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Teresa was the first production of Coliseum Films, a producing subsidiary of distributor Loew's International Corp., whose president, Arthur M. Loew, was the son of the founder of the firm's parent company, Loew's, Inc. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, this was to be the first of a series of "low budgeted, locale-photographed stories which Arthur Lowe plans to make in Europe and other parts of the world." In a pre-release New York Times article by director Fred Zinnemann, he stated that Loew, with whom he had earlier worked on the 1948 release The Search, suggested doing a film "on the plight and problems of those boys who had come back from war to a confusing, overcrowded world, which they must face 'on their own,' without superior officers and military rules and regulations to direct their lives." They decided to use an approach similar to that of The Search, of "letting the experiences of one ex-soldier tell the story of all his fellows, and filming the picture in its natural settings, with unknown players in the leading roles."
After writers Stewart Stern, who had also worked on The Search, and Alfred Hayes became involved, the story began to focus on the experiences of a foreign war bride in addition to those of a returning soldier. In his autobiography, Zinnemann stated that Stern was hired to write a screenplay loosely based on Hayes's novel The Girl on the Via Flaminia; however, that book, which was the source for the 1954 United Artists release Act of Love, seems to bear little resemblance to Teresa, other than the fact that it also deals with a love affair between an American G.I. and an impoverished European girl.
A May 1950 New York Times article noted that the film was being made "in the Italian tradition-unknown actors, and the Italian part of the story...shot in the actual bombed-out villages on the route of the Fifth Army, in which the G.I. is supposed to have served." In the New York Times article, Zinnemann noted that using unknown actors had succeeded in Europe, where costs were low enough to allow for extended time for a director to work with the cast. Stern was sent to Italy ahead of the production crew for research and to recruit potential cast members.
According to the film's pressbook, the mother of seventeen-year-old actress Anna Maria Pierangeli learned of the casting call from Silvio Damico, the head of Rome's Academy of Dramatic Art, who urged her to send her daughter for a screen test. The test was sent to New York and impressed Zinnemann, who knew when he met her in Rome that she was right for the role. The actress, whose name was changed to Pier Angeli, had earlier starred in the Italian films Domani troppo tardi (Tomorrow Is Too Late) and Domani un altro giorno (Tomorrow Is Another Day), both directed by Lonide Moguy. Angeli acted for many years in Hollywood, co-starring in a number of popular films during the 1950s. She returned to Europe in the 1960s and died in 1971, of an overdose of barbituates. Angeli, had an identical twin sister who also become a prominent actress in Hollywood, working under the name Marisa Pavan.
Teresa was John Ericson's first film. According to Los Angeles Times, he previously had been with the Barter Theater in New York and had done some radio and television work. New York Times noted, "In appearance and even in his voice use, he resembles Marlon Brando, who played in The Men under Mr. Zinnemann's direction-which May by significant." Teresa also marked the film debuts of Rod Steiger, Ralph Meeker and celebrated Stars and Stripes war cartoonist Bill Mauldin. Mauldin, who had been wounded in the Italian campaign, also served as a technical adviser on the film. Italian village scenes were shot in the small town of Scascoli, near Bologna in the Apennines, at the foot of Mount Adone, which Zinnemann called "the pivot of the German Gothic line during the war," and at Livergnano, where the wedding ceremony was shot.
Battle scenes were filmed where actual fighting had taken place, the hospital scene was shot in Siena and the honeymoon scenes were shot in Rome. By the time of filming, Scascoli, which had a population of 350, had been rebuilt, so the filmmakers hired townspeople to wreck it again and included many as extras in the cast. The stone watering trough was built in the main square for the film. According to news items, forty ex-G.I.s, who were studying in Italy, were cast as Fifth Army extras and bit roles. Shooting in New York took place near the Third Avenue "el" on the East Side, in Central Park, at Jones Beach, at Bellevue Hospital and at M-G-M's home office, which was used for the unemployment office scene; because the script depicted the clerk at the office as "unfriendly," the actual New York unemployment office would not allow filming on their premises, according to a New York Times article.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to a number of lines in the script where, he wrote, "Teresa is offering herself, sexually, for food" and "the soldiers set out to seduce the Italian girls with Hershey bars." Breen's objections led to a number of changes in the dialogue, including the alteration of a scene in the script in which Sgt. Dobbs gives Philip a Hershey bar and says, "Here now, you're all set. Do I have to teach you how to do this too?"
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing (Motion Picture Story). Some reviews commented that the film would probably appeal to art-house patrons, as opposed to general audiences, and most trade reviews were negative. Bosley Crowther of New York Times, however, praised the film as meriting "the rare appreciation of all who are interested in honest, mature films" and lauded Stern and Zinnemann for having "evolved a film that places these two real young people in a world that is equally real."