Olga Vittoria Gentilli
Nicolás Díaz Perchicot
Michel Simon (1895-1975)
Luchino Visconti (also co-writer)
Director of Photography
Renato Del Frate
Alessandro De Stefani
Dramma Omonimo di Victorien Sardou
Dall’opera di Giacomo Puccini
The Opera of Giacomo Puccini
Gino Carlo Sensani
From a biography of director Jean Renoir who managed to complete a few scenes of the film before World War II erupted, and effectively canceled his participation. The film was finished by Carlo Koch. Nevertheless, we thought you might find the history of the upheaval surrounding the making of Tosca is particularly interesting.
“In the summer of 1939, Renoir was invited to Rome to make a film La Tosca, the 1887 Sardou play that inspired Puccini’s opera, and to give a series of lectures at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia as part of the cultural exchange to promote Franco-Italian relations. The request came from Scalera Films and the Italian government, which meant Benito Mussolini himself. Il Duce was particularly anxious to develop the Italian motion-picture industry, had worked to make Rome the movie capital of the world, and had inaugurated the Cinecittà studios – seen as the new Hollywood – with great pomp in the spring of 1937. Almost every evening, private screenings were held for father and son (Vittorio), a film fanatic, in Villa Torlonia. Among the films shown was [Renoir’s film] La Grande Illusion, so disliked by Goebbels, but which moved the Italian dictator to invite its director to the Centro Sperimentale to help increase its prestige.
…. What was Jean’s reason for going to Italy at that time? The various contradictory explanations he subsequently offered for his decision to work in Italy reveal some of the contradictions in himself. “I really wanted to shoot in Italy, next I was asked to shoot in Italy,” Jean said, a statement that seemed blithely oblivious to any moral aspects concerned with the trip. Elsewhere, he took a purely aesthetic line, “Working on La Règle di jeu brought me fantastically close to Italy, and I wanted to see baroque statues, the angels on bridges, with clothes with too many folds and wings with too many feathers. I wanted to see the kind of complex interplay of Italian baroque. I should add that later on I quickly learned that the baroque was not the essence of Italy. I am now much more drawn to previous periods, even those before the Quattrocentro.”
On 14 August, Jean and [his mistress] Dido were welcomed in Rome by Visconti. The 32-year old Marxist aristocrat had not worked in the cinema since his participation on Toni and Une Partie de campagne three years previously. Visconti started to show them around the Eternal City, which both Jean and Dido found exciting and romantic. However, the trip was cut short abruptly when Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September and two days later England and France declared war on Germany. Jean had to return to France immediately where he was called up as an army reserve, put into uniform again and given the rank of lieutenant in the cinematographic services of the French army. At the same time his son, Alain, just turned 20, joined the cavalry, following in his grandfather and father’s illustrious footsteps.
….Italy had as yet refrained from entering the war and the invitation to Jean to return to Rome to shoot La Tosca was renewed. Years later, again explaining his decision to take up the offer, Jean said, “I was not anxious to go; in fact, I refused. But at that time, the French government was willing to do anything to keep Italy neutral, to dissuade Mussolini from entering the war on Hitler’s side. I was in uniform, the French government decided I should go. So I went.” Once more, in mid-January 1940, Jean and Dido left for Italy in their Delahaye conver-tible. With Karl Koch, they rented a large, luxurious apartment, covering the walls with murals of Amazonia as a reminder to Dido of her native Brazil. They had a cook and servants, they entertained, and lived well.
In between looking for locations and working on the script of La Tosca, Jean gave a number of lectures on film-making to large audiences and also to small groups, among whom were Visconti and the 27-year old Michelangelo Antonioni, who was then a student at the centre and writing articles for Cinema, the official film magazine of the Fascist party.
The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografica was founded in 1932 as a department of the Rome Academy of Music and emerged as an independent establishment under its present name in 1935. From 1937, it published the influential journal Bianco e nero, edited by Luigi Chiarini, one of the first Italian publications to promote the study of film aesthetics and serious criticism. Although founded by he Fascist government, the Centro lived up to its name and managed to retain a certain experimental spirit even during the war.
While Visconti guided Renoir and Koch through Hadrian’s villa and other places that might serve as locations for La Tosca, Michel Simon … was cast as Scarpia, the dreaded chief of police, a rare villainous role for him; Viviane Romance, the popular ‘vamp’ of French cinema, who had made her screen debut in a bit part in La Chienne, was to play the title role, and Georges Flamant, the pimp in La Chienne who had enraged the jealousy of Michel Simon on screen and off, would be Cavaradossi. But Romance failed to get a visa to leave France, and Flamant was drafted. Replacing them were the Argentinean dancer-singer-actress Imperio Argentina, already in her fifties, and the 23-year old Rossano Brazzi.
