Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Senso (1954, It.) (aka The Wanton Countess)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Senso (1954, It.) (aka The Wanton Countess)

In director Luchino Visconti's 3-Strip Technicolored historical period fantasy and melodrama about an illicit, destructive and ill-fated romance, with lush sets and costuming; its historical context was the 1860s - a time of Italian independence and unification known as Il Risorgimento; for US audiences, the lavish Italian production was recut (truncated to 94 minutes), rewritten (by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles), luridly renamed as "The Wanton Countess," re-dubbed and re-released:

  • the film's setting was during the brief war between Italy (and Prussia) against the Austrian Empire in the summer of 1866, as explained in the film's opening title card: "Venice, Spring of 1866, the last months of the Austrian Occupation of the Veneto. The Italian government has formed a pact with Prussia, and the war of liberation is imminent"
  • the film opened in the Austrian-occupied city of Venice, in a scene set in La Fenice Opera House half-way through a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's four-act opera Il Trovatore ('The Troubadour'); just before the intermission break of the opulent grand opera, a troubador sang the final line of the aria: "To arms!"
  • a major disturbance - a political demonstration (considered sedition by the Austrians) broke out inside the Opera House due to Italian Nationalists stirring up protest in the audience; pro-independence leaflets with the tri-colors of the Italian flag - red, green, and white - and bouquets of tri-colored flowers wrapped with similar ribbons, were tossed and floated down from the balconies and upper levels onto the opera-house's best orchestra seats on the ground-floor; the protest was to express dissatisfaction with the presence of the white-uniformed officers of the occupying-Austrian troops ("Foreigners out of Venice" - one woman shouted)

Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli)

Countess Livia With Her Older Husband Count Serpieri (Heinz Moog)

Livia's Cousin - Roberto Ussoni (Massimo Girotti) - The Underground Resistance Leader
  • observing the melee from her opera box was the unhappily-married, well-educated and proud Italian aristocrat, Countess Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli); she was married to older businessman Count Serpieri (Heinz Moog) - a self-interested collaborator who presently was courting favor with the Austrians; she was a fervent nationalist and also very independent-minded - as she herself told her husband: "You know I do whatever I wish"
  • with voice-over narration, the Countess described the worrying situation: "It all began that evening. It was the 27th of May. My cousin Roberto Ussoni, one of the organizers of the demonstration, was also a leader in the underground movement in Venice..."; she had watched as a shouting match of offending insults had broken out on the floor of the opera house between her radical, freedom-fighting cousin Marchese Roberto Ussoni (Massimo Girotti), the leader of the Resistance who had organized the protest, and handsome, young, vain and dashing adventurer - Austrian Lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger)
  • the passionate and patriotic Countess feared for her cousin's life (when she heard from him that a duel-challenge was set for the next morning), but she also struggled to keep it a secret that the very noble Ussoni was her favorite cousin; the conniving Countess sought out the Lieutenant - her first words to him in Austrian General Hauptmann's (Cristoforo De Hartungen) opera box were illuminating - "Do you have a good view?" - as the Lieutenant peered at her low decolletege
  • speaking through the director, she criticized the soap-opera nature of the film's actual plot and its characters: "I dislike people behaving like characters in some melodrama with no regard for the serious consequences of a gesture dictated by impulse or by unforgivable thoughtlessness"; then she boldly appealed for the Austrian Lieutenant to disregard the duel-challenge with her most-admired cousin to save himself (but actually to save her relative); she was told that the Lieutenant had already planned on arresting Ussoni; shortly later, it was confirmed to her that Roberto (along with many of his compatriots) were arrested and exiled for one year
  • almost by accident soon after during a late night curfew in the city, she had another encounter with the womanizing, seductive Lieutenant and reluctantly agreed to allow him to accompany her during a nocturnal stroll and tour of the city's deserted back streets and canals until the early morning hours; she was immediately smitten by him and struck up an ultimately-treacherous, indiscreet friendship and romance with him in the Venice/Verona area
  • the Countess recklessly betrayed her husband by remaining with the Lieutenant in a sordid and secretive relationship that soon became public knowledge; they often met in a room for sex that she had rented in the Old Quarter of Venice; by giving herself over to their promiscuous affair and living only for the present moment: ("There's only now. Only now, Franz. There is no tomorrow"), she soon realized that she had lost control of her feelings
The Countess' Not Very Secretive Love Affair

