Five Branded Women
Cast & Crew
Barbara Bel Geddes
In a town in German-occupied Yugoslavia in 1943, Nazi sergeant Paul Keller boasts to his friends about his four local "conquests," Ljuba, Mira, Marja and Daniza, and the woman he hopes will soon join them, Jovanka. Soon after, he makes love to Jovanka, but then is attacked by three Partisans, or Yugoslavian rebels, who castrate him. Jovanka runs home, but there a group of Partisans led by Velko burst in and punish her for fraternizing with the enemy by shaving off her hair, a public mark of shame. The other women receive the same punishment and all five are rounded up by the German head officer, who demands that they identify the Partisan guerrillas. When the women refuse, the Germans, concerned that the women's appearance illustrates the strength of the local insurgents, banish them from the city. Outside the city, the five women, though frightened, bitter strangers, agree out of necessity to stay together. After stealing food and water from a farmhouse, they bed down in the woods, where Daniza slashes her wrist with a stick. While the others bandage her, she moans that she never slept with Keller. The next day on the road, when a passing German truck falls under attack, the women, led by Jovanka, take boots and guns from the dead soldiers. That night, they are sleeping in an abandoned barn when two soldiers in the home guard, Yugoslavians who fight for the Germans, enter to rape the women. With no other choice, Jovanka shoots them both. The next day, Velko leads his detachment in scouting the hills for a German convoy. Nearby, the women wander into a river to bathe, and are shocked to see that young Mira is pregnant. They each reveal their connection to Keller: Jovanka refused to hate the Germans, seeing them instead as human beings; Marja hoped to get pregnant; Keller helped Mira's family procure coal during the winter; and Ljuba loved him. Wondering what they will do to survive, Jovanka declares that they must continue to steal from Germans, and when the other women resist, she stalks away into a cornfield. There, Partisan soldier Branco has spotted the naked women and now attacks Jovanka. Her screams alert the other women, who run over, and Jovanka breaks free. The women travel on to the next town, which is in the process of being pillaged by the convoy of German soldiers, who have hanged the men and are stealing the livestock. When their trucks pull out, Jovanka, followed by the other women, grabs a machine gun and runs into the hills to attack them from above. The women do not realize that Velko's detachment is above them with the same goal, and as the women begin shooting, the Partisans cover them. Together, they cause great damage to the Germans, but knowing the Nazis will regroup, Velko orders everyone to the ridge. Ljuba has captured German captain Reinhardt, and insists on remaining in control of her prisoner. The whole group treks back to the Partisan camp. On the way, Branco apologizes to Jovanka, and when she rebuffs him, he flirts with Daniza. At the camp of the large, ragtag, mixed-gender army, Velko informs the five outcasts that the group has voted to include them, despite their past deeds. However, when he states that no romantic attachments are allowed in the army, Jovanka refuses to stay, believing that the condition is inhumane. Unmoved by the story of a massacre that occurred when the male and female guards were distracted while making love, Jovanka rises to leave, but the other women convince her to stay. That night, Velko tells Jovanka that they must be friends if they are to fight together, but she declares that they cannot be friends until he understands the depth of the pain he has caused her. The brigade marches for miles to reach the main battalion camp, and along the way the five women are slowly accepted by the others. At the camp, Ljuba remains in charge of Reinhardt, and after she is wounded in one skirmish, he tenderly nurses her injury. The Partisan commander issues orders for the battalion to infiltrate an upcoming Nazi celebration, but informs Mira and Ljuba that they will stay behind to guard Reinhardt. At camp along the way, Branco and Daniza are on watch, but he breaks the rules and makes love to her, after which they fall asleep. Due to their negligence, four German soldiers enter the camp. They are soon spotted and killed, but Branco and Daniza are brought before the camp to be tried. Branco argues that his record should absolve him, but Velko asserts that his record includes many acts of willful brutality. Despite Jovanka's plea for lenience, stating that they must rise above the cruelty of their enemy, the camp votes to sentence them to death. Svenko, Velko's lieutenant, names Jovanka and Ljuba to the firing squad, but the women drop their guns as their friend is executed. Back at the main camp, Mira and Ljuba talk with Reinhardt, who reveals that his wife was killed in the war. Just then, Mira goes into labor, and when she lies down, Ljuba realizes that Reinhardt could grab her gun, but instead helps deliver the baby, a girl. Later, Ljuba assures Reinhardt that the commander will trade him for Partisan prisoners, but Reinhardt reveals that the Germans allow no prisoners to live. When Mira calls to Ljuba, Reinhardt flees, and Ljuba is forced to shoot him. At the same time, the brigade infiltrates the celebration, dressed as townspeople, and meets in the church. There, Partisan Milan disguises himself as a Nazi and prepares to plant a bomb under the podium on which the Nazi commanders are sitting. Velko, who secretly has always loved Jovanka, orders her to retreat to the forest, but she refuses. After Milan plants the bomb successfully, the Partisans begin shooting at the Nazis, but they are hugely outnumbered. When German tanks begin firing, Velko orders a retreat, and they struggle back into the hills to meet the other battalion. Milan has been wounded and soon dies, just as a handful of men from the other battalion arrive and reveal that almost all of their group has been killed. Velko announces that they will return to the main camp, but Jovanka, horrified by all the killing, refuses to join them. She berates Velko for his coldness, stating that they are no better than the Nazis, but Velko responds that they have become savages only in order to fight savagery. After he helps her to bury Milan, they head back. At the camp, they find Ljuba mourning over Reinhardt's body. They are soon attacked by German planes, and the whole group flees to the mountains, where they struggle to reach the pass, beyond which they will find aid. Upon spotting the German army close behind, Velko proclaims that he will take on the suicide mission of manning a machine gun nest on the hillside, which will provide enough of a diversion for the rest of the battalion to get through the pass. Despite his disapproval, Jovanka insists on staying to help him, and bids a silent farewell to her fellow outcasts. Waiting for the hundreds of Germans to reach them, Jovanka wonders if the quest for peace is hopeless, but Velko points out that they have both changed, and other people can also. As he strokes her hair, they prepare for death.
