The Naked Maja
Cast & Crew
In 18th century Madrid, painter Francisco Goya y Lucientes and his friend Juanito stand with a crowd to watch a victim of the Inquisition tribunal driven through the street toward her execution. Also in the crowd is the beautiful Duchess of Alba, Maria Teresa de Cayetana, known as the "black sheep" of the royal family. Later as Goya and Juanito relax at an inn, soldiers arrive to question the patrons spontaneously. Goya, who has been absently making a derisive sketch of Maria, who is also at the inn, makes critical remarks to the soldiers, who are about to arrest him, until Maria intervenes on his behalf. As the soldiers depart, a drunken man attacks Goya and the men fight in the street. After Goya is stabbed, Maria offers to have her physician treat him and admits she has long admired the bold honesty of his work. Maria then invites him to a concert at her home the next evening and when someone hands her Goya's sketch of her, she asks him to paint her portrait some day. The following afternoon Goya, on a royal commission to paint frescoes in the Basilica, quarrels with the king's representative, the Maestro, over the purpose of art. Goya insists artists must learn from nature to depict truth, while the Maestro maintains that paintings must be traditional and inspiring. When Goya prepares to leave the incomplete frescoes to attend Maria's concert, Juanito implores him to stay away from her and to court the king's good will. Goya grudgingly agrees, but after working several hours abruptly asks his models to remove their wigs and pretentious ornamentation so that he might capture the essence of them as people. Several days later as Goya completes the frescoes on the Basilica's domed ceiling, Prime Minister Manuel Godoy escorts King Carlos IV, Queen Maria Luisa and their retinue to inspect the work. Goya enthusiastically seeks the royals' response to his work and the queen asks Maria for her opinion. The duchess observes that Goya's depiction of peasants on a great church wall could be construed as insulting, but the painter declares that the common people look to God and the king and queen for guidance. Pleased by this explanation, Carlos appoints Goya court painter. Several days later, Goya accompanies the Maestro to a concert at the palace and is struck by the court's air of detached boredom and complete disconnection with life outside of the palace. After Goya agrees to the queen's request to paint a royal family portrait, Godoy, who secretly wants to overthrow Carlos, privately suggests to Goya that he might further his career by reporting any critical comments made by the royals, but Goya evades commitment. After a few weeks pass, the townspeople gather to take part in an annual festival and Maria decides, against the advice of her former lover, officer Rodrigo Sanchez, and the express orders of the queen, to dress in common clothes and join them in the streets. Sanchez warns her of rumors that anti-government rebels may use the activity of the festival to agitate against Godoy, whom they regard as corrupt and unjust, but Maria ignores his advice. At court, Carlos joins Goya to evaluate his progress on the royal family portrait and is interrupted by Minister of Justice Delgado regarding a pending political case. Goya is dismayed when the king brushes off his minister's concern and insists that he deal with Godoy. Goya pleads with the king to condemn publicly the injustice and corruption associated with Godoy's regime, but Carlos advises Goya not to listen to gossip and keep to his painting. Later, the queen, who is intimately involved with Godoy, meets with the prime minister to question his inaction over reports of the burning of effigies of him and the king by the festival revelers. When Godoy explains that he cannot order the army to attack the crowds because of Maria's presence among them, Maria Luisa is outraged. Out in the city streets, Goya is on his way to an inn and is incensed when he sees Maria. When she greets him, Goya accuses her of hypocrisy and she responds angrily. Moments later, shots ring out as the army arrives to break up the activities, and Goya pulls Maria to safety. She prevents him from confronting the soldiers and they continue to the inn where, after talking and dancing, they acknowledge their mutual attraction. Later, Goya takes Maria to his studio where she confesses that since her husband died, she can only find purpose in scandalizing the hypocritical royal court. When Maria returns to her home that evening, she finds Godoy there accompanied by soldiers. Godoy informs her that he has reduced the punishment for