The Elsie Beckmann Brigade

The opening of Damiano Damiani’s GIROLIMONI, THE MONSTER OF ROME (1972) is SO arresting. A line-up of little girls is issued with white TOBY DAMMIT bouncing balls and driven off in a black maria to act as bait for a serial killer.

And the movie continues to provide startling scenes throughout — what it can’t quite do is synthesise them into a wholly coherent drama. It is amazing how — and you wonder WHY — it manages to veer from horror (graphic descriptions of the killer’s child-mutilating technique) to comedy (star Nino Manfredi is an adept underdog). Manfredi plays a suave seducer to begin with, his attitude to the crimes one of morbid curiosity, his reaction to the cops’ suspicions one of arrogant amusement, not a very attractive character, but as his life disintegrates under the burden of unjust suspicion, his increasing vulnerability makes him more likable a, a smoothie battered into the shape of a schlemiel.

It’s a wild ride. There are some big problematic bits — the actor playing Mussolini (Luciano Catenacci) is quite strong and interesting but it’s an issue that he doesn’t look or act like Mussolini — but it’s an incredibly bold piece of writing with a beautiful seventies-does-twenties look, all soft-focus and deco. Of course, it’s nothing to THE CONFORMIST, but what is there to compare with that one?

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