Their First Kiss

In a Rented Room Together
  • at the same time, she was blinded to the Lieutenant's real flawed and opportunistic, womanizing nature; he had already revealed himself to be materialistic and very vain: ("I like to look at myself..."); his shallow objective in joining the Army, as he later explained, was to show off his impressive military uniform: ("We like the uniforms that flatter our manly figure...the postures and attitudes of heroes"); and it was implied that the uncommitted, unworthy, manipulative cad and cheap phony was exploiting her while also entertaining other lady friends
  • desperate to see him after he suddenly disappeared for a few days, she became paranoid, agonized and unreasonably jealous, and frantically searched for him throughout the city; heartbroken, she returned to her husband's house in Venice, which was being evacuated after the battle reached the city; after Livia learned of the Lieutenant's whereabouts in a new military camp, she told her house-maid Laura (Rina Morelli) to openly tell her husband the truth about where she was going: "Whatever you like! It doesn't matter. I don't care what you say, understand? Go on, spy on me! Tell him everything!"; she also directly revealed to the Count that she had an adulterous lover: "I don't want to keep on lying. Yes, I have a lover. I love him. I want to live with him, you understand?"
  • at the same time, after Roberto returned from exile and crossed the border into Italy with other rebel partisans and was hiding out at the Count's home in Venice, the Count announced his sudden change of allegiances to Roberto - he was now backing the Italians against the Austrians
  • Livia was forced to flee from the city for safety to her husband's palazzo in the countryside of Aldeno; Franz risked following the Contessa there and snuck into her bedroom from the balcony after evading the estate's guards and dogs; she was unreasonably convinced of his sincere love for her after he heard that she had fled from Venice, when he vowed: "...all I could think of was how to see you again....Why else would a man risk his life to come here?...I only want to look at you, be with you"; it was entirely possibly that after war had been declared, the cowardly Lieutenant was fleeing from open conflict
The Countess Awakened by Franz Entering Her Bedroom at the Count's Country Villa
  • although Livia was heartened by his declaration of love, she realized that they were no longer living a fantasy in Venice; she also felt that she had betrayed her country's revolutionary cause of independence and her highest ideals during their forbidden affair: ("You made me forget every shred of decency and dignity for a wretched and illicit love that brought nothing but shame"); but then after ordering him to go, she began to rekindle their relationship and they presumably made love (off-screen); he was still in her bedroom as dawn broke, and she sympathetically helped him to stay and evade capture for one more day by hiding him in her husband's granary
  • the unprincipled Franz - using false pretenses - betrayed the Contessa, by asking for much of her money (funds that she had saved to support the "cause" of the Italian partisan rebels including her cousin Roberto, to fight the Austrians); the cowardly Lieutenant claimed that he could bribe a military doctor to certify him as unfit for duty so that he wouldn't have to go into battle; instead, he could live a quiet civilian life and be "a free man"
  • after he had convinced her of the barbarity and irrationality of war, she decided to agree to the "contemptible act" (his description); with tears in her eyes welling up and great conflict in her mind ("I have gone mad!"), she gave up most of her fortune of over 3,000 florins earlier promised to her cousin; incredibly callous, he told her: "It would feel wrong not to take it," and then confessed to his own despicable nature: "I can't live like this. You shouldn't love me. Nobody should"
  • she ignored the world-changing events surrounding her, and jeopardized the cause of her own country, as she admitted: "For his sake, I'd forsaken and betrayed everything for which the others were so desperately fighting, those dreams which they had struggled so long to make reality"; as a result of her betrayal, the partisans were massacred and forced to retreat
  • as battles were being fought in the region during the war, the Contessa became anxious when she was unable to see the Lieutenant or receive further communications; eventually, a letter arrived from Verona, thanking her for her financial support that effectively provided him with an exemption from the home-front; ignoring the Lieutenant's specific directions to stay where she was, the Countess risked a dangerous coach ride to Verona through the war zone to see him
  • in the film's remarkable conclusion, the two shallow and self-interested lovers suffered an appropriate fate
  • she surprised the gold-digger Franz in a rented apartment that she had financed for him; he scolded her harshly: "You shouldn't have come. You were wrong to come, and you'll be sorry you did." He was no longer an "officer" or a "gentleman" - he called himself a "drunken deserter - and I stink to high heaven of cowardice and vice"; he obviously didn't want the Countess there and treated her abusively; the unfaithful and hedonistic Franz introduced her to his young tart-prostitute Clara (Marcella Mariani), and noted: "I pay her with your money"; he crassly and insultingly called the Countess his "wealthy patroness" who wasn't much better than the hired streetwalker; he claimed that she thought like he did - that love could be purchased: ("Otherwise you wouldn't have given me money to buy yourself an hour of love"); he had enough of her love for him and yelled: "I'm not your romantic hero! And I don't love you anymore"
The Countess Confronted by the Lieutenant's Young Prostitute ("Tart")
  • after becoming distraught by the vicious revelations of the Lieutenant, she was thrown out as he shouted at her: ("Run, run, you trollop! Get out of here!") - she was crying hysterically as she staggered away; the cuckolded and abandoned Contessa wandered in the streets and walked through groups of drunken Austrian soldiers
  • [Note: Italian censors at the time demanded a reshooting of the film's original ending in which she was taunted and sexually-abused by Austrian soldiers, was rendered immobile, and was driven mad.]

Presenting Franz' Letter to an Austrian General

Franz Executed by a Firing Squad
  • in a new alternative, added-on ending, the humiliated and vengeful Contessa decided to find moral redress by betraying Franz (evidenced by his written letter) to a General in the Austrian Army. Afterwards, she was left all alone to cry out Franz' name as she staggered away. Franz was seized from the residence and immediately sentenced to be executed by a firing squad for treasonous and dishonest desertion from the battlefield

White Uniformed Austrian Soldiers in Orchestra Seats of the Venice Opera House

Tri-Colored Leaflets and Bouquets of Flowers Tossed From the Opera's Balconies

Countess Livia Serpieri

Lieutenant Franz Mahler (Farley Granger)

In the Opera House, the Countess Asked the Lieutenant: "Do you have a good view?"

During a Nocturnal Stroll With the Lieutenant Through Venice's Streets After Curfew

The Countess Revealing Her Affair to Her Husband, the Count

The Count's Change of Allegiances to Support the Partisans, Led by Livia's Cousin Roberto

The Count's Country Villa in Aldeno

The Countess' Sudden Realization of Her Ill-Advised Affair With the Lieutenant

Rekindling the Relationship Until Dawn

The Lieutenant's Request to Livia for Funds to Bribe a Doctor So That He Could Avoid Military Service

The Countess Agreeing to Give Much of Her Fortune to the Lieutenant

The Italian Partisans Massacred and in Retreat

The Countess Distraught After Being Cheated and Betrayed by "Drunken Deserter" Franz


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z