her behavior during the festival to one year in exile and that her seditious private writings would provide material of interest to the Inquisition Court. Upon discovering that Maria has retreated to the country, Goya joins her and remains with her for several weeks. Godoy then visits Maria to recommend that she rejoin the royal family in resisting Napoleon, but she refuses. Godoy implies that he has evidence against Goya for the Inquisition tribunal and Maria agrees to send Goya back to Madrid with Godoy's vow to protect the painter. Playing on Goya's volatile nature and deep jealousy, Maria convinces him that she has resumed her affair with Sanchez and Goya angrily returns to Madrid. The emotionally distraught artist promptly falls ill and after several days, Maria risks arrest to return to tend to him. In a burst of fevered energy, Goya makes numerous scathingly critical sketches of Spanish society, featuring Maria, collected together in a series entitled "The Caprices." When Inquisition soldiers confiscate the series, Maria goes to the royal court to plead for Goya. Meanwhile, the artist is brought before the Inquisition tribunal and questioned about "The Caprices" and a portrait dubbed "The Naked Maja." Goya defends the sketches and refuses to identify Maria as the model for the nude painting, but just as the tribunal is set to pronounce a guilty verdict, they receive a petition for clemency from the royal court and Goya is released. At the palace, Godoy tells Maria of Goya's release but implies it was at his, not the king's, behest. Godoy then reveals his plan to join with the French to overthrow the royal court and asks Maria to accompany him, but she staunchly refuses. Angered by Maria's rejection and the queen's indignation at Goya's release from the tribunal, Godoy orders Maria's death by slow poison. As Maria gradually grows ill, Goya, still resentful and hurt by her betrayal, takes up commissions for the newly arrived French. Disgusted, Juanito breaks with his longtime friend, but before departing reveals the seriousness of Maria's illness. Alarmed, Goya rushes to Maria's home as out in the streets, the people march against the French occupiers. As the army closes in on the protesters, several in the mob attack Godoy. Upon arriving at Maria's, Goya meets Sanchez, who reveals that Maria lied about their involvement to protect the painter. Distressed, Goya rushes to the dying Maria, who forgives him and encourages him to continue painting for Spain.
Gustavo De Nardo
Amina Pirani Maggi
Anna Maria Campanile
Aru Seatolati Fausta
Marisa La Ganga
G. B. Poletto
The Naked Maja
Ava Gardner was perfectly cast as the unconventional Alba. One of MGM's top stars throughout the 1950s, she had grown tired of the Hollywood scene, especially during her tempestuous marriage to Frank Sinatra. When they broke up, she moved to Spain to get away from the media scrutiny and had become an aficionada of all things Spanish - bullfights, flamenco dancing, and Spanish art and music. Gardner was initially enthusiastic about playing the Duchess, especially when the film was to be shot in Spain. When those plans changed, Gardner decided to go ahead with the film because it would be her last film under her MGM contract (the studio was distributing, but not producing the film). The Naked Maja would also be Gardner's first film since she had injured her face in a drunken accident while bullfighting on horseback. The damage was barely visible by the time filming began, but Gardner's face was her fortune, and she was nervous and self-conscious about how she would look in the film. Thanks to Rotunno, she looked as gorgeous as ever. Rotunno also shot Gardner's next film, the critically acclaimed On the Beach (1959).
Gardner's apprehension only increased when she met her Naked Maja co-star Anthony Franciosa, who was playing Goya. A New York Method actor, his way of working was much different than Gardner's untrained, instinctive one. In her posthumously-published memoirs, Gardner recalled, "The lights would be set, the cast would be standing in front of the camera waiting for Tony to start the scene, and he'd be standing off to the side, carrying on as if he were choking to death and nearly vomiting before he would come on." An added irritant was Franciosa's wife at the time, Shelley Winters, who was convinced that Gardner was after her husband, and that the two were having an affair - a charge both Gardner and Franciosa denied. So did director Henry Koster, who claimed, "Franciosa and Ava hated each other. They used to sulk in separate dressing rooms between scenes, refusing to speak to each other."
