THE BLIND WOMAN OF SORRENTO (Nunzio Malasomma, 1934)

I am so glad that Anna Magnani is already included on my list of the Fifty Best Film Actors (which is findable on this blogsite), because otherwise, having just seen her for the first time in La cieca di Sorrento, I would have to banish someone else to make room for her on that list. Who knew that Magnani was ever in her mid-twenties—and already a fabulous woman and an actress of tremendous focus and specific gravity? Dressed in heavy, voluminous nineteenth-century gowns, she moves forcefully, oceanically, towards the camera as Anna, mistress to Ernesto Basileo, the gambling-indebted Neopolitan lawyer who robs and murders a woman whose young daughter, Beatrice, next to her in bed that night, sees the departing villain’s cold eyes and instantly goes blind. Will Beatrice somehow be able to finger him one day? What if an eye surgeon restores her sight? Meanwhile, an innocent nobleman, rather than betray fellow revolutionaries, is hanged for these crimes he did not commit. This melodrama, from Francesco Mastriani’s 1852 novel, begins in 1833 and achieves resolution in 1844, all during the reign of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, as Italy inches toward the 1848 revolution and unification, for which the action in book and film is symbolical. A stolen ring is the instrument by which Anna brings down her disloyal lover.
     Nunzio Malasomma, its director, has made his implicitly anti-Fascist film both elegant and opulent, its multitude of camera perspectives cumulatively suggesting the cutting of a gemstone. But, for us, the main attraction is Magnani in her fat, rich supporting role—a performance light years beyond Gale Sondergaard’s best supporting actress Oscar-winning Faith in Anthony Adverse (Mervyn LeRoy, 1936), for the same year as Malasomma’s film’s U.S. release.

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