a great admirer) and The Secret of Santa Vittoria (‘69, opp Anthony
Quinn), she plays tough-as-nails, golden-hearted women given to haran-guing, but who subjects herself to comic emotional pratfalls. Another top film was opposite Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind (‘60). Feted as one of cinema’s top actresses, she rounded off her career in Fellini’s Roma (‘72).