best film:   Juliet of the Spirits edges out La Strada here.  In La Strada in the 1950s, Fellini is still heavily influenced by his neorealism roots (he worked on the writing for Rome, Open City and Paisan) and the two performances at the heart of La Strada (Masina and Anthony Quinn) are just more central to the film. By Juliet of the Spirits (eleven years later), Fellini is in full blown breathtaking expressionist mode.


Masina plays Giulietta Boldrini in Juliet of the Spirts – a film that deserves spot in the canon close to La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. 


best performance:   La Strada. In Juliet, Masina often plays a role which is essentially a camera substitute. She is a character in the film of course, but she is also the narrative center and behind her eyes and point of view Fellini shows off his dazzling world. On the other hand, Masina is the primary object for the camera in La Strada. She is the Chaplinesque tragically sad victim of near neorealism circumstance (and Anthony Quinn’s character’s abuse). Masina is fantastic in her trio of films at the top of the list below- but her work in La Strada is truly special- one of the best performances of the entire 1950s- male or female.


Masina as Gelsomina-in La Strada one of the landmark performances of the 1950s and Italian cinema


stylistic innovations/traits:   She only has seven archiveable films and she is on camera for just moments in one (Rossellini’s Paisan) so depth is not a strength of Masina’s argument for this list. On the other hand, few actresses (if any) can match Masina’s top three performances -easily getting her mentions among the best in 1954, 1957 and 1965.  These are three towering performances. Masina can play tragedy or comedy. At her best she played both of course- the heartbreaking clown. The influence of Charlie Chaplin on Masina readily apparent. She is often dancing, playing a fool, or accentuating the physical performance with her small playful frame or round animated face.


Nights of Cabiria gives Masina a trio of lead performances that few actors can match


directors worked with:  Fellini (5), Rossellini (2) and it is the work here with Fellini that is truly exceptional. Most think of Mastroianni first when they think of Fellini’s actors and collaborators and that is fine and no insult to Masina- Mastroianni is an all-time great actor. Masina’s one-two punch probably cannot quite match La Dolce Vita and 8 ½– but Fellini and Mastroianni did not make five archiveable films together like Fellini and Masina did. And the third best film/performance from the Fellini/Mastroianni pairing cannot touch Cabiria – which won her the best actress award at Cannes.


top ten performances:

  1. La Strada
  2. Juliet of the Spirits
  3. The Nights of the Cabiria
  4. Il Bidone
  5. Europa 51’
  6. The White Sheik
  7. Paisan



archiveable films

1946- Paisan
1952- Europa 51′
1952- The White Shiek
1954- La Strada
1955- IL Bidone
1957- The Nights of the Cabiria
1965- Juliet of the Spirits