Koster, a veteran who had directed everything from Deanna Durbin musicals in the 1930s to biblical epics such as The Robe (1953), called The Naked Maja "one of the most torturing experiences I had in my time of making pictures.... I walked off the picture a couple of times." Not only was he working with difficult stars, he also had a predominantly Italian cast who "spoke the dialogue in broken English," and who were later dubbed by American actors. Norman Corwin's original screenplay was rewritten by Giorgio Prosperi, with uncredited rewrites by Albert Lewin and by Koster himself. Koster claims that with rewrites, shooting, and post-production, he spent a year in Italy working on the film.
The critics acknowledged The Naked Maja's superb production values and some of the performances, but were brutal about the screenplay. "The costumes are colorful, the backgrounds seem authentic, and the dancing is fiery. The Naked Maja is often visually exciting and action, when it does occur, captures the interest. But for the most part [the film] just drags on, a maze of pompous dialog and muddled emotions that seldom ring true," according to Variety. "May be the most inept movie biography since Cecil B. DeMille tore Cleopatra from the pages of history," sneered Time.
Despite the title, there is no nudity nor any steamy bedroom scenes between Franciosa and Gardner. Still, The Naked Maja became the unlikely center of an anti-pornography campaign by the U.S. Post Office. In March of 1959, as part of the film's publicity campaign, United Artists sent out a few thousand postcard reproductions of Goya's eponymous painting to members of the press. The Post Office took one look and seized the postcards as obscene. United Artists, jumping on the publicity opportunity, fought the case, and the postal examiner upheld the seizure. UA then appealed to the Justice Department, which threw out the case, with the Post Office admitting that the postcard was not obscene. But the racy publicity was not enough to save The Naked Maja, which tanked at the box office.
Director: Henry Koster
Producer: Goffredo Lombardo, Silvio Clementelli
Screenplay: Norman Corwin, Giorgio Prosperi, based on a story by Oscar Saul, Talbot Jennings
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Editor: Mario Serandrei
Costume Design: Dario Cecchi, Maria Baroni
Art Direction: Piero Filippone
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: Ava Gardner (Duchess of Alba), Anthony Franciosa (Francisco Goya), Amedeo Nazzari (Prime Minister Manuel Godoy), Gino Cervi (King Carlos IV), Lea Padovani (Queen Maria Luisa), Massimo Serato (Sanchez), Carlo Rizzo (Juanito).
by Margarita Landazuri
The Naked Maja
The working title of the film was Goya. Prior to the production of The Naked Maja, other projects were in the works to dramatize the life of famed painter Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). A June 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that producer-director Earl McEvoy had purchased a script by Miguel Tansillo that dramatized the romantic life of Goya, emphasizing his romantic affair with Maria Teresa de Cayetana, the 13th Duchess of Alba (1763-1802). According to a May 1954 Hollywood Reporter item, producer Joseph Mankiewicz was considering a production on the life of Goya. In February 1957, Hollywood Reporter noted that producer Goffredo Lombardo and Titantus, S.P.A. had negotiated a deal with Albert Lewin to co-produce, write and direct the company's project on Goya. An August 1957 Hollywood Reporter item indicated that director Anthony Mann had acquired the rights to This Is the Hour, a fictionalized biography of Goya by Lion Feuchtwagner, in which Mann hoped to star his wife, Sarita Montiel. The item stated that Mann was in discussions with United Artists, but there is no further information on the project.
Lombardo negotiated distribution of director Henry Koster's The Naked Maja between UA, which released the picture in the United States, and M-G-M, which released it in all foreign countries except Italy, where distribution would be handled by Titanus. There is no indication that Lewin's, Tansillo's or Feuchtwagner's work was used in the released film.
According to a modern interview with Koster, the script for The Naked Maja was changed numerous times by an unnamed Italian writer, by Koster himself and by Lombardo. The director indicated that a scene was re-shot at the behest of Lombardo and actor Anthony Franciosa with direction by a dialogue director. Koster also indicated having a difficult time working with Franciosa and noted that Ava Gardner did not appear to like the project. Koster also indicated that several of the Italian actors used were inadequately dubbed for the American release but claims never to have seen the film once it was completed. Gardner stated in her autobiography that Franciosa was a Method actor, which caused some tensions on the set. The actress offered great praise to The Naked Maja's cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno, and noted that The Naked Maja was the last film under her M-G-M contract.