In the beginning of May, a picture of a smiling Jean standing beside Michele Scalera and Vittorio Mussolini at the Castel Sant’Angelo appeared in the Italian newspapers, above an announcement that filming had begun on La Tosca. Jean had completed the opening scene with two horsemen galloping through a large gateway into the city at night, the camera following them through the deserted streets, past monuments, fountains and statues until they cross the bridge into Scarpia’s palace, the Castel Sant’Angelo. Unfortunately, this impressive sequence remains the only visual contribution to the film that Jean was able to make.
On 10 May the Germans entered Belgium and Holland, pressure was put on Italy to come in on the side of their Nazi allies, and anti-French feeling was running high. One evening, Jean was attacked by a group of Fascist thugs when he asked for a copy of Osservatore Romano, the only Italian newspaper sympathetic to France, and though he was not seriously hurt, the French ambassador advised him to return home on the next train …
… the German Karl Koch carried on the film to completion, assisted by Visconti. La Tosca turned out to be a rather uninspired version of the “shabby little shocker”, as Joseph Kerman called the opera, but there are some well-used views of the baroque splendors of Rome. The film, however, had its admirers, among them Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut, and when Jean saw it for the first time in March 1978, he thought it was a good film despite its departure from his original conception.”
Projections of Paradise
by Ronald Bergan
The Overlook Press
The history of “Tosca” is an interesting one. Written as a play, Puccini negotiated the rights to the play for the purpose of turning it into an opera, which opened in 1900, only 40 years before the movie was filmed. Kerman may have termed the opera a “shabby little shocker”, but in fact, it quickly became a much beloved operatic classic.
There is a wonderful book, Tosca’s Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective, which devotes an entire chapter to the character of Mario Cavarandossi and the historical background of the character. There is discussion of the true historical character upon which Cavarandossi may in fact have been based. Did Rossano know all this when he took on the role of Mario? Whether or not he did, he could hardly have missed the implications of the relationship between Tosca and Baron Scarpia, which has been interpreted and re-interpreted over the years as power struggle, both of the abusive, and of the sadomasochistic type. Another fictional retelling of the Tosca-Scarpia story, Floria Tosca, highlights the latter.
Rossano did not sing in this but, but the arias of Cavarandossi surround his character. Many contemporary tenors consider the role of Mario Cavarandossi one of their “rights of passage” – currently, you can find two songs from the opera performed in the debut of Salvatore Licitra.
Translated from the Spanish storybook from the film, “Tosca” (1940), in which Rossano played Mario Cavaradossi, a painter with strong political sensibilities.
“The canon of the Castle Santangelo sounds the alarm signal. From the fortress a political prisoner has escaped, but the Baron Scarpia, cruel and fearsome capo of the Roman police, is in no rush to leave his hairdresser, who is powdering his hair, certain that with the resources at his disposal, the escapee will not get very far. The escapee is the Count Angelotti, who gains entry to the Church of San Andrés, deserted at this noon hour, and without noticing the artist in the scaffolding, painting the highest reaches of the church, he makes his way towards the Chapel of the Attalanti. A little later, as the painter sketches, the Marchesa Attalanti, sister of the fugitive, arrives. The lady prostrates herself on a kneeler, fervently praying that the sacristan will leave the rotunda, and ignorant of the painter’s presence. Her face expresses the faith she places in prayer and the anguish caused by the danger in which her brother, whom she has arrived to assist, finds himself.
Mario Cavaradossi, one of the most promising artists of the time, surprised and inspired by the beauty of the shining aura of blond hair and the sublime expression of devotion and anxiety, is without a model for the virgin he is painting and procedes to draw a sketch, using all of his art. Meanwhile, the Marchesa enters the chapel to give her brother a woman’s dress, believing that disguised as a woman he will more easily escape As soon as the Marchesa leaves the church, the painter, desirous of comprehending the mystery, enters the chapel. “Are you going to [turn me into the] the Canon?”, asks the fugitive.
After the friends converse, the painter sends his apprentice to guard the door. After listening to the Count Angelotti’s story, the painter says, “You will need to delay your escape, as it is too dangerous now. Trust me.” At that moment, the apprentice advises the painter that Tosca, his beautiful intended, is approaching.
