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GRIM REAPER, THE (La Commare Secca)(director/writer: Bernardo Bertolucci; screenwriters: Sergio Citti/based on the story by Pier Paolo Pasolini; cinematographer: Giovanni Narzisi; editor: Nino Baragli; music: Piero Piccioni/Carlo Rustichelli; cast: Carlotta Barilli (Serenella), Lorenza Benedetti (Milly), Clorinda Celani (Soraya), Vincenzo Ciccora (Mayor), Alvaro D’Ercole (Francolicchio), Giancarlo De Rosa (Nino), Gabriella Giorgelli (Esperia), Romano Labate (Pipito), Alfredo Leggi (Bustelli), Santina Lisio (Esperia’s mother), Allen Midgette (Soldier), Ada Peragostini (Maria), Emy Rocci (Domenica), Wanda Rocci (Prostitute), Silvio Laurenzi (Homosexual), Renato Troiani (Natalino), Francesco Ruiu (Canticchia); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Antonio Cervi; The Criterion Collection; 1962-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Never loses its grip on the viewer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An auspicious film debut for the 21-year-old Italian writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci (“Before the Revolution”/”The Conformist”/”Last Tango in Paris”). It’s cowritten by Sergio Citti and based on the story by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It’s essentially a police procedural story involving a murder of a prostitute. The spare black-and-white film sets a chilling lyrical mood over the human condition, as it’s filmed in a dramatic documentary-style that never loses its grip on the viewer though it wavers from time to time with each episode.

It opens with a prostitute (Wanda Rocci) found brutally murdered in a park along the banks of the Tiber River in Rome. The police bring in a number of suspects identified as being in the park at the time of the evening murder and question them individually. Through flashback we learn a lot about the screwed up lives of the suspects, all pretty rotten individuals and born liars. The investigation eventually brings forth an eyewitness, a homosexual (Silvio Laurenzi) ripped off by the teenage suspects, who identifies the suspected killer. When nabbed all the man from the north could utter was that “She was a whore!” The suspects include an unsympathetic country bumpkin youngster (Francesco Ruiu) ineptly trying to steal from distracted lovers in the park, a 30-year-old ex-con now a reformed thief but a pimp (Alfredo Leggi) who rebels at being dominated by his overbearing prostitute girlfriend (Gabriella Giorgelli), a simple-minded soldier (Allen Midgette) from the south with nothing to do on leave but harass women in the street and sleep on the park bench, a creepy looking man in clogs (Renato Troiani) running past the sleeping soldier with something concealed under his coat, and a couple of confused teens (Alvaro D’Ercole & Romano Labate) looking for easy money to buy food for their dates.

The title is derived from a quotation that appears in the conclusion “And already the skinny gossip of Giulia Street raises her scythe.” The quote was used by Pasolini in his novel “Ragazzi di vita” that was lifted from a sonnet by 19th-century poet Giuseppe Giocchino Belli.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”