“I don’t know if paradise or hell exist, but I’m sure hell is more groovy.” – Anita Ekberg
Swedish actress Anita Ekberg became a global icon after starring in Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita, but her legacy extends beyond that one role. As she confirmed herself when asked about her definitive performance in La Dolce Vita, Ekberg believed that Fellini had gained prominence as a master because of her. She declared: “It was I who made Fellini, not the other way around.”
Born in 1931 in Sweden, Ekberg started out as a model by entering beauty contests and ended up winning the title of Miss Sweden. After gaining national recognition, she travelled to the United States in order to participate in the unofficial beauty pageant that would soon be known as the Miss Universe competition. Even though she failed to win it, she did get a contract from Universal Studios out of the entire ordeal.
Ekberg was worshipped more as an on-screen persona than a dramatic force throughout her career. She passed away in 2015 due to health complications after enduring a very lacklustre career in her later years, filled with forgettable roles and unremarkable productions.
In order to get a more complete picture of her career and trajectory, we take a look at six definitive films from Anita Ekberg’s filmography.
Anita Ekberg’s 6 definitive films:
Blood Alley (William A. Wellman – 1955)
This William A. Wellman project was the first proper speaking role for Ekberg in a feature. Produced by John Wayne, Blood Alley features Wayne and Lauren Bacall in an anti-communist propaganda piece that tells the story of a seaman who tries to help Chinese villagers escape.
Based on Albert Sidney Fleischman’s novel, Blood Alley is dated for today’s standards but it is still a relevant chronicle of how political sensibilities infiltrated the Hollywood system. It also gives us a memorable glimpse of Ekberg in her younger years.
War and Peace (King Vidor – 1956)
A polarising adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s eponymous novel, War and Peace provided a platform for Ekberg to deliver one of her breakthrough performances. She portrayed Hélène Kuragina, a beautiful woman who is considered to be very smart and cultured in St. Petersburg.
Although War and Peace received mixed reviews and is now largely forgotten, it must be acknowledged that handling a Tolstoy adaptation is no easy feat and King Vidor came really close. Even though the film has all the elements necessary for an epic, they fail to form a coherent whole like the seminal novel.
Back from Eternity (John Farrow – 1956)
John Farrow’s 1956 classic follows the adventures of a mixture of characters who find themselves in a South American jungle after their plane crashes into it. When they discover the hostility of the environment, they decide to band together in order to plan an escape.
A remake of Farrow’s 1939 film Five Came Back, Back from Eternity stars Ekberg alongside the likes of Gene Barry and Robert Ryan among others. A thoroughly old-school Hollywood production that oscillates between entertainment and colonial commentary, Back from Eternity is an obsolete cultural relic.
La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini – 1960)
Arguably Fellini’s greatest filmmaking success, La Dolce Vita stars Marcello Mastroianni as a gossip columnist who embarks on a remarkable odyssey in search of fulfilment while navigating the pleasures that Rome has to offer. Ekberg stars as Sylvia, a famous actress whose charms mesmerise Mastroianni over the course of a magical night.
“What I intended was to show the state of Rome’s soul, a way of being of a people,” the filmmaker said. “What it became was a scandalous report, a fresco of a street and a society. But I never go to Via Veneto—it isn’t my street. And I never attend festas of aristocrats—I don’t know any.
“The left-wing press played it up as headline reportage on Rome, but it didn’t have to be Rome: it could have been Bangkok or a thousand other cities. I intended it as a report on Sodom and Gomorrah, a trip into anguish and despair. I intended for it to be a document, not a documentary.”
Boccaccio ’70 (Multiple directors – 1962)
Consisting of separate parts directed by Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Mario Monicelli, Boccaccio ’70 is a unique anthology. Through different episodes and in different styles, the film explores questions of romance and modernity.
Drawing inspiration from Giovanni Boccaccio, Boccaccio ’70 is a memorable collaboration between some of the greatest filmmakers of that period. Ekberg appears in Fellini’s segment which tells the story of a man who descends into insanity after obsessing over a billboard of Anita Ekberg that comes to life.
4 For Texas (Robert Aldrich – 1963)
A typical Hollywood project which attempted to exploit the star-power of its cast, 4 for Texas features the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ursula Andress and Ekberg. Set in Texas, the film revolves around the struggles of two sharpshooters and their pursuit of a $100,000 shipment.
Ekberg and Andress appear as their romantic interests, in a story that is meant to be a vehicle for the icons. Robert Aldrich’s western comedy did not contribute much to either genre but it was a fun action flick despite the conflicts between Sinatra and Aldrich who felt the project was doomed.