Set in Rome and its surroundings, the film tells in a frighteningly realistic, ruthless and grotesque the evil of two powerful men of Italy in the seventies: a Director of illegal buildings (Vittorio Gassman), extremist fascist, and an upright judge, cynical looking in part to the Italian law (Ugo Tognazzi). Both can not stand each other, given the contrasts between the two men in any social, political and philosophical. Everyone hates each other and would like to delete it, but just because of the bad example that the two men give power to the people, many Italians are adversely affected because of cheating and rudeness of the fascist manufacturer and the communist magistrate. The director Dino Risi underlines the misdeeds and the weakness of the Italian people to react accordingly, by focusing on the story of these two men who are each other’s opposite of the net.
This savage attack on the judicial system in Italy emerges to be an unsung masterpiece which sees director Risi and stars Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassaman at the top of their game. While necessarily talky and heavy-going, the film’s coup is in the way it makes various dense and relevant points on the state of the country at the time within the confines of a straight (and engrossing) thriller plot. The end result, therefore, offers stimulating characterization (by pitting the two leads against one another, Tognazzi as the dogged magistrate and Gassman as a smug industrialist-cum-murder suspect) alongside memorable – and often caustic – vignettes denouncing bureaucracy, big business, class and generational differences, and what have you. The director’s deft fusion throughout of the mundane with elements of outright fantasy, then, proves to be the icing on the cake – while, holding it all together, is a marvelous score by Carlo Rustichelli.
To name just a few significant moments: Tognazzi, taking a break from work to go fishing, sees his solitary puny catch being pinched by a hovering sea-gull…only to have the latter drop dead before his very eyes from the polluted waters (a result of the excess industrial waste being dumped into it by Gassman’s factory situated nearby!); Gassman being picked up for interrogation about the murder of a call girl (“Euro-Cult” starlet Ely Galleani) from a fancy-dress party, where he dons the outfit of an Ancient Roman soldier; the collapse of a structure within the law-courts building right at the moment when Tognazzi and an overly lenient colleague are having a noisy row; Gassman’s various disastrous attempts to provide an alibi for the night Galleani died (having failed to procure his senile card-playing father’s backing in this regard, he has him committed to a mental asylum!); an irrelevant but uproarious moment when, during a ceremony in which Gassman is himself a recipient, an elderly man falls flat on his face in the process of retrieving his own accolade.
But, undeniably, the highlights of the film are the definitive tete-a\’-tete between the leads on a rain-soaked, trash-covered beach (which Gassman has set up in an attempt to familiarize himself with – and, by extension, soften – the unflinching magistrate) and the surreal Fellini-esquire finale: as the whole case ostensibly comes crumbling down on Tognazzi, via the retrieved diary of Galleani, amid a rambunctious street festival on the occasion of Italy’s triumph over England in a soccer match; the extent of the magistrate’s bias/misguided zealousness is symbolized here by his seeing Gassman everywhere he looks, thus presenting an opportunity for the latter to indulge himself yet again in a number of grotesque make-ups a\’ la I MOSTRI (1963) – which, coincidentally, had preceded this very title in my ongoing Dino Risi tribute…
Subtitles:English, Spanish (muxed), English (srt)