|Anna Magnani and Walter Chiari|
Maddalena (Anna Magnani) is a visiting nurse with a husband, Spartaco (Gastone Renzelli), and a cute little daughter named Maria (Tina Apicella). Hoping her daughter will have a better life, she takes her to Cinecitta where they are having auditions for little girls for a movie entitled "Today, Tomorrow, and Never." Maddalena encounters a man, Alberto (Walter Chiari), who has a minor job with the production company, and offers his help -- for a price. She manages to get a screen test for Maria, but has she pinned all her hopes on the child in an unrealistic fashion? Bellissima is a notable comedy-drama that boasts an absolutely superb performance from Magnani [Wild is the Wind]. Chiari is charming and amassed a great many film credits, also starring as an Austrian playboy on Broadway in The Gay Life with Barbara Cook some years later. Handsome Renzelli is excellent as the husband, but he did very little film work. The little girl in the film doesn't so much act as react. Visconti's direction isn't quite of the nail-the-camera-to-the-floor variety, but it is a bit stodgy at times. The film is full of interesting touches and flavorful character actors, as well as a few inside jokes (including the name of the film the child auditions for). Outside the couple's apartment there is an outdoor cinema, and Maddalena remarks to her husband how nice she finds Burt Lancaster, making Spartaco a bit jealous. "I have a sense of humor, you know," she tells him. Ironically, Magnani and Lancaster would work together in the film adaptation of The Rose Tattoo four years later.
Verdict: Amusing, touching, and very well performed. ***.