"It was stolen, suppressed, acclaimed, banned, and then, for decades, all but forgotten. But today, We The Living lives again. The astonishing story of the making of We The Living is as compelling as the movie itself.Duncan Scott Productions
Rome, Italy -- 1942: Italian director Goffredo Alessandrini had been looking for a drama of epic proportions, and We The Living seemed an ideal choice. The struggle of a young woman to live her own life despite being trapped in a state-controlled society, was a story that moviegoers could easily identify with in war-weary, Fascist-run Italy. Ordinarily, the first order of business would be for the studio, Scalera Films, to secure the movie rights from its author, Ayn Rand. But with the war on, negotiations with an American were out of the question. The solution was simple: "We stole it. It was actually a cheat and a fraud," said screenwriter Anton Majano, many years later. "Because of the war, we couldn't buy the rights. The Fascist Ministry of Culture set up a special law, as far as negotiations for rights, copyrights or anything else, with enemy countries: Do what you have to do. Do the film, take the book, use it, we'll worry about it later." So We The Living, a story that Ayn Rand described as "as close to an autobiography as I will ever write," was put into production in early 1942 without her permission, without compensation to her -- without even her knowledge.
Cast in the leading roles were three of Italy's top box-office attractions: 38 year old Fosco Giachetti, the only actor seriously considered for the role of Andrei; 22-year old Rossano Brazzi, in only his second movie, played Leo, and 21-year old Alida Valli, already a major star in Italy, won the coveted role of Kira.
Just before We The Living was scheduled to start shooting, Alessandrini and Majano returned from another film only to find that the studio's screen writers had made a mess of the story. "They had turned Kira into a ballerina!" remembers Majano. "We threw it out! But the shooting schedule was all set, the actors all lined up, we absolutely had to start shooting."
"So we made the picture without a script -- just following the book", Brazzi recalled. "Majano and Alessandrini wrote the day before, what we were going to do the day after." Working this way forced the writers to be far more faithful to the novel than is typical in book-to-movie adaptations. "It was quite difficult to change all but a few, small little things," says Brazzi, "not the basic concept of the story".
As We The Living got underway in early 1942, location permits were just about impossible to get because of the war. So everything was built from scratch on the Scalera Film sound stages. Crowded Red Square; a deserted garden, a ship's deck, a train station, even a snow covered street scene with horse drawn sleigh -- every set was painstakingly recreated in-doors by scenic artists, designers and special effects technicians. "As extras, we had almost the entire community of White Russians in exile living then in Rome," recalled Majano, "Among them were countesses, counts and Russian nobility. The first day they arrived on the set, the production assistant was shouting at them. "Come on, get over here! Stand there! Hey you, get that smile off your face", and all that, and they were countesses and princes! I went over to the assistant and said, "I'll handle these people,", because I realized who they were. I was kissing their hands and saying 'Would you mind moving over there?"
Several weeks into the production, Scalera Films decided they were shooting enough material for two films, but they decided not to tell the actors. "We had to keep it a secret that we're going to release it as two films, because if the actors find out, they're going to want to be paid double," Majano recalled, "But obviously, none of the three stars were fools, and as they kept filming and filming, they said, "How long is this film, anyway?" And they were told, "It's running a bit long, but don't worry about it." Finally, Scalera had to settle with the actors to keep them from walking.
Fascist authorities had OK'd the production of the WE THE LIVING because of the story's harsh negative portrayal of Communist Russia - Italy's wartime enemy. But Alessandrini was using parallels in the story-line to subtly chastise the entrenched Mussolini government and word got out. In the middle of production, the Fascist Minister of Culture made the first of several efforts to suppress WE THE LIVING. One morning an official showed up on the set. "He said there was to be a screening that night, at nine o'clock, at the Ministry, and they wanted to see everything that had been shot so far," Majano remembers. "We rushed to the editing room and spent all day cutting out the dangerous scenes, all the anti-Fascist scenes, for that screening. That night it looked like an inquisition. They kept asking, "Is that all there is? Is that it?" The scenes were edited back in the next day, a maneuver that was repeated several times before the film was finally released. After four-and-a-half grueling months of shooting, WE THE LIVING was finished -- just one day before its scheduled premiere at the Venice Film Festival. WE THE LIVING received a standing ovation at the premiere, was lavishly praised by all but the Fascist critics, and was awarded the Festival's "Volpe Cup".