Rossano Brazzi and Imperio Argentina; chapel scene.
Beneathe the reserved veneer of Floria Tosca, a poor village girl become a great singer within the Roman aristocracy, lies a courtesan with uncivilized and violent passions who is crazily in love with Cavaradossi. Right now she is feeling an awakening jealousy, after seeing the precautions that the painter took to guard the door. Looking at the sketch the painter drew earlier, her jealousy is strongly aroused. “The Lady Attalanti! Did she come alone to pose for you? Now I understand the precautions with the door. You betray me and think I’m going to tolerate it. Go on – say something!”
A little while later, at home, Tosca receives a visit from Scarpia, who has never concealed the feelings that she has inspired in him. “What!”, asks the Baron, “You carry on your love with Cavaradossi?” “Yes”, answers Tosca. “And he continues his political work?”, returned the Baron. “No”, answered Tosca, “Now he is painting the Church of San Andrés, and between his art and me, all of his hours are occupied.”
“It is only that he could turn around and become involved in something dangerous. Today someone escaped from the Castle of Santangelos”. Emphatic and devious, Scarpia’s imagination has now united the three names: San Andrés, Attalanti and Cavaradossi.
It is time for Vespers: at the church of San Andrés, the faithful have lifted their prayers on high, and Cavaradossi has left his friend for a neglected postern. A little while later, Baron Scarpia, in whose mind the suspicion born from the innocent words of Tosca are taking shape, orders the Church cordoned off. Scarpia’s henchmen detain Marco’s apprentice, who is working with the painter’s tools. “Where is your patron?” they ask him. To which the young man simply responds, in accordance with the instructions received, “I am working!” Neither Scarpia or his men find Angelotti, who has left moments earlier, but the capo of the police does find a fan. The fan lost by Angelotti in his feminine attire brings a sinister smile to Scarpia. Having suffered his first failure, he is sure with this article of quickly finding the fugitives.
That night, in the Farnesio Palace, the queen of Naples gives a reception to celebrate the victory obtained over Napoleon’s troops. The Roman aristocracy uses the occasion to pay homage to their queen. One of the major attractions at the party will be the songs of Tosca, who the queen wishes to hear for the first time. Scarpia has already arrived when Tosca, to whose beauty and elegance the nobles and gentlemen pay homage, enters the room. Happy, with her thoughts fixed on her Mario, Floria has a smile for each of her admirers who waits for the moment when she will sing.
The maestro Paisello is consumed with impatience, the two of them having agreed to practice until she is perfect. The good man, watching the minutes pass without Tosca appearing, fears for his head, seeing evidence that the Queen’s desire to hear the singer is changing. “You go too far because you know you can curry favor with the Queen”, he says when he sees her arrive. Scarpia has watched for a moment of access to Tosca while she is with the maestro, and knowing the singer’s character, tells her, “I bring you the fan you lost when you left Cavaradossi, as I haven’t had the pleasure of greeting him myself.”
“I don’t believe he’s here.” responds a worried Tosca. “But the fan … it isn’t yours?” Scarpia persists, with the most venomous of intentions. Tosca, again feeling furious and tormented with jealousy, abandons the palace and makes her way to Mario’s home, without noting that her coach is followed by another policeman. “Who is with you?” she asks eagerly, when she arrives.
To calm his lover’s jealousy, Cavaradossi, rightly regretful, is obliged to explain the secret, and upon knowing the truth, Tosca is once more embarrassed by her jealousy. “You, generous and brave”, she says, “risk your life to save a friend, while I go and embitter the hours with my jealousy.” But her happiness is disturbed by an idea. “The fan! It’s a trap!” Mario turns pale.
They call Angelotti to exchange thoughts and Angelotti exclaims, “I’ll be on my way. I’m not crazy enough to risk your life unnecessarily.” But it is already too late. The servant enters to announce that the hill is cordoned off by the police. “I have a magnificent hiding place!” exclaims Cavaradossi. “A grotto dug in the well. There you can remain for months.” Quickly the two friends, helped by the servant, lower blankets and dry food to the bottom of the well. Finally, Count Angelotti, after embracing his valiant friend, makes ready to descend. “Don’t lose your nerve or tranquility.”, Cavaradossi says, “and you will not be betrayed.”
