After Vittorio De Sica's Two Women was released and favorably reviewed in 1960, two things became clear. First, Italy still had a stomach for revisiting the horrors unleashed on the country by fascists and Nazis up until the last months of the war less than 20 years earlier. To its credit, Italy had been wrestling with its role and outcome since 1945, when Roberto Rossellini's Open City appeared in cinemas. Second, Sophia Loren had become the country's most remarkable and bankable actress, winning an Oscar for her performance in Two Women and vaulting Italian neo-realism onto the world stage.
The film stars Loren (above) as a mother trying to protect her pre-teen daughter (Eleonora Brown) from the barbarity of war following the vacuum left by the Germans' retreat and the Allies' liberation of Rome in June 1944. It's a harrowing study in defenselessness, normalcy v. lawlessness, and survival v. hopelessness. The film also stars Jean-Paul Belmondo.
The following year, the actresses nominated by the Academy for Best Actress were Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany's), Piper Laurie (The Hustler), Geraldine Page (Summer and Smoke), Natalie Wood (Splendor in the Grass) and Loren for Two Women. When Burt Lancaster (above) tore open the envelope and read Loren's name, she wasn't there.
Instead, Greer Garson (above) came up and accepted and delivered an elegant and brief thank-you on Loren's behalf. Amusing, since Garson years earlier had delivered the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history, clocking in at 5 minutes and 30 seconds when she won for Mrs. Miniver (1942). A bit of a twist, since she had won for the portrayal of an English wife coping at the start of World War II in Britain. The Garson podium filibuster led the Academy to set a time limit for acceptance speeches that's still in force today—45 seconds.
In 1991, when asked about her no-show in '61, Loren (above) said, “I didn’t think I was going to win. No one had ever won for a foreign-language performance, so I didn’t come.” An excuse that rang a little hollow, but that was her story and she stuck with it.
Here is Two Women and the role that made Sophia Loren an international film star at 26...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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