The general release of WeThe Living started in November of 1942. It played throughout Italy and "it was an enormous success, an incredible success," according to Majano. "Incredible!" echoed Brazzi. "It was a big hit. At the Barberini Theater, here in Rome, people lined up for the picture for three months". Although the two films that made up We The Living(We The Living and Addio, Kira) were released several weeks apart, in many cities they played at the same time. It was not uncommon for people to see Noi Vivi at one theater and then rush across town to see Addio, Kira at another. We The Living apparently struck a chord with a country withering under years of Fascist rule. It began to be recognized as an indirect indictment of the Mussolini regime. "I was walking along the Via Veneto one morning, after the film opened," said Majano, "and people would get up from their tables along the street and embrace me and say, 'At last you've begun to go against the tide'. People who saw it, who were intelligent enough, did realize what we were doing."
Eventually authorities in the Fascist government also realized what the film makers were doing. "They were amazed, some of them, how this picture got out!" says Brazzi. According to Massimo Ferrara, head of production for Scalera Films, Mussolini himself was furious with the film. Later, when Nazi officials finally saw a print of the film, they pressured Italy to suppress it. Five months after it opened, all release prints were pulled from circulation and ordered to be destroyed along with the negatives. Ferrara substituted a different negative and hid the original negative of We The Living, in the basement of a friend's home.
Valli and Brazzi, fed up with Fascist control of the Italian movie industry, stopped working in Italy until after the war. Alessandrini and Majano fled Rome and, using publicity pictures of themselves on the set of We The Living to identify themselves, crossed the Allied lines. Ferrara was blacklisted for allowing We The Living to be released. After the war, Scalera Films approached Ayn Rand, then living in Los Angeles, to secure the literary rights to the film so that it could be re-released, but Rand refused. A few years later, Scalera Films went out of business and We The Living, along with a large chunk of Scalera movies were turned over to a holding company which, in turn, relegated the film to vault on the outskirts of Rome where it remained for over twenty-five years.
In the mid-1960's Ayn Rand mentioned the existence of the film to two young attorneys that represented her - the husband and wife team of Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer. The Holzers were astonished to learn that a movie version of Rand's novel existed. We The Living, along with Rand's other novels, Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, had become classics, but only The Fountainhead had been filmed. Rand had heard nothing of the film for decades and assumed it was lost forever, but the Holzers decided to search for it. They began to query official Italian agencies to no avail. The search went on for two years, ending in the summer of 1968, when the Holzers succeeded in tracking down the company that was still storing the original nitrate negatives of the film in Rome -- still in excellent condition. The Holzers immediately bought We The Living and had duplicate negatives made on safety film stock.
Back in the United States, the Holzers and film producer Duncan Scott reviewed the film scene by scene with Ayn Rand. Rand felt that the main story-line of the film was beautifully done and surprisingly faithful to her novel. But several somewhat incongruous subplots, and worse, a handful of gratuitous propaganda speeches had been added, no doubt to appease government authorities. Because Rand had never been given input into the original film, the decision was made to make an "author's cut" of the film - similar in concept to a director's cut. The offending subplots and speeches were removed while still preserving -- in fact, enhancing -- the main story-line. Rand took a very active role in this re-editing process. The soundtracks were re-recorded with Dolby noise suppression, and special laboratory processes were used to reduce picture contrast. Work on the film was suspended for several years due to professional commitments and, later, Rand's increasingly failing health. Rand died in 1982, and the finishing touches of We The Living were completed in cooperation with her Estate.
The new version of We The Living received its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado in 1986 - the first public showing of the film outside of Italy since World War II. Soon after, it was released in theaters throughout the US, Canada and overseas, garnering rave reviews.
"Hugely entertaining," wrote the Los Angeles Times, and Sneak Previews called it, "An amazing piece of cinema ... I think you will fall under the spell of this film".
