22 March 2016

Clara Calamai

Sultry and glamorous Clara Calamai (1909-1998) acted in many light entertainment films of the late 1930s and 1940s. However, the Italian actress is best known for her most unglamorous role. For always we will remember her as white-hot Giovanna in Luchino Visconti's early-neorealist drama Ossessione/Obsession (1943).

Clara Calamai
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 3171/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / DIFU.

Clara Calamai
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3787/1. Photo: Difu.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by Armando Terzoli, Roma, no. 532. Photo: Pesce. Publcity still for La Cena delle Beffe/The Jesters' Supper (Alessandro Blasetti, 1941).

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by Ferrania.

Causing A Sensation

Clara Calamai was born in Prato, Tuscany, in 1909. She debuted in the film Pietro Micca (Aldo Vergano, 1938). Soon she had an intense film career.

She played in several period pieces such as La cena delle beffe/The Supper of the Pranks (Alessandro Blasetti, 1941), in which she briefly appeared with bare breasts. The scene caused a sensation. Naked breasts had seldom been seen on an Italian film screen before. A lot of people saw the film several times just for that brief scene. From most of the copies available on the commercial circuit the scene soon disappeared: not because of the wrath of the censors, but because excited projector-operators took their scissors to this bit of cinema memorabilia.

Calamai also appeared in many glamorous comedies and dramas. In 1942 Luchino Visconti prepared his film debut Ossessione/Obsession (1943) with Anna Magnani in the lead. But when the shooting started Magnani was so visibly pregnant that Visconti had to replace her. He stripped Clara Calamai of her usual glamour and turned her into Giovanna, the passionate but poor wife of a fat trattoria owner. Giovanna manages to convince her lover to kill her husband.

The film was based on James M. Cain's book The Postman Always Twice. Ossessione is quite different from the Hollywood version The Postman Always Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946), which stars a very glamorous Lana Turner.

Memorable in Ossessione is the scene in which Giovanna falls asleep amidst an enormous amount of dirty dishes. The real eye catcher of Ossessione is not Giovanna but Gino, the blond hunk she falls in love with, played by Massimo Girotti. At the time, Ossessione had a very short circulation in catholic, fascist Italy because of its 'amorality' and mocking of the clergy. Outside of Italy it was shown only years after the war, because of copyright infringement. Nowadays it is considered by film historians as a classic of the Italian cinema.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 20440. Photo: Venturini, Roma.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 21170. Photo: Bragaglia.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 4273. Photo: Bragaglia.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 43070. Photo Pesce / Scalera Film.

Anna Magnani

In 1946 Clara Calamai landed again a role Anna Magnani was supposed to have played: L'adultera/The Adulteress (Duilio Coletti, 1946), for which she won a Nastro d'argento (the Silver Ribbon, a film award for cinematic performances and production by the association of Italian film critics).

Earlier the opposite had happened. Reportedly Clara Calamai was pregnant when the female lead of Roma, città aperta/Rome Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) was cast. And this time Anna Magnani landed the role, and it would immortalize her.

Calamai worked again with Visconti at Le notti bianche/White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957), in which she played a prostitute. Visconti had suggested in Ossessione that before marrying Giovanna had also slept with men for money. In Visconti's episode La strega bruciata viva/The Witch Burned Alive of the episode film Le streghe/The Witches (Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Vittorio de Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, 1966), Calamai played a small part opposite Silvana Mangano. Calamai had a well-publicised but unrequited crush on Visconti.

In the 1970s, after years of retirement, Calamai returned to the screen in Dario Argento's highly successful horror film Profondo Rosso/Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975). The film and her role as a murderously crazy aging actress got a cult status among cinephiles. She spent the rest of her life in diva-like retirement, shunning the press.

Calamai was married to the aviator-explorer and documentary film maker Leonardo Bonzi. After their divorce she lived with Valerio Andreoli, a captain of aviation. Clara Calamai was almost 90 when she died of a stroke in Rimini in 1998. She had played in almost 50 films.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard by St. b Angeli, Terni / A. Terzoli, Roma, no. 4.A. Photo: Bragaglia.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard, no. 21. Photo: Ciolfi.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard. Photo Venturini. Rizzoli, Milano, 1940.

Clara Calamai
Italian postcard. Editor unknown.

The famous 'nude' scene from La cena delle beffe/The Supper of the Pranks (1941). Source: Giulio Berruti (YouTube).

Scene from Ossessione/Obsession (1943). Source: K de Zwaan (YouTube).

Sources: Anne Henley (The Independent), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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