Sog.: dal romanzo Via delle Mantellate di Isa Mari. Scen.: Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Renato Castellani. F.: Leonida Barboni. M.: Jolanda Benvenuti. Scgf.: Ottavio Scotti. Mus.: Roman Vlad. Int.: Anna Magnani (Egle), Giulietta Masina (Lina), Cristina Gajoni (Marietta), Renato Salvatori (Piero), Saro Urzì (il maresciallo), Umberto Spadaro (il direttore del carcere), Alberto Sordi (Antonio ‘Adone’), Anita Durante (Assunta). Prod.: Giuseppe Amato per Riama Film, Francinex · 35 mm. Bn.
Adapted from a non-fiction novel, Isa Mari’s Via delle Mantellate, and based on screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico’s meticulous documentation, this film is Castellani’s digression into raw realism here he contends with an ensemble of female characters in a Roman prison: Egle (Magnani), a hardened prostitute; Lina (Masina), a wrongly convicted, frightened maid; Marietta (Gaioni), a remorseful girl in love with a boy she sees from a window. Under Egle’s direction Lina wises up, but she is also transformed by Marietta. A clash between the acting styles of Giulietta Masina and a domineering Anna Magnani (“she came onto the film with the voracity of a lion”, said Castellani), surrounded by amateur actresses, including actual ex-prisoners. The Cineteca Nazionale’s copy, which is quite different from the one found on television and Dvd, contains the director’s original cut with several additional sequences and a very different scene order, especially in the last part.
With his usual standard, Castellani started looking for real prisoners for parts in the film. Executive producer Peppino Amato stepped in and said: “I’ll give you Anna Magnani”. When dealt this possibility, the director made the best of a bad situation and accepted the starry terms. “And”, continued Amato, “I’ll give you the other Italian Oscar winner, Giulietta Masina”. Later Castellani would say, “Anna Magnani came onto the film with the voracity of a lion”. Two or three characters were rolled up into her part, and the result was the extraordinary character Egle. Written especially for her, the part fit her perfectly: moreover, Suso Cecchi d’Amico was a good friend of the actress and knew her inside and out: the lines she wrote for Egle are the actual words of Anna Magnani. More an actresses’ film than a filmmaker’s film, Nella città l’inferno is nevertheless characteristic of Castellani’s work for its skilled narrative rhythm. In a film about physical and moral disorder, everything is perfectly in order.
Sergio Trasatti, Renato Castellani, La Nuova Italia, Florence 1984