Scarpia has just arrived and, as Tosca is within, assigns his deputy to open on his authority. [Instead], Mario obeys the order. A little time later, Scarpia begins the first interrogation of the lovers, and, moreover, not believing a word of either of their declarations, orders the house searched. An agent finds Angelotti’s disguise. “It’s a dress of Lady Floria Tosca”, lies the servant, upon being asked. “Ah-ha! Of this he isn’t certain”, responds the policeman. “At least I’ll see someone shot.” The search was been of little encouragement to Scarpia, but he issues the order, accompanying his words with a gesture of cruelty, to proceed with the questioning of the accused.
Rossano Brazzi and Imperio Argentina during Mario’s torture scene.
Cavaradossi is seated at the table where food is being served, when the police inquiry begins. The agents after uncovering the upper half of his body, and tying him to the chair with strong rope, insert between his flesh and the rope an iron bar which they turn to crush the muscles of men being questioned in order to force them to speak. Tosca, separated from him, feels her fear increasing. “What wrong have we done? Leave us in peace! Mario doesn’t know anything,” she says, while her mind turns to the tortures attributed to Scarpia. “You know that I love you – I’m very powerful and there is still time.” But in that instant, she hears a heart rendering cry. “My god, what are you doing with him?” “Go and see.” responds Scarpia.
Tosca, driven mad, rushes into the house and kneels before Cavaradossi, pleading, “Let me speak! I can’t allow them to torture you! I’m suffering more than you. I will speak!” But Cavaradossi’s spirit is invincible. “But what are you going to say, unhappy one, if you don’t know anything? Let them take their fury out on me.” And Scarpia orders her to leave, still certain of his triumph. He goes to continue the torture of Mario. His cries of pain, like the howls of a wounded beast, break the silence. Scarpia, seeing Tosca close to fainting, turns to support her and in an insinuating tone that makes her blood race, says, “Where is he hiding? Tell me and I will set you both free.” And Tosca, beaten by the pain, confesses, “In the well.”
Mario is untied and Scarpia permits Tosca to be conducted to his side. But the painter, surprised at the interruption of his torture, forgets the pain of his wounds in fear that his friend has been discovered and anxiously asks, “Did you talk? Did you say something to save me?” And Floria responds, “Don’t hold it against me.”
After hearing the voices of the police gathered at the well, Count Angelotti wounds two of them who intend to descend, when an official courier arrives with the message from the Queen for Scarpia, telling him that not only is the news of the defeat of Napoleon false, but that he is advancing on Rome. The news, almost unbelievable, is heard by Mario, whose patriotic emotions have overcome his pain. This means freedom for Italy. Effortlessly, he makes his way to his friend and leans over the rim of the well, crying with emotion: “Angelotti! Do you hear me? Napoleon has arrived and is almost to Rome! It is freedom for everyone. Be of good cheer. Viva Italia!”
“Viva Italia”, responds, like an echo, the voice of Angelotti from the bottom, while the henchmen violently remove Cavaradossi. This cry constitutes a crime punishable by torture and death and the executioner’s axe has been working daily with such patriots. Scarpia’s henchmen, after bring him up from the mists of the well, finish off Angelotti with a shot.
The night is very late when Baron Scarpia, sitting at the table, is satisfied with the work he has completed during the day. A dangerous rebel who had evaded him is dead at the hands of the police and the other, the painter, Mario Cavaradossi, will be shot in the early hours. And the pleasure of these reflections is augmented by the announcement of a visit from Tosca. Tosca reminds him of his promise. “You,” Scarpia responds, “remain at liberty. But don’t have any illusions. I suppose that you can throw yourself at the feet of the Queen to protect you … but the pardon of Mario Cavaradossi might arrive too late. The light of dawn is near and with the light, the irreparable.”
“If you love me truly, don’t sacrifice my happiness”, says Tosca to Scarpia. “Very well”, he says, quickly changing his attitude, “I’ll sign a safe-conduct pass for the two of you.” Then he calls the castle commander and tells him that the execution of Mario Cavaradossi will be feigned and the rifles will be loaded without bullets. The act will be carried out in the same way as the Count Palmieri’s. After saying this, he makes a sign to the soldier who understands the point of the bloody farce. “And the Signora is free to go at her pleasure to the castle enclosure.”
As soon as the official has left, Scarpia, loosening the restraint of his instincts, tries to embrace her. As she reaches over the table, her hand finds a knife, and by the handle, thrusts the knife into Scarpia’s breast in legitimate defense. Tosca contemplates in horror the body of this cruel and dangerous man who has made Rome tremble. And then she rises to her feet. Now he can’t torture innocent beings! He can’t shoot any more patriots whose only crime is defending the country against foreign invasions. Tosca wants to tell Mario of the imminent departure of both of them. But before abandoning the room, a feminine sentiment of pity makes her place the candelabras at both sides of his head, the head that has only worked to do malice. Understanding that she will not be discovered, as Scarpia had ordered that no one disturb them, her only desire is to see Mario and make it known that they will soon be free. As she leaves for Mario’s cell, Tosca feels beset by disquietude and fear. “Will this take very long?”, she asks the Commander. “No, very little,” he responds with an ambiguous smile.
