Enigmatic, dark-haired foreign import Alida Valli was dubbed “The Next Garbo” but didn’t live up to postwar expectations despite her cool, patrician beauty, remote allure and significant talent. Born in Pola, Italy (now Croatia), on May 3, 1921, the daughter of a Tridentine journalist and professor and an Istrian homemaker, she studied dramatics as a teen at the Motion Picture Academy of Rome and Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia before snaring bit roles in such films as Il cappello a tre punte (1935) [“The Three-Cornered Hat”] and I due sergenti (1936) [“The Two Sergeants”]. She made a name for herself in Italy during WWII playing the title role in Manon Lescaut (1940), won a Venice Film Festival award for Piccolo mondo antico (1941) [“Little Old World”] and was a critical sensation in Noi vivi (1942) [“We the Living”]. She briefly abandoned her career, however, in 1943, refusing to appear in what she considered fascist propaganda, and was forced into hiding. The next year she married surrealist painter/pianist/composer Oscar De Mejo. They had two children, and one of them, Carlo De Mejo, became an actor. She divorced in 1955, then she came back to Italy,
Following her potent, award-winning work in the title role of Eugenie Grandet (1946), she was discovered and contracted by David O. Selznick to play the murder suspect Maddalena Paradine in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947). She was billed during her Hollywood years simply as “Valli,” and Selznick also gave her top femme female billing in Carol Reed’s classic film noir The Third Man (1949), but for every successful film–such as the ones previously mentioned–she experienced such failures as The Miracle of the Bells (1948), and audiences stayed away. In 1951 she bid farewell to Hollywood and returned to her beloved Italy. In Europe again, she was sought after by the best directors. Her countess in Luchino Visconti’s Senso (1954) was widely heralded, and she moved easily from ingénue to vivid character roles. Later standout films encompassed costume dramas as well as shockers and had her playing everything from baronesses to grandmothers in such films as Les yeux sans visage (1960) [“Eyes Without a Face”], Le gigolo (1960), Oedipus Rex (1967) [“Oedipus Rex”], The Big Scare (1974), 1900 (1976), Suspiria (1977), Luna (1979), Inferno (1980), Aspern (1982), A Month by the Lake (1995) and, her most recent, Angel of Death (2002).
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