The genesis of Vulcano involves one of the most famous love stories in all of film history. In the immediate postwar era, four young Sicilian aristocrats developed a photography device to capture underwater spear fishing by the local inhabitants of the Aeolian Islands. They formed a film production company, Panaria Film, which produced five short documentaries on the subject. They interested Roberto Rossellini (one of the friends' cousins), in making a feature film on the islands. Rossellini's companion, Anna Magnani, was to be featured in the film; however, when Rossellini fell in love with Ingrid Bergman, he severed relations with Panaria film and set out to shoot a drama with Bergman on the island of Stromboli. The friends immediately seized on the opportunity to feature Magnani in their own film, and wrote a new story for her. Contracting William Dieterle to direct, the company embarked with Geraldine Brooks, Rossano Brazzi, and Magnani to the neighboring island of Vulcano to make their film. Vulcano is an engrossing drama in which Magnani (in a magnificent, in-the-moment performance) returns to her home island, only to be forced to save her younger sister from the advances of a man with sinister intentions. It deftly blends several genres of filmmaking: romantic love story, suspenseful murder mystery, and underwater documentary. It steadily builds to a gripping climax, in which the human dramas are dwarfed by the forces of nature, reminiscent of the films of John Ford, and of Visconti's neorealist masterpiece, La Terra Trema. Two versions of this film were shot: the original Italian version, and an English language one. Screening here for the first time in New York is the Italian version (with subtitles). The Italian version has been restored by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna and L'Immagine Ritrovata. Vulcano is presented in person by Francesco Alliata, producer of Panaria Films.
A stage actor in Germany and Switzerland as a teenager, William Dieterle (1893 - 1972) began acting in movies by 1913, and appeared in such memorable '20s films as Waxworks and F. W. Murnau's Faust. In 1923, Dieterle also began directing himself in a series of films, including Geschlecht In Fesseln (Sex in Chains,1928). He began his Hollywood career with German-language versions of films such as Those Who Dance. Dieterle then moved on to The Last Flight, the comedy Her Majesty, and the fanciful A Midsummer Night's Dream, codirected with Max Reinhardt. He then delivered Hollywood classics The Life of Emile Zola, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Devil and Daniel Webster. He was also one of the six directors uncredited on David O' Selznick's and King Vidor's Duel in the Desert. In the late '50s Dieterle returned to Europe and directed films in Italy and Germany.