At the first light of dawn, which reveals as soon as it rises the silhouettes of men against the immense bulk of the castle, Mario is led to the great terrace and positioned against the wall. The priest makes the sign of the cross and exhorts him to die like a good Christian. Tosca arrives, but the Commander detains her. “I expect the soldiers will be down soon”, says the soldier, “Then there will be a moment for him to gather his tranquility.”
Rossano Brazzi as Mario preparing for execution.
Mario, at that moment, raises the lantern that is put in his hands, to illuminate the point where the soldiers should aim: the heart. Meanwhile, the image of the brave woman occupies his thoughts. All is ready, the rifles pointed at the chest of Mario Cavaradossi. “Thank God this farce is going to end.” he thinks. At the shouted order, the discharge rings out and the painter collapses upon the cold stones. “Justice is done.” says the leader of the squad. The soldiers move away and Tosca throws herself at the unmoving body, from whose wounds blood is pouring, and now understands the infamy prepared by Scarpia. Mario has been executed!
How can she live without him? What is the worth of beautiful dawns, or the splendors of Creation, if she cannot enjoy them with him? And everything still carries on impassively, after the tragic farce! The sound of running footsteps arrives: it is the commander. “You killed the Captain!” And Tosca, from the parapet, responds, “He was evil.” And her silhouette stands out for an instant in relief against the sky before she throws herself into the turbulent waters of the Tiber.
Prepared by Cinevida
in conjunction with Scalera Films
Argentina’s real name was Magdalena Nilo del Rio. She was a famous Argentinian actress/dancer and singer.
Capodaglio also worked on Il diavolo bianco.
Gentilli: see Il processo e morte di Socrate.
Girotti also worked on I dieci comandamenti.
Rimoldi: see Il ponte di vetro.
Michel Simon was 21 years older, but, like Rossano, had a past history that included boxing — he also worked with Rossano on Il re si diverte (as Rigoletto), Una signora dell’ovest and Napoleon ad Austerlitz.
Jean Renoir also worked with Rossano on Una signora dell’ovest.
The real name of assistant director/co-writer Luchino Visconti (1906-1976) was Luchino Visconti Di Modrone, the son of Duke Giuseppe Visconti Di Modrone, an Italian nobleman of ancient and celebrated lineage.
Abel: see Il ponte di vetro.
Arata: see Il ponte di vetro.
De Stefani also worked on Il treno crociato.
Sensami: see La forza bruta.
“I’ve seen Koch’s “Tosca” yesterday and enjoyed it a lot. There is there at the same time the prefiguration of what Visconti (who was assistant to Koch on the set) would do later, and an echo of what Renoir had already done himself in his movies. Roma is beautifully pictured and I found out that for the time there was a great modernity in the way music and images are put together.
Rossano Brazzi said that Renoir’s intentions were to “dare un risvolto al polpettone*”, and in fact he succeeded in it. That Tosca is not at all boring, not even old-fashioned, except maybe the photography which at times makes us remind of the 40’s. Here again Rossano is great, I would say that two years before the astonishing Leo Kovalensky, everything in his acting is ready. The sensibility and the acuteness of the expressions are already there. I don’t see in fact many changes between that Brazzi and the one of Noi Vivi. I would maybe say that he would win in sobriety, and his acting would become a little bit less theatrical. But it was strange and somewhat “attendrissant”** to see in the very young actor all the top qualities.”
*literally, “to put a cuff on the meatloaf” – which means, to put an end to the jumble and mish-mash of the story; to give it a strong and uncomplicated storyline.
**literally, “making tender”; probably “touching”, in English.
Dorotea Marciak, France
Obviously you know that this film was developed from Puccini’s opera, and that the movie’s sound track contains much of the music composed by Puccini. Currently available is:
TOSCA: IN FULL SCORE
Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (Black Dog Opera Library), by Daniel Brink
La Tosca : The Drama Behind the Opera (Studies in the History and Interpretation of Music, Vol 19), by Victorien Sardou
Puccini : Tosca, by Marton, Aragall
Puccini : Tosca/2 Cds, by Various Artists
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