The Time review of The Naked Maja indicated that it was shot in Italy because of pressure brought by the Alba family on the Franco government to keep the film locked out of Spain. The Filmfacts review noted that Variety reported that writer Norman Corwin asked Titanus to have his credit removed from the screen, but the prints had already been ordered. Publicity material for the film indicates that Mario Russo, credited onscreen as assistant director, co-directed an Italian version of the film.
In February 1959, Variety revealed that UA and the Advertising Code, a branch of the MPAA, were at odds over ads for The Naked Maja that showed the Goya portrait of the Duchess of Alba in the nude. In spite of the portrait appearing in the film, the New York-based Advertising Code indicated they did not believe it was appropriate for it to appear on ads, but UA refused to change the ads even if this caused the PCA to revoke its seal of approval, which had already been granted. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, at one point, an attorney for UA inquired how common it was for the PCA to revoke a seal once it had been issued and if legal action might be used to defend a film from that action.
In March 1959, UA filed suit against the U.S. Post Office, which had ruled that ads featuring the portrait did "not meet the statutory requirements of mailability." The suit stated that the postal decision was crippling the ad campaign being mounted for the film. A March 17, 1959 Daily Variety article stated that Congresswoman Kathryn E. Granahan, the head of the House Post Office Subcommittee had agreed that the inclusion of the portrait in trade magazine advertisements made them unmailable. Nevertheless, on March 23, 1959, Hollywood Reporter reported that UA had dropped its suit when the Post Office submitted affidavits stating that the proposed ads were never banned nor declared unmailable by the Post Office.
Hollywood Reporter reported on March 30, 1959 that all four of Los Angeles' daily newspapers refused to carry the ads. According to the article, the two Hearst publications, Los Angeles Examiner and Los Angeles Herald Express, refused to carry the ads outright, but Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Mirror-News offered to run the ads if UA "subdued" the image of the nude; UA refused to alter the portrait image in any way. The newspapers were unified in stating that "there is no question of the Goya painting being a work of art. It's the way it's exploited that makes it objectionable." Two weeks later, Hollywood Reporter noted that Los Angeles vice squads had ordered the removal or covering of the two billboards advertising the film using a reproduction of the portrait. UA, which could not get billboard firms to accept the twenty-four-sheet ad, had persuaded the owner of the Morgan Camera Shop on Sunset and Vine to agree to the publicity stunt. UA also had an agreement with Life to photograph the billboard display, which attracted police attention. The article noted that all seven of Los Angeles's television stations were covering the controversy using the nude reproduction in their reports. The piece also revealed that UA publicists were frustrated upon learning that two years earlier, a major Los Angeles department store had used a likeness of the Goya painting to exploit Maja soap without police interference.
As depicted in The Naked Maja, Goya, known as one of Spain's greatest artists, received commissions from the royal family and aristocracy. By the age of forty, Goya had painted portraits of the royal family and aristocracy that had established him as Spain's best known portraitist and he was named one of the painters to the king. When King Carlos IV [also known as King Charles IV] ascended to the throne, Goya was named chief court painter. This is somewhat at variance with events depicted in The Naked Maja, which opens with Goya ambivalently struggling to attract the king's favor while not compromising his art. The film does not reveal that in 1792, at the age of forty-six, Goya suffered a long illness that left him completely deaf for the remainder of his life. As shown in the movie, Goya continued painting portraits of King Carlos and Queen Maria Luisa, both of whom he privately disdained and portrayed in a frank, frequently unflattering manner. Although presented in the film as a young, energetic man at the time of his meeting with the Duchess of Alba, Goya was in fact nearly fifty and deaf. Although alluded to in the film, it is not stressed that the Duchess of Alba was indeed one of Goya's most significant patrons.
