Monday, December 1, 2014

Big Deal on Madonna Street

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), which was recently revived as part of the Mario Monicelli series at Film Forum is literally Roman comedy. On its most basic level it’s a comic heist movie that takes place in Rome; it turns the poverty and beauty of post-war Rome into a sequence of comic ideas. In one of these an imprisoned criminal Cosimo (Memmo Carotenuto) attempts to pay a down on his heels boxer, Peppe (Vittorio Gassman) to serve out his sentence. But Roman comedy also refers to the kind of slapstick you find in Plautus and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. For instance, Claudia Cardinale is Carmelina, the fetching potential bride who’s kept locked up by another one of the crooks, her overly protective brother, Michele (Tiberio Murgia). Monicelli works the farcical elements for all their worth, interspersing scenes with the kind of balloons, “the big day,” “in the meanwhile,” that are to be found in comedies of the silent film era. The renowned Toto plays the part of Dante, a professional safecracker who's called in as a technical advisor. The motley crew of thieves who besides Vittorio Gassman also includes Marcello Mastroianni steal a camera with which they hope to film the crime scene. When the resulting movie is screened, it turns out that the shots have been obscured by a clothes line from which women’s panties are hanging. Mastroianni, who is about to participate in the robbery with his arm in a splint, has also used the camera to make home movies of his infant son. When asked about movie, Dante responds, “as a film it’s bad.” The same might be said of Big Deal which whose particular brand of humor, the comic caper, may have more effectively lived on the work of directors like Blake Edwards of The Pink Panther fame. Still Big Deal on Madonna Street is the comic version of the Rome presented by neo-realists like De Sica in such classics as Bicycle Thieves. At the very end as Gassman’s character Peppe gives up his dreams of riches to join a brigade of laborers, there’s a trenchant sadness to a final exchange when one of his criminal cohorts cries out “Peppe, they will make you work.”

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