Archive for I Soliti Ignoti

The Sunday Intertitle: The Big Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 8, 2018 by dcairns

BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET / I SOLITI IGNOTI (Mario Monicelli) works as a parody of RIFIFI and as a yarn in its own right, a tricky task since it all has to fizzle out in a display of incompetence and bad luck, without seeming like a complete let-down.

Great films tend to come out of nations brimming with self-confidence, though there needs to be an ability to question things too. Post-war Italy would seem to have the right circumstances — they’d just won a war, though admittedly using the technique of changing sides midway which had worked so well for them in WWI. They had a new democracy. And they had the economic miracle. Things were going so well financially that neo-realism had to evolve into something else because its pessimism was unsustainable. A more mordant, cynical attitude, however, was possible.

The premise of BDOMS seems to be that if RIFIFI (more-or-less explicitly referenced in the dialogue) happened in Italy, the “scientific” heist would totally miscarry, the heisters defeated not by existential noir fatalism and external forces but by their own bungling. In RIFIFI there are rival gangs. IN BDOMS there’s the ousted former ringleader, but instead of ruining their schemes he’s removed from the narrative by a ridiculous/tragic accident. The whole plot is a series of dead ends like his, winding up in a baffled little newspaper story that gives the movie its original title (PERSONS UNKNOWN).

It’s very funny — the humour comes from an eye-rolling awareness of human folly, but there’s a lot of sympathy too — crime is a “left-handed form of human endeavour” as Huston put it, and there’s no moral judgement on the shady heroes. Crime seems like their best hope to get on in a difficult world, only they’re no damn good at it.

The intermittent intertitles add further ironic amusement.