In the film, the Duchess of Alba confides in Goya that she is childless and has adopted a young black girl, who appears briefly in the film. A modern biography on Goya confirms that the Duchess indeed had a black daughter, Maria de la Luz, often referred to affectionately as "La Negrita (Little Dark Girl)." The film mentions Goya's infamous series of eighty etchings called "Los Caprichos (The Caprices)," which a modern critical evaluation describes as "graphic visions of greed, superstition, vanity and cruelty...based on the foibles [Goya] observed in a changing Spanish culture." There is no evidence that, as the film implies, "Los Caprichos" featured the Duchess of Alba as a model. According to the same source, these works likely shocked Goya's contemporaries, but, unlike events shown in the film, he was not brought before the Inquisition tribunal because of them.
Modern biographies note that Goya likely began his relationship with the Duchess of Alba in 1795. Their relationship May have been a romantic one, and it resulted in numerous well-known portraits of her, several made at her country estate, as depicted in the film. A modern biography on the Duchess states that when she died at the age of thirty-nine, she was rumored to have been poisoned by her servants, who were included in her will. In 1945 her body was exhumed to establish the cause of death, which was declared to be encephalitis, preceded by a lymph infection that had damaged the kidneys and lungs. No trace of poison was found. The painting most associated with the Duchess of Alba, which currently hangs in Spain's Prado museum, is "The Naked Maja" (completed in 1800), depicting a dark-haired, nude woman reclining on a couch with her hands clasped behind her head. When the Catholic Church demanded that Goya cover the naked figure, the artist made an entirely new painting (completed in 1805) called "The Clothed Maja," featuring the dark-haired woman in the same pose, but fully clothed.
The nude portrait is seen fleetingly in the film, when "Godoy" stumbles upon it in the Duchess' library and later as evidence in the Inquisition tribunal. Goya biographies indicate that in 1808, after Napolean's brother Joseph had been placed on the Spanish throne, the two "Maja" portraits were confiscated and Goya brought before the Inquisition tribunal. The Spanish Inquisition (variously dated as occurring between 1483-1834), which is referred to throughout The Naked Maja, is traditionally thought to have been initiated by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella following the Crusades in an attempt to complete unification of Spain by driving out non-Catholics. Initially focused on Jews and Muslims, by the mid-1500s, the Inquisition turned against Protestants and anyone identified as a heretic. As depicted in the film, the Inquisition was run by an inquisitor-general who established local tribunals. Those accused of heresy were brought before the tribunals and encouraged to confess and indict others. Those who confessed might be freed or imprisoned for a time. Those who refused were frequently subjected to a public ceremony ending in their execution or sentence to life imprisonment. It remains unclear how Goya's case before the tribunal was settled.
Modern evaluations of Goya's work indicate that numerous art historians have concluded that the model for the famous painting is not the Duchess of Alba, and some suggest it might instead be a mistress of Prime Minister Manuel Godoy (1767-1851). Godoy, as mentioned in the film, was Queen Maria Luisa's lover and advanced in power by her favor. Godoy was also an important patron of Goya's and came to own both "Maja" paintings, which he hung in a secret cabinet in the palace.
Reviews of The Naked Maja were almost all negative. New York Times described it as "reduc[ing] the epic spiritual struggles of Goya to a foolish fable." Variety noted that despite its visual spectacle, "this production just drags on, a maze of pompous dialog and muddled emotions that seldom ring true." Time was especially harsh, remarking: "What atrocities they have not committed on history, writers Norman Corwin and Giorgio Prosperi have dealt out to the script." NYHE labeled it "an unfortunate tragedy."
In 1999, two other films about Goya were released. Volavérunt, a French-Spanish co-production directed by J. J. Bigas Luna, starred Jorge Perugorria as Goya and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon as the Duchess of Alba. Goya en Burdeos, a Spanish-Italian co-production, was directed by Carlos Saura and starred Francisco Rabal as Goya and Maribel Verdu as the Duchess.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1959