"At the 1942 Venice Film Festival, We The Living won the Volpe Cup and enjoyed a huge popular success. This was enhanced by the teaming of Fosco Giachetti, then Italy's top box office actor, with Alida Valli, at 21 an audience favorite ... and Rossano Brazzi, already a highly-paid movie star." - Great Italian Films
"They don't make 'em like this anymore ... A colossal love story within a massive philosophical framework [and a] masterfully constructed plot ... Valli's powerhouse performance is reminiscent of a young Ingrid Bergman ... Artful gradations of black and white, a sensitive, roving camera and clever transitions give the film a timeless quality, and make the principals seen like mythical, cinematic demigods. Keep this masterpiece out of Ted Turner's hands." - Miami News
"Screen romance doesn't come any better than this .. Suppressed by Mussolini's fascists and long forgotten, it is not being celebrated as the lost classic that it is." - New York Newsday
"A cinematic jewel ... Grand, old-fashioned, extravagantly romantic ... It's 'they don't make 'em like this anymore' entertainment for anyone who loves a great story." - Reason Magazine
"One of the most exciting movies to come along in years." - Jay Carr, Boston Globe"
"An amazing piece of cinema. I loved every minute of it. Alida Valli has the same kind of quality on-screen as Garbo -- just magical -- what a performance! I think you will also fall under the spell of this film." - Michael Medved, Sneak Previews
"A terrific picture ... (Ayn Rand's) a whiz at plot ... a love triangle that would do Puccini proud ... WE THE LIVING lives." - RG, Toronto Globe and Mail
"It has a passion that is undeniably moving." - London Morning Star
"Place WE THE LIVING on the top of your "must-see" movie list ... a romantic and powerfully-dramatic experience never likely to be forgotten. WE THE LIVING has the power to enslave the heart and the emotions. It's a wonderful film." - Bill Collins, Sydney Daily Mirror
"Grand and lavish entertainment." - Variety
"Nothing stirs the soul quite so much as buried treasure. WE THE LIVING ... qualifies in every respect as film treasure ... dazzling performances ... Director Alessandrini brilliantly blends glamour, romance, politics, intrigue and danger ... this is a film that avoids the predictable every step of the way ... one of the best movies of the year." - Mike McGrady, New York Newsday
"A whale of a show ... delivers the high priced goods with style." - J. Rosenbaum, Chicago ReaderFrom the "We The Living: The Movie" web page, a Duncan Scott Production]: More Reviews
What viewers will see is an exceptionally cast motion picture that follows the novel faithfully. Rossano Brazzi and Alida Valli are superb in their roles ... Although it lacks the philosophical elements of the book, the movie captures the brutally suffocating atmosphere of collectivism, and it unmistakably conveys the passion and the poignancy of this story about the moral struggle between the individual and the totalitarian state.The Intellectual Activist
We've heard a lot of complaints from people unable to find copies of We The Living (1942) -- but luckily, the film is now available from Duncan Scott Productions directly. Send your full name, address and telephone number (in case there are difficulties), along with $69.95 for the double video, $3.50 shipping and handling, and (if you live in New York) 8.25% sales tax to:
Duncan Scott Productions
1100 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10028
Another source for We The Living is SECOND RENAISSANCE BOOKS: 143 West Street, New Milford, CT 06776.
Their phone number is 1-800-729-6149 in the continental U.S. and 1-888-729-6149 in Canada only.
International customers can reach them by fax at: 860-355-7164, or
They can also be reached on the Internet at www.rationalmind.com, or via-e-mail at email@example.com
Cost of the two-volume set is $69.95.
And speaking of WE THE LIVING ... there may be yet another 'We The Living' on your theaters sometime in the not too distant future:
"Ayn Rand's first novel, "We The Living", which she wrote in 1936 and claimed was "near to an autobiography as I will ever write" has been optioned for a movie. Chicago-based lawyer/producer Marvin J. Rosenblum acquired the rights for an undisclosed sum.
Set in the Soviet Union, "We The Living" follows an 18-year old Russian girl who is torn between the love of an aristocrat and a commissar. The melodrama explores how the lives of the Russian people are changed under the totalitarian regime of the Soviets.
Rosenblum said, "We The Living" was Rand's "only real filmable book", noting its visual style and epic elements. He also said the lead role was one of Rand's strongest female characters, although he would not comment on whether any actresses had been approached for the role.
The film will be shot in St. Petersburg, Russia -- the novel's setting and Rand's birthplace. Russia's Rustam Imbragimbekov (who co-wrote Burnt By The Sun) will pen the script.By Carole Horst (Toronto), Variety Magazine, 9/10/97
The Moscow International Film Festival
(date unknown) This item included a special screening of "We The Living" ... their description of it is as follows:
"The film shows the years of chaos after the October Revolution in Russia. There are three main characters in it. During the turbulent time, they are trying to live independent lives regardless of the new establishing order. Kira, a beautiful girl with a strong character (Alida Valli), together with the other two heroes (Rossano Brazzi and Fosco Giachetti) courageously struggles for freedom against the totalitarian regime. Their love, conflicts, and heroic fight for personal freedom are the bases of the film. "We The Living" was adapted from the Ayn Rand bestseller, without permission, in 1942. It was produced in Italy, with three Italian stars in the leading roles. Because of the anti-Soviet content of the book, the film's production was approved and supported by Mussolini. The film premiered at the Venice festival in 1942, and was award a prestigious prize. It became very popular in Italy, but later the fascist government realizes that the film presents a condemnation of totalitarian societies in general, not just Soviet. In the end, all the negatives of the film were withdrawn and its screening was prohibited. Many years later, Rand's representatives began to search for the film. Eventually, a copy of it was found, restored and taken to America."Olga Lapinya, CinePhantom Program, Moscow International Film Festival
"This is still my best picture that I've ever done."Rossano Brazzi, 1959
Early in this film, Rossano's character, Leo Kovalensky, mistakes Alida Valli's character, Kira Argounova, for a prostitute. Intending to dismiss him, she glances up at him once, then again; then changes her mind and willingly goes with him into an abandoned garden. When he discovers that she is not a prostitute but in fact a university student, he asks her why she had agreed to fearlessly accompany him, a stranger, at such risk to herself and to her reputation. Softly she replies, "Mi piace lo tuo viso." ("I like your face.")
