Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big Deal on Madonna Street

Mario Monicelli, 1959, Italy, bw (8.5*)

This spoof of heist films is one of the funniest Italian films ever made. If you've seen the French heist classic Rififi, you'll understand Monicelli's aim here - if you haven't, you'll still be able to appreciate this gang of low-budget crime misfits attempting a major jewel robbery, from the discovery stage, through the planning, then the execution.

A terrific all-star cast is led by Vittorio Gassman as the plan's leader, as he was given the details in prison from another convict who thought Gassman had been denied parole. When out, he recruits a local gang of cons who are all out of jail, including Marcello Mastrianni and Claudia Cardinale. Let's just say that none of the criminals is the sharpest tack in the drawer, so when they are all together it becomes a comedy of errors. Much of the humor is visual, and I found myself laughing out loud several times, which is rare for me, as most comedy is based on terrible one-line jokes and people being drunk.

As Rififi was an early heist classic that "defined the mold", Big Deal is one of the first spoofs of the newly popular genre, so it too defined a style that was later often repeated, with films such as Topkapi and Mad Mad Mad Mad World - think Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness, and the Ealing Brothers (The Ladykillers). Pure entertainment, a must-see classic of this style, and an Oscar® nominee for foreign language film.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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