Thursday, March 2, 2017

What's the Big Deal?

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) exists partly as an Italian parody of French heist films like Rififi. It also exists to give some Italians free rein to be funny.

It starts with a guy getting arrested trying to steal a car in Rome. In prison, he begs his wife and lawyer to break him out, because another prisoner has told him about a perfect target for a heist. So they go looking for a scapegoat, a fall guy to confess to the crime and do the time.

This is a nice little aimless section where we travel around looking for lowlifes willing to go to prison for a while in exchange for some money. One guy is already locked up, another can't afford a third strike, a photographer (Marcello Mastroianni!) has to look after his ever-crying baby because his wife's in prison. Finally, losing boxer Vittorio Gassman agrees. Except the judge locks him and the car thief up.

But Gassman gets out with the secret, and they begin to plan the heist - scientifically. The plan is to break into a pawnshop through the wall in the uninhabited apartment next door. They steal a movie camera to film the pawnbrokers from a roof across the way, in classic heist movie style. Of course, Mastroianni added a few shots of his baby, and when the safe was being opened, a bra on a clothesline got in the way of the shot. Oh well, that's science.

I don't really recognize many of the actors, outside of Mastroianni, but Claudia Cardinale shows up in one of her first roles as the sister that one of the gang tries to keep sequestered, and another tries to date. It's a small role but it makes an impression.

But everyone is good here. It's sweet and not all that subtle, but funny. Even if you haven't seen Rififi.

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