Anna Magnani in “Wild Is the Wind”
Lost the 1957 Best Actress Oscar to Joanne Woodward in “The Three Faces of Eve”
Despite the pedestrian warbling of Johnny Mathis in the titular signature tune, “Wild Is the Wind” has clearly been made with the intention of ruffling feathers. The decision to cast impassioned actors Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani (Mexican and Italian-born respectively) can only help but add intensity to a story of unhealthy attraction and morbid obsession. It’s especially interesting to see the rural side of America explored in a narrative which, in its subversion of burgeoning coupledom, traditionally lends itself more to white middle-class suburban woe, with newly-united pairing Gino and Gioia undergoing domestic turmoil. George Cukor, in a rare outing from the studio, mirrors an earthy setting with the tempestuous nature of the film’s romance, and one suspects that he didn’t have to work too hard to get these particular actors to comply with the theatrical entanglement in the script.
We’re immediately aligned with Magnani’s Gioia, who enters the film as a stranger to the rural American paradigm, and must learn to co-exist with Gino and adapt to his way of life. Early scenes in which Magnani is afforded the freedom of her Italian accent underpin the emotional alabaster of this woman, her tentative interaction with the farm folk invoking the magnitude of the cultural leap she’s taking. While the film dismantles this language barrier in order to usher the plot towards more scandalous intentions, and the ever-clearer themes of lust, identity, and belonging, Magnani is able to shape the experiental pitfalls of the woman and strongarm some identifiable, go-getting charm into her homemaking character.
Yet, particularly when the script is intent on generating issues for the couple, the hypersensitivity of Gioia as a fiery, stubborn woman isn’t always condusive to the development of the character, and in the repetitive instances of kitchen-based barneys Magnani doesn’t deviate much from bouts of severe frustration. This actress’ trademark physical imposition can restrict access to Gioia’s internal conflicts, too definite when confronting her husband over his many failures, with less of a tremulous sense of edge or self-doubt than somebody relatively new on the scene. This is a woman apparently governed by her impulses, but whom demonstrates emotional maturity only when the story suits, and with scene partners Quinn and Franciosa straddling wildly uneven extremes of angst, Magnani must shoulder most of that burden herself.
Magnani reacts to the kindling of her tryst with farmhand Bene with too much visible horror – an approach which makes the character appear too fickle, and somewhat neutralises the tragedy of her missteps towards the end of the film. She does, however, bring a naturalistic candour to this desolate landscape, and feels at home within the Tenessee Williams-esque elements of the narrative more than anyone else involved. The misguided theatrics of her performance dilute the nuance, but it’s an acceptable climax to this woman’s brace of Academy notices.