Silvana Mangano was a beautiful and talented actress who was popular in Italian films of the 1950s, when Italy was going through its post-war film renaissance. This sensuous bombshell ascended to stardom after a sizzling performance in the drama Bitter Rice (1949). She married Dino De Laurentiis, an emerging producer, and he cast her in some fine films, one of which was Anna (1951).
This melodrama, like many Italian films, conveys raw emotions in such a frank and simple manner. It switches back and forth between the present life of a novice nun Sister Anna (Mangano), who works as a nurse at a busy hospital in Milano, and her steamy past life. Anna was a nightclub entertainer at a popular cafe. She had a sexual yen for Vittorio (Vittorio Gassman) and would often spend her nights with him. But one day she meets a rich farmer named Andrea (Raf Vallone) who does not see her as an easy pick-up but respects her and treats her as the beautiful young woman she is.
After a brief courtship, he asks her to visit his mother and proposes marriage, but Anna, who is still spending her nights with Vittorio, feels unworthy of the gentle-hearted Andrea. It is this unworthiness that eventually leads her to become a nun…or so we are led to think. What makes Anna such an interesting film is that there is a lot of unspoken dialogue which makes it ripe for interpreting the story in various ways.
Anna may have chosen to become a nun because she felt she was a “bad influence” and would never have made Andrea a good wife or it may have been because she felt a true calling to help others as a nurse. She hints several times that this is the reason and yet she makes her decision to join the holy order prior to knowing anything about nursing. It seems as though it is the confinement of the walls of the hospital that appeals to her more, or perhaps the chance to atone for her past through service to others.
Anna was beautifully filmed by director Alberto Lattuada. It is a wonderfully soapy melodrama bubbling over with fine performances from all of the principal cast members. Silvana Mangano gives an especially appealing performance. She was such a beauty in her time and, like many of the stars of silent era pictures, she was able to convey so much through her eyes alone.
Raf Vallone, the leading man, was a handsome actor with great virility. Unlike actors like Marcello Mastroianni or Vittorio Gassmann, Raf Vallone does not look like a movie star. He was a representative of Italy’s “everyman” and often took on roles of commoners….farmers, soldiers, miners, machinists. Yet, no matter what role he was given or how brief it was, he always made a memorable impression.
Vittorio Gassmann, Raf Vallone, and Silvana Mangano all had major roles in Bitter Rice, so Anna marked a reunion for these actors. Also starring in the film is Silvana Mangano’s two sisters – Patrizia, who plays Anna’s sister Luisa, and Natascia, who portrays Andrea’s younger sister. The wonderful actress and voice-over performer Tina Lattanzi is Andrea’s mother and two great French actors, Jacques Dumesnil and Gaby Morlay, play in the hospital sequences as, respectably, the doctor and Mother Superior.
Anna also features two excellent nightclub music sequences where Silvana dances and sings to the beautiful “Non Dimenticar” – popularized in the United States by Nat King Cole – and the enticing baião “El Negro Zumbon.” This song became an instant classic in Italy and Spain, but it was not until 2004 that American audiences heard it through Pink Martini’s rendition.
Anna is often overshadowed by other Italian film classics of the era, but it was a huge commercial success at the time and its entertainment value has not diminished over the years.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”