(director/writer: Jules Dassin; screenwriters: from the novel “La Loi” by Roger Vailland/Franoise Giroud/Diego Fabbri; cinematographer: Otello Martelli; editors: Roger Dwyre/Mario Serandrei; music: Roman Vlad; cast: Gina Lollobrigida (Mariette), Pierre Brasseur (Don Cesare), Marcello Mastroianni (Enrico Tosso, the Engineer), Melina Mercouri (Donna Lucrezia), Yves Montand (Matteo Brigante), Raf Mattioli (Francesco Brigante), Vittorio Caprioli (Attilio, the Inspector), Lidia Alfonsi (Giuseppina), Gianrico Tedeschi (First Loafer), Nino Vingelli (Pizzaccio), Paolo Stoppa (Tonio), Anna Arena (Anna, wife of the police inspector), Luisa Ravelli (Elvira), Teddy Bilis (The Judge); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jacques Bar/Maleno Malenotti; Oscilloscope Laboratories; 1959-France/Italy/USA-in French with English subtitles)

The title, The Law, refers to a cynical power drinking game.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Expatriate American filmmaker Jules Dassin (“Naked City”/”Brute Force”/”Rififi”) was subject to a witch-hunt by the HUAC although he long ago quit the Communist Party he joined in the 1930s. Nevertheless he was blacklisted from films by Hollywood and therefore fled in self-exile to France to pursue his career in 1951. This randy political operatic comedy, The Law, was based on the 1957 novel “La Loi” by Roger Vailland and was written by Dassin. In the end, after some hammy acting and a none too subtle attempt to show how justice is not served for everyone, it gets to Dassin’s liberal hopes for no more bosses.

It was filmed on location in Sicily. In Europe it was released as The Law, while in America it wasn’t released until after Dassin’s Never on Sunday proved to be a commercial hit and it was re-titled Where The Hot Wind Blows. The title, The Law, refers to a cynical power drinking game native to southern Italy that’s called “La Passatella.” The arbitrary rules are loosely kept, but the game always involves a boss and his deputy who can deny liquor to some other players until they submit to humiliating tasks. The idea is to reinforce that everyone must know their place and the boss must be respected.

It’s set in the backward impoverished Mediterranean Sicilian fishing village of Porto Monacore. A handsome young Northern government agriculture engineer named Enrico Tosso (Marcello Mastroianni) has been contracted to drain the marshes to prevent malaria. To ensure he gets the cooperation of the village boss, he visits the elderly wheel-chair bound patrician landowner and town boss Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur), who takes pride in his Greek art collection, and while there is attracted to one of the servants, the sexy teenager Mariette (Gina Lollobrigida), whom he wishes to hire as a housekeeper. The feisty Mariette refuses to be his servant, and instead wishes that he marry her. Mariette’s harpy mom and sisters also work for Don Cesare and put the pressure on her to get the wages and share it with them. Instead the strong-willed Mariette plans to get a dowry and, to get some cash, seduces a group of local teens to steal the police motorcycle and then to sell it. In a cartoonish way the lads walk around town singing songs they make up as events unfold.

When the local gangster, Matteo Brigante (Yves Montand), connected with the lecherous police inspector (Vittorio Caprioli), who is carrying on an affair with his sister-in-law (Lidia Alfonsi), retrieve the stolen motorbike at its hiding place, the feisty Mariette goes to Plan B and steals the wallet of a Swiss tourist who carelessly leaves it in his coat pocket to cover his child sleeping in the station wagon while he attends a local feast with his wife. The mustached and facially scarred Matteo is jealous of Don Cesare and unsuccessfully tries to win over the flirty Gina and pressure his handsome fisherman son Francesco (Raf Mattioli) to finish law school. While the much older Lucrezia (Melina Mercouri, the Greek actress to be the director’s wife in 1966) pines for the 22-year-old Francesco and feels ashamed she married for convenience the ugly shrimp local judge (Teddy Bilis) she never loved.

It ends by wrapping everything up in a pat way, as the messy film seems too frivolous to be taken as a serious work. The fun was mostly in watching Gina show off her cleavage while she prances about in the village.