Film. Made in 1942, Ossessione marked Luchino Visconti's directorial debut. Provisionally titled Palude (Swamp), it was a free (and unauthorized) adaptation of James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which transposed Cain's story of marital infidelity, lust, and murder from California during the Depression era to the Po Valley in Fascist Italy. Although it undoubtedly demonstrated a surprising maturity for a director on his first attempt, the film itself emerged as something of a collaborative project between Visconti and a number of young left-wing critics and aspirant filmmakers associated with the journal Cinema, with the screenplay being cowritten by Visconti, Giuseppe De Santis, Antonio Pietrangeli, Mario Alicata, and Gianni Puccini.
   From their own later accounts, Visconti and this extended group saw the film as a vital opportunity to give a new truth and direction to an Italian cinema that they regarded as having become sclerotic and unreal. In order to carry out this project of renewal, Visconti had originally engaged the relatively unknown Massimo Girotti and stage star Anna Magnani to play the lead roles, but the discovery of Magnani's advanced state of pregnancy forced Visconti to substitute Clara Calamai in the role of Giovanna.
   The story, with a number of significant additions and with changes necessitated by the Italian context, follows the general lines of Cain's narrative. Penniless and drifting, Gino (Girotti) arrives at a highway roadhouse run by the older and boorish Bragana (Juan de Landa) and soon meets his sultry young wife, Giovanna. Sensing immediately Giovanna's mutual physical attraction, Gino readily accepts Bragana's invitation to remain and work at the roadhouse and, as a result, he and Giovanna are soon engaged in a torrid love affair behind Bragana's back. They decide to leave and start a new life together elsewhere, but along the way Giovanna changes her mind and returns home to her husband. Adrift again on his own, Gino is befriended by Lo Spagnolo (The Spaniard), a young freewheeling vagabond who has lived for a period in Spain (hence his name) but who now travels around Italy making his living as a fairground fortune-teller. Given that Lo Spagnolo tries to get Gino to forget Giovanna and that he later also betrays Gino to the police, it is important to note that the character does not appear in Cain's novel but is one of the major additions by the screenwriters to the original text.
   According to the screenwriters' own later account, the character's free-spirited attitude and the allusion to the Spanish Civil War in his connection with Spain was intended to make him a cipher for a rejection of the claustrophobic conformism demanded by the Fascist regime. It is doubtful whether such an interpretation emerges quite so clearly in the version of the film as we have it today, with most contemporary viewers being more likely, perhaps, to be simply confused by the character's sexual and moral ambivalence. In any case, Gino and Lo Spagnolo begin to work the fairgrounds together, which is where one day Gino meets the Bragana couple again. While the husband, who is an opera buff, takes part in a singing competition, Gino and Giovanna renew their earlier bond, with the result that Gino accepts Bragana's offer to return with them to the roadhouse. On the way, exploiting the opportunity of Bragana's drunkenness, Gino and Giovanna stage a road accident in which the husband dies. Although the police appear to remain suspicious of the incident, the couple should now be able to live happily together at the roadhouse, but Gino continues to be haunted by a mixture of remorse and restlessness, which is further exacerbated by a chance visit from Lo Spagnolo. The strained rapport between the couple deteriorates further when, during a visit they make to Ferrara, Gino learns that Giovanna has collected life insurance on Bragana's death. Suspecting that he has been used as a pawn for her purposes, Gino aggressively abandons Giovanna and takes refuge with a young prostitute, to whom he contritely confesses the murder. Noticing, however, that he is being followed by the police, he concludes that Giovanna has denounced him to the authorities and so he returns to the roadhouse to confront her with the accusation. His anger turns to tenderness when he discovers that not only has she not denounced him, but she is carrying his baby. Emotionally reconciled, they prepare to leave the roadhouse and begin another life elsewhere. As fortune would have it, however, as they drive hopefully toward a future together, their car veers off the road in heavy fog and Giovanna is killed. The police, who have been following all along, soon arrive and Gino is arrested.
   Although filmed, largely on location, in late 1942, the eagerly awaited film had its premiere in Rome only in May 1943. There have always been conflicting accounts of how the film was received. An often-repeated version suggests that Vittorio Mussolini, who was present at the screening, knocked over chairs as he walked out in disgust, shouting, "This is not Italy." Giuseppe De Santis, however, in his account reports that the film was not only well received but that Vittorio Mussolini spoke warmly to Visconti and reaffirmed the positive judgment of the film given by his father, Il Duce, who had apparently seen it earlier in a private screening. Whatever the truth of either version, what seems undeniable is that the film was never widely distributed and where it was shown it often received a hostile reception from local civil and religious authorities who objected to what they regarded as its immorality. It only began to be screened in Italy after 1945, when it came to be widely acclaimed as an immediate precursor of neorealism. In the United States, copyright problems prevented it from being widely screened until the mid-1960s, by which time Hollywood had already made its own version of Cain's novel.

Historical dictionary of Italian cinema. . 2010.

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