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Paramount Pictures and producer Hal Wallis had enjoyed great success with their 1955 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo. When the star of that film, Anna Magnani, took home a "Best Actress" Oscar® the following year, Wallis was eager to sign her to another project. Magnani herself suggested a remake of the 1947 Italian film Furia, which had starred Rossano Brazzi and Isa Pola. Tapped to transpose the melodrama to an American setting was playwright Arnold Schulman, whose comedy A Hole in the Head had run for 156 performances on Broadway and would later be adapted as a cinematic vehicle for Frank Sinatra in 1959. The protagonist of Schulman's screenplay became a widowed Italian American sheep farmer who replaces his beloved late wife with her own sister, bringing her to America and chancing the laws of fate and passion by introducing her to his virile adopted son. The production's prairie setting and preponderance of cowboy action (including a mustang roundup) made Obsession, as the project was called during production, a natural for John Sturges. Sturges had scored popular successes with a string of steely traditional and modern day westerns, including Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) but when Wallis began to torque the scenario away from adventure and back into the genre of melodrama, Sturges resigned, with "illness" being the official reason. Brought on board at the eleventh hour was the unlikely choice of "women's director" George Cukor.
Interestingly, Cukor had himself just walked away from a prestigious directing assignment. Originally tapped to helm MGM's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), which the studio had bought for Elizabeth Taylor, Cukor excused himself when the studio ordered extensive rewrites of the play's third act to omit any allusion to homosexuality. Although the great American outdoors was not Cukor's natural metier, he accepted the challenge of taking on Wild Is the Wind (1957) and was eager to work with Anna Magnani and her American costars Anthony Quinn (in the Rossano Brazzi role) and Tony Franciosa. The sixteen-week production was often turbulent, with the "perversely unpredictable" Magnani (in Cukor's words) arriving late to the Nevada location, where she attempted to break the ice by challenging cast and crew to a game of "truth," demanding to know deeply personal secrets. The game chased Cukor out of the room and prompted virginal Dolores Hart (who eventually quit Hollywood to become a nun) to confess that she wanted to sleep with Quinn. Distressed over her wardrobe for the film, La Magnani held up shooting for two days by refusing to leave her rented cabin, the walls of which were stained with marinara sauce from many a thrown plate of spaghetti, collateral damage from the fiery actress' torrid love affair with Franciosa (who had just divorced his first wife to marry actress Shelley Winters).
Wild Is the Wind was not lucky at the Oscar® ball, though Magnani and Quinn would both earn nominations. Quinn had previously taken statuettes as a supporting player in Viva Zapata! (1952) and Lust for Life (1956) and would be nominated again for "Best Actor" as Zorba the Greek (1964) in 1965. Anna Magnani and George Cukor planned to work together again on Two Women (1960) but Magnani ultimately balked at the casting of statuesque Sophia Loren as her onscreen daughter. (The film was eventually made by Vittorio de Sica, with Loren playing the mother and winning an Oscar® for it.)
After the disastrous reception of Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind (1959), an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending in which she was teamed with Marlon Brando, Magnani returned to her native Italy. She made only six more feature films (among them Pasolini's Mamma Roma in 1962) before her untimely death from pancreatic cancer in 1973. Also nominated for their work on Wild Is the Wind were composer Dimitri Tiomkin and lyricist Ned Washington for their title song. Snubbed at Oscar® time was Tony Franciosa, a nominee the previous year for his role in A Hatful of Rain (1956), which he had originated on Broadway and for which he had received a Tony Award nomination in 1956.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Arnold Schulman, Vittorio Nino Novarese (novel "Furia")
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Art Direction: Tambi Larsen and Hal Pereira
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Film Editing: Warren Low
Cast: Anna Magnani (Gioia), Anthony Quinn (Gino), Anthony Franciosa (Bene), Joseph Calleia (Alberto), Dolores Hart (Angela "Angie"), Lili Valenty (Teresa).
by Richard Harland Smith
The Films of Anthony Quinn by Alvin H. Marill
George Cukor Interviews by Jeff Wise and Robert Smith
George Cukor, Master of Elegance: Hollywood's Legendary Director and His Stars by Emanuel Levy
George Cukor: A Double Life by Patrick McGilligan