Hollywood Flashback: Fellini Was Denied Oscar Love for 'La Dolce Vita' in 1962

La Dolce Vita (1960 Italy)  aka The Sweet Life - photofest -H 2019
Astor Pictures/Photofest

Italy chose to submit Nanni Loy's 'The Four Days of Naples' instead, though the helmer did get nominated as best director for his now-classic film, which at the time was called "disgusting" by the Vatican.

For the 35th Academy Awards in 1962, La Dolce Vita was not submitted by Italy for best foreign-language film. Instead, Nanni Loy's The Four Days of Naples got the nomination.

Perhaps the Italians felt that Federico Fellini's eighth film, which centered on a gossip columnist (Marcello Mastroianni) wandering into fountains with Anita Ekberg and partaking in Rome's high life, had received too much publicity already. The Vatican paper L'Osservatore had called Vita "disgusting," and the Church's Centro Cattolico Cinematografico ratings board gave it an "E" for "Escluso," meaning it was "unsuitable for all." American critics, though, were more receptive. "This is a great picture," gushed The Hollywood Reporter in its review. "Italian neo-realism, which breathed fresh air into the post-war period … is back in business with a very big one." Indeed, according to a THR cover story at the time, Henry Miller's Theatre in New York (since renamed Stephen Sondheim Theatre) paid an "unprecedented advanced sum of $100,000" — about $850,000 in today's dollars — for the rights to premiere and run the 175-minute film.

Though now considered a classic, Fellini had a hard time getting Vita made. In his autobiography, Fellini on Fellini, the director — who'd won two foreign-language Oscars before Vita (1955's La Strada and 1957's Nights of Cabiria) and two after (1963's and 1975's Amarcord) — describes "an arduous trek from producer to producer … to fight for a film which, in professional circles, was said to be a failure before it had been started." And while Fellini didn't get a foreign-language nomination for La Dolce Vita, he did get nominated as best director. He lost to Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story. The Four Days of Naples, meanwhile, lost to France's Sundays and Cybele.

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.