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Valentina Cortese RIP

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  • Valentina Cortese RIP

    The Guardian obituary


  • #2

    I only really know here for three films, The Barefoot Contessa, The House on Telegraph Hill (where she met future husband Richard Basehart), and one of my favourites, as Séverine (the actress who keeps forgetting her lines) in Truffaut's delightful film about film-making, La Nuit Américaine (Day For Night 1973). We also have her to thanks for four seasons of the tv show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as Mr Basehart only kept making them in order to pay her alimony! Her credits


    • #3
      Valentina Cortese, Italian actress who captured British film-goers’ hearts as the ‘maid of the Dolomites’ in ‘The Glass Mountain’ – obituary

      Telegraph Obituaries - 12 JULY 2019

      Valentina Cortese, who has died aged 96, was an Italian film diva who also briefly enjoyed some success in British and American cinema in the 1940s and 1950s; but her best-remembered role was in François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), the director’s affectionate semi-autobiographical comedy about the on-set headaches of making a movie.

      She played Severine, a raucous, alcoholic actress who had once been a star but was now too inebriated to remember her lines or stage directions. A running joke in the film had her repeatedly opening the wrong door on set and spoiling the take.

      She won the best supporting actress award from the New York film critics for this performance and was subsequently nominated for an Oscar in 1974. She lost, however, to Ingrid Bergman for her, to many, comparatively insipid role as a Swedish missionary in Murder on the Orient Express.

      Severine was a comedy role, tapping an unsuspected talent. Although Valentina Cortese had begun in comedy in Italian wartime movies, they were totally unknown abroad. What caught the eye of overseas film producers was her apparently soulful appearance and especially her piercing green eyes.
      Michelangelo Antonioni's 'Le Amiche' ('The Girlfriends'), l-r, Eleonora Rossi Drago, Valentina Cortese, Anna Maria Pancani and Yvonne Furneaux

      Ironically, when she began to make English language pictures they were all in black and white, so her most compelling feature was never revealed on screen. By the time colour became universal she was already approaching middle age.

      Valentina Cortese was born on New Year’s Day 1923 in Milan to a single mother and was largely brought up by her grandparents in Turin. She attended Rome’s Academy of Dramatic Art and entered the film industry at the age of only 15.

      Her first film, a bit part, was Orrizonte Depinto (1940), but she progressed to leading roles during the war and in 1946 began to intrigue foreign film-makers in the Luigi Zampa comedy A Yank in Rome.

      Her breakthrough came in 1948 when she was picked for a key role in the British picture The Glass Mountain. She was cast as “the maid of the Dolomites”, an Italian partisan who rescues Michael Denison’s RAF pilot when he is shot down and later inspires him to write an opera.

      It is duly staged at La Scala and performed by no less a figure than Tito Gobbi, but the composer comes to his senses and abandons his muse for his wife, played by Denison’s real-life wife, Dulcie Gray. Though it is arrant tosh, The Glass Mountain is nevertheless remembered even today for Nino Rota’s romantic score, which won popularity as Legend of the Glass Mountain.

      For Valentina Cortese it opened immediate doors. Hollywood thought it had caught a glimpse of the next Garbo and signed her up. But it felt that “Cortese” would cause the audience pronunciation difficulties. So it changed her name to “Cortesa”, with which she became stuck during her brief Hollywood career.

      As so often, Hollywood did not know at first what to do with her. It cast her first in Black Magic, an ill-fated 1949 adaptation of one of Alexandre Dumas’s forgotten novels, in which Orson Welles stole the limelight as Cagliostro, an 18th-century hypnotist, conjuror and charlatan. After this inauspicious start, she fared better.

      Thieves Highway (1949) was made by Jules Dassin and focused on corruption in the wholesale fruit market. A film noir with socialist overtones, it cast her as a prostitute who helps Richard Conte nail the racketeer who ruined his father while he himself was serving in the Second World War.

      A gritty, realistic picture, it features one of the strongest lines the actress ever had to deliver. When Conte tells her she looks like chipped glass, she replies: “It took me a long time to get that way.” It was a deliberate echo of Marlene Dietrich’s saltier quip in Shanghai Express: “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

      She played an Italian partisan who rescues Michael Denison’s RAF pilot when he is shot down and later inspires him to write an opera.

      Her next film, Malaya (1949), was a Second World war drama less distinguished than its promising cast, which included James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore and Sydney Greenstreet.

      In Britain it was known as East of the Rising Sun, in apparent ignorance of the fact that Malaya was actually west of Japan’s rising sun. She was largely wasted in the film, singing at a bar in the jungle.

      This was followed by The House on Telegraph Hill (1952) which, for her, had long-term implications. A thriller in which she masquerades as a girl who has died in a displaced persons camp and inherits a new, richer identity, it was only a competent picture.

      Her co-star, however, who turns out in the story to be planning to murder her for her inheritance – the house on Telegraph Hill – was the American actor, Richard Basehart. She married him in 1951 and remained his wife until their divorce in 1960.

      Valentina Cortese’s next film was made in England – Secret People (1952). It was dismissed by public and critics alike. Directed by Thorold Dickinson, it addressed the ethics of political assassination and was thought to be verbose and pretentious. Such attention as it attracted concentrated solely on a promising young actress named Audrey Hepburn.

      Valentina Cortese in Terry Gilliam's 'The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen' CREDIT: PHOTO 12/ALAMY

      Returning to Italy after this seemed a sensible move. It led to Le Amiche (1955), one of Valentina Cortese’s most enduring films, made by Michelangelo Antonioni a few years before he was acclaimed for L’Avventura (1959). Le Amiche revealed Antonioni’s gifts already fully developed but as yet unrecognised.

      Based on a short story by Cesare Pavese, Among Women Alone, it was a film in which the lives of 10 characters interlock. Without an eye-catching part for any single actor, it nevertheless achieves an ensemble effect that has assured its reputation.

      Sadly for Valentina Cortese it led nowhere – except to supporting parts in such forgotten films as Magic Fire (1957), The Legend of Lylah Clare (1969) and The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1970). There were many of these, broken only by her award-winning contribution to Day for Night.
      Valentina Cortese as Herodias in 'Jesus of Nazareth' CREDIT: NBC/NBCU PHOTO BANK

      She also made an appearance in Terry Gilliam’s remake of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) as the Queen of the Moon.

      Gilliam described her as “demanding and troublesome” on set, recalling: “At the end of the shooting the cast and crew gave her 200 long-stem roses. She loves roses, she let everyone know she loves roses, so she wound up getting what she wanted. She drove them crazy, but they said, ‘Oh, well, let’s give her the roses and be done with it!’ She has that kind of effect on people.”

      It is doubtful whether veteran British filmgoers who had lost their hearts to “the maid of the Dolomites” in 1948 would even recognise Valentina Cortese playing third fiddle to Elizabeth Taylor in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1988 travesty of the life of Young Toscanini.

      Her last role was as a Mother Superior in Zeffirelli’s lachrymose Sparrow (1993). It was a sad end to a career that began so promisingly and intermittently shone.

      From her marriage to Richard Basehart she had a son, Jackie Basehart, an Italian-American actor, who predeceased her. She was also predeceased by her second husband, Carlo de Angeli, a pharmaceuticals tycoon.

      Valentina Cortese, born January 1 1923, died July 10 2019 Related Topics
      Last edited by Maurice; 13th July 2019, 06:34 AM.