(director: Alberto Lattuada; screenwriters: Rafael Azcona/Marco Ferreri/Agenore Incrocci/Furio Scarpelli/based on a story by Bruno Caruso; cinematographer: Armando Nannuzzi; editor: Nino Baragli; music: Piero Piccioni; cast: Alberto Sordi (Antonio Badalamenti), Norma Bengell (Marta), Gabriella Conti (Rosalia), Ugo Attanasio (Don Vincenzo), Francesco Lo Briglio (Don Calogero), Carmelo Oliviero (Don Liborio), Cinzia Bruno (Donatella), Katiusca Piretti (Patrizia), Armando Tine (Dr. Zanchi), Lilly Bistrattin (Dr. Zanchi’s secretary); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Antonio Cervi; Criterion; 1962-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Brilliant neglected and underappreciated film about the Sicilian mafia.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Alberto Lattuada’s (“Stay as You Are”/”Sweet Deceptions”/”Riviera”) brilliant neglected and under-appreciated film about the Sicilian mafia is all of the following things rolled into one: a realistic crime film, a poignant character study, a witty satire of the different cultures and manners of the north and south of Italy, an ethnic black comedy and a disarming morality play. It’s based on a story by Bruno Caruso and written by Rafael Azcona, Marco Ferreri, Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli.
The cheerful, gabby and comically peppy Antonio “Nino” Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi, a Fellini-regular and big star in Italy) is a proud Sicilian efficiency expert who is a foreman in a huge Milan Fiat factory, who is married to a fashionable sexy blonde Northern woman named Marta (Norma Bengell), and has two sweet young blonde girls. The happy family man is excited about taking a two-week holiday (his first vacation ever, as he chose to skip his other vacations to pickup extra bonus money) to stay with his parents in his idealized primitive Sicilian hometown village of Calamo and let them meet his family at last, bursting with joy to show off his attractive wife and adorable daughters. The still feudal village is a place he left long ago, but only has fond memories of it.
The plant’s manager calls Nino into his office just before he departs and mentions his family’s roots are also in Antonio’s hometown, though he’s an émigré from Trenton, N.J., and asks him to deliver in person a gift-wrapped present to the town’s influential godfather, Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio, director Lattuada’s father-in-law). The local deal maker is someone Nino knows from his youth. When Nino was a teenager during World War II he ran errands for Don Vincenzo and was known for being trustworthy and an expert hunter; after the war, because of his loyalty, the Don helped him secure the Milan job that allowed him to considerably better himself.
Because of his wife’s Northern prejudices she at first is put off by the backward town and its strange customs and old-fashioned women who dress in black and are not allowed to smoke like the men, but she makes an effort to not be upset with all the different mannerisms of the locals in order to please her ebullient husband and wins the family over when she uses a wax treatment from Milan to remove the mustache from Nino’s unmarried sister (Gabriella Conti). The gregarious Nino receives a hearty vociferous welcome from his large extended family and his long-time local friends. Meanwhile Nino, filled with boyish enthusiasm about his return visit to a place he can find no faults with even if there are hints of violence and wrongs all around him, gleefully tells his questioning Milanese native wife that the island of Sicily and mainland Italy are as one when she sulks that they have left her beloved Italy.
Taking advantage of Nino’s blindness to the reality in Sicily of how things are run by the mafia, he’s suckered into doing the Don a favor after a dispute with a neighbor over the price of land that Nino wants to buy to build a holiday house that is settled favorably for him by the Don’s intervention and he tells the Don and his cunning captain Liborio (Carmelo Oliviero) that he would do anything for the Don in return. The Don takes him up on that, but what the favor is Nino has no idea as he’s hustled away from a hunting trip and flown in a crate to New York. By the time he finds out the favor, he’s in a NYC hotel with Italian-American mobsters and shown a home movie of an elderly mobster he must kill in a barbershop in Trenton because he betrayed the mafia. It’s a hit he must do and remain silent about afterwards or else he knows his family will never be safe.
Sordi gives an outstanding high energy and compelling performance of a sympathetic eccentric good-egg family man who slowly catches on that his sense of nostalgia for his birthplace is distorted, but tries to mask his disillusion as he returns to Milan after carrying out the hit and the tainted peaceful man tries to pick up where he left off before his ill-conceived vacation. A home visit that shows that one can never return home and find things the same, as now not even his new home in Milan will ever be the same for him.
Mafioso precedes The Godfather by a decade, but tells us secrets about that criminal organization and its compulsion for brotherhood and secrecy that the American film could not capture as fully as did this Italian film.
REVIEWED ON 12/15/2008 GRADE: A