A decade later, after Rossano had achieved international stardom in his late thirties and early forties in Summertime and South Pacific, the Italian actress Anna Magnani would describe his physical appearance as marked by "a handsomeness far more attractive than his previous beauty." Yet it is exactly that "previous beauty" which makes Valli's line about his face so utterly believeable. Strikingly sensual, with huge, deep-set eyes, thick curly hair and a boyishly shy, lopsided smile, his face was, at the time, one fully capable of stopping a woman in her tracks for a second glance.
He starred in Noi Vivi/Addio Kira in 1942, although he had been working on films for three years after sky-rocketing to star status in Italy after only one picture (Il Processo e morte di Socrate). And while his face would, indeed, mature admirably, as Magnani described, into one that served him well as a quintessential Italian lover, at the time of Noi Vivi he was 26 years old, and, simply, achingly beautiful. The huge and passionate Italian following trailing in his wake at the time suggests that, like Kira Arguonova, many other women had found themselves hopelessly captivated by his face, as well.
Fans may debate whether Noi Vivi was, in fact, "the best picture" he'd ever done (Summertime, for many of his fans, seems to also fit that description), but in truth he was brilliantly cast as Leo Kovalensky, son of an admiral executed in the Bolshevic revolution: first on the run from GPU executioners for the crime of being a former aristocrat; then beaten into cynicism and bitterness by a corrupt political system that did not allow him an education, employment or medical care while professing equality for all of its citizens. Evolving from an earnest and passionate student to a sullen and angry black-marketeer, Leo is the pivotal force blithely driving the others to acts of self-sacrifice, self-deception and self-destruction, all the while surrounded by a bleak, corrupt and violent political system marked by a facade of idealism and a heart of hypocrisy and greed.Notes
There are two actors named Giovanni Grasso, related to each other, with the same name, one born in 1874, the other in 1888. This is the younger of the two, who also worked on La grande aurora and Eleanora Duse.
Alida Valli's real name: Alida Maria Altenburger.
Biancoli also worked on Gli ultimi cinque minuti.
Caracciolo also worked on Il treno crociato as co-director of photography, and Cronaca di due secoli.
Renzo is the brother of Roberto Rossellini.
Eraldo da Roma went on to become associated with Michelangelo Antonioni (L'avventura, La notte, L'eclisse, Deserto rosso, etc.)
Advertising circular, Spain.
Rossano Brazzi and Alida Valli.
"... I found a copy of “Letters of Ayn Rand”, edited by Michael S. Berliner. Introduction by Leonard Reikoff, her student and disciple, Dutton 1995. ...it may be dry and uninteresting, but I thought I’d copy the letters in which she refers to the film Noi Vivi. I am not at all in sympathy with most of her philosophy on selfism and objectivism (she was scathingly anti-religious). Nevertheless, I was curious about what she had to say about Noi Vivi, and she had a lot to say about the piracy of her work. At first she accuses the Italian producers of turning her work into Fascist propaganda (before she has seen the film). After she has seen it, she does a turn-around and though still litigious, tries to have it released over here, which of course she eventually does. I was very disappointed not to see written evidence of her admiration for Brazzi’s portrayal of Leo (who was based upon her first love in Russia, Leo). Prof. Reikoff mentions in a forward to a recent edition of We The Living that Rand was favorably impressed with the casting...”
Noi Vivi is listed in Jerry Vermilye's anthology Great Italian Films. To purchase the book from AMAZON.com, click here.
For more of Ayn Rand's books, search the database, using the form below:
Back to Home Page
Back to Filmography
Created by the Rossano Brazzi International Network