best film:   Rome, Open City. Realism has a description for both films and performances since the inception of the medium and artform- around since the beginning of narrative cinema some thirty years or so prior to Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece. But the World War II (and post) Italian Neo-Realism is a real artistic movement, and it is significant. Rome, Open City is the beginning of this movement and the movement’s first masterpiece (and still a formidable companion to The Bicycle Thieves which arrived three years later). For Anna Magnani, there is really no competitor in this category as much as cinephiles should seek out and admire Momma Roma, The Golden Coach and Fellini’s Roma.


one of those moments and performances as important to cinema history as a Lillian Gish close-up during the silent era or Jeanne Moreau in a freeze frame during the French New Wave


best performance:   Rome, Open City. Magnani’s performance was a punch upside the head or a slap in the face to screen acting in Hollywood in 1945. Most viewers (and critics) believed her to be a non-professional actor simply reacting to an extraordinary dramatic and real situation (Nazi invasion, war). Magnani’s work proved to be a highly influential performance- perhaps as important as what Marlon Brando (future costar) and others would do a few years later in method as a movement to realism. Magnani was realism and it was an important contrast to Hollywood.


Magnani as the unforgettable Pina in Rossellini’s Neorealism masterpiece



stylistic innovations/traits:  Magnani can spite fire and chew up the scenery with any actor- talk about screen presence. She gets raw and gritty in her big performances and few, if any, actors can be as tenacious with not only her vocal elevations but those piercing eyes. Though Rome, Open City is often viewed as her start- she had a dozen films under her belt before 1945. Her weakness would be her depth- just a half dozen archiveable films. Her strength would be that top performance and really that top five is impressive.  After her Rossellini masterpiece, she gives a big lead performance in a marvelous Pasolini film (Mamma Roma), headlines a Renoir film (The Golden Coach), wins an Oscar (The Rose Tattoo) and then goes toe to toe with Brando (The Fugitive Kind).


directors worked with:   Oddly enough, especially unique for a non-English Language actor on this list, Magnani does not work with auteur here more than once. Amongst her six archiveable performances there are collaborations with Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Sidney Lumet- this is quite a group.


Anna Magnani (the titular sacrificial heroine) in Pasolini’s Mamma Roma giving the gift of pigs to her ex-lover and father of her son. Magnani is such a livewire—she is singing, laughing, just chewing every scene for everything its worth without going too far over the top. She brings volume to the role, presence with her trademark quick-witted dialogue, heavy emotion and the pitch-perfect bags under her eyes.



top five performances:

  1. Rome, Open City
  2. Mamma Roma
  3. The Golden Coach
  4. The Rose Tattoo
  5. The Fugitive Kind



archiveable films

1945- Rome, Open City
1952- The Golden Coach
1955- The Rose Tattoo
1960- The Fugitive Kind
1962- Mamma Roma
1972- Fellini’s Roma