Big Deal on Madonna Street – I Soliti Ignoti (Mario Monicelli – 1958)
On one hand you can look at this film and say it’s all about men camaraderie in effort to solve an economical problem, and indeed the relationships among the protagonists run the gamut from support, anger, humor, and compassion.
And yet, this film is known as the first to usher the Italian Comedy (Commedia All’Italiana) genre of the late 50’s that lasted until the 70’s. Director Mario Monicelli provides a unique opportunity to see in one film some of the biggest names in Italian cinema; comedian Totò, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale in a minor role that started her career.
The film combines stylistic choices from the Italian neorealism, postwar film noir in the US and France, packed with a fine dose of comedy of errors. This mixed bag of styles provides the film with a sense of lightness and parody, specifically about Rififi, a French melodrama that was a big hit in those days in Italy.
I especially liked the jazzy soundtrack by Piero Umiliani that supports the plot’s rapid pace as the mastermind scheme to break a safe of a pawnshop in Rome, is “scientifically” planned and then hilariously executed.
Some of the scenes feels almost like a Pink Panther cartoon, as Cosimo (Memmo Carotenuto) attempts to rob a bank, covers his pistol under a newspaper approaches the counter with the barrel showing and asks the clerk “Do you know what’s that?” hoping to alarm the clerk to submit the cash. But surprisingly, the clerk calmly responds by taking the pistol from him and knowingly declaring the pistol’s model number and make. Cosimo with wide-eye shock immediately scurries away.
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The film’s title “I Soliti Ignoti” (The Usual Unknowns) derives from a newspaper jargon that describes crimes executed by unknown criminals. The film had a sequel in 1985, named “Big Deal on Madonna Street – 20 years later,” directed by Amanzio Todini.