Barbara Bel Geddes
Giacomo Rossi Stuart
Dino De Laurentiis
Maria De Matteis
Manuel Del Campo
Ralph B. Serpe
The film's working titles were Seven Women, Jovanka and Jovanka and the Others. The last was also the film's European release title. Five Branded Women was based on the Ugo Pirro novel Jovanka e le altre. Although the book pitted the Yugoslavian resistance against Italian occupiers, the film recast the villains as German Nazis. As shown in the film, after Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the Yugoslavians formed a resistance movement, one branch of which called themselves the Partisan Army. Led by post-war dictator Josef Tito, the 70,000 fighters used guerrilla warfare tactics to fight the Nazis from their camps in the Yugoslavian mountains.
On March 25, 1959, Variety announced that Gina Lollobrigida would star in the film as "Jovanka." At that time, the producers planned to shoot the film on location in Rome and Yugoslavia, but the Yugoslavian government refused to cooperate or allow shooting. A modern source states that the reluctance was based on the government doubts that a foreigner could do justice to the country's sensitive past. Most scenes were shot in Italy and Austria. Other actresses mentioned in trade news items as contenders for the main roles include Shirley MacLaine, Sophia Loren, Barbara Nichols, Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Ava Gardner. A modern source adds that Ritt offered one of the lead roles to Lee Remick, who turned it down.
In mid-July 1959, Lollobrigida withdrew from the production. While some modern sources state that she did not want to shave her head for the role, a July 20, 1959 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter asserted that the actress quit because of the participation of two blacklisted screenwriters, Michael Wilson and Paul Jarrico, as well as the hiring of her "longtime rival," Silvana Mangano, who was married to producer Dino De Laurentiis. According to a July 28, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, however, it was Ritt who insisted on Lollobrigida's removal from the film.
Although the viewed print credits only Ivo Perilli as screenwriter, in 1998 the Writers Guild of America restored the credits of Wilson and Jarrico. For more information about the Hollywood Blacklist, please refer to the entry for The Las Vegas Story (see below).
Studio press releases widely touted the fact that all of the female stars shaved their heads for the film. While an April 1960 Life article stated that Mangano, Vera Miles, Jeanne Moreau and Carla Gravina all shaved their heads, with Barbara Bel Geddes declining to because of a Broadway role she was to play directly after the film finished, a modern source states that Moreau also wore a skullcap instead of shaving. Five Branded Women marked the first American-produced feature in which Moreau appeared.
A modern source adds Amedeo Trilli, Aldo Pini, Serena Canevari, Carmen Scarpitta, Donatella Mauro, Ginani Solaro and Linda Rogers to the cast, as well as the following names to the crew: Fernando Cinquini and Giorgio Morra (Production Supervisor), Giorgio Gentili and Guido Guerrasio (Assistant Director) and Aldo Puccini (Const coord). According to a modern source, the production proved so challenging to Ritt that De Laurentiis called in Italian neo-realist director Pietro Germi, who played the "Partisan commander," to assist in the direction. Ritt reportedly hated Five Branded Women, stating in a 1980 American Film interview that he considered it "the only [film] I'm ashamed of."
As noted in the Filmfacts review, some of the dialogue was dubbed. The Variety review called the sound recording "too clean," in opposition to the action taking place onscreen. As a publicity stunt, only women were invited to the Rome premiere of the film. Reviews of Five Branded Women were mixed; for instance, although the Motion Picture Herald reviewer praised "Martin Ritt's deft direction, with an exceptional combination of players," the New York Times critic called the film "dismal."
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1960
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1960