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BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatori, Memmo Carotenuto, Carlo Piscane, Tiberio Murgia, Marcello Mastroianni, Toto
Director:  Mario Monicelli
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  106 Minutes
Release Date:  June 5, 2001

“Hey, kid, do you know a guy named Mario that lives around here?”
“There are a thousand Marios!”
“This one’s a thief.”
“There are still a thousand.”


Film ****

Big Deal on Madonna Street is quite simply one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.  Endlessly clever, witty, and inventive, it spoofs heist flicks like The Killing or Rififi by following around a team of inept would-be criminals as they bungle their way towards pulling off the job that will keep them on easy street for the rest of their lives.

You don’t have to know anything about heist movies to appreciate Big Deal, but I’d wager fans of Rififi will get an even bigger kick out of it.  Both pictures feature a key sequence where a brilliant crime plan unfolds.  The only difference is in the characters who try to pull them off.

Cosimo (Carotenuto) is the man with the plan here, only when we first meet him, he’s heading off to prison for botching a car theft where he couldn’t stop the horn from going off.  In order to pull of the “job of the century”, he’s going to need to get out of prison early, and sends his aged partner Capanelle (Piscane) off with 100,000 lira to find a willing scapegoat.

Over the course of this futile action, a group of men is brought together, including Mario (Salvatore), a man who won’t go to jail because it would humiliate his mother, Ferribotte (Murgia), a fellow overprotective of his unwed sister whom Mario starts to woo behind his back, and Tiberio (Mastroianni), a down-on-his luck photographer with no camera taking care of his infant child while his wife’s in jail for smuggling cigarettes.  Who would look after the child if he went to jail, too?  “Send him to his mother in prison,” one suggests.  “He’s not going to prison until he gets older,” he retorts.

The final piece of the puzzle is an untalented boxer, Peppe (Gassman), who tries to take the rap for Cosimo, but ends up in jail beside him!  He gets out ahead of the boss, however, and decides to try and pull the caper himself with the motley crew of Cosmio’s men.

The idea is to rob a pawn shop of all its jewelry by entering through a thinly constructed wall that separates it from a vacant apartment.  Simple, yes?   You won’t believe the way fate, errors and incompetence cause these guys to repeatedly screw it up.

The laughs are relentless in this picture, coming in rapid fire fashion and in such a well constructed way that the next one continually tops the one before.  The comedy includes situational, verbal, and physical stylings.  You won’t believe, for example, the obligatory car chase (which, in this film, takes place with bumper cars), or the ironic justice Tiberio meets with after faking a broken arm in order to steal a camera to stake out the job.

As the old saying goes, “Nothing can be made foolproof because fools are so ingenious”.  This was never more true watching this hapless bunch try to pull off what should have been a simple caper (in scenes that must have inspired Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks).

Director and co-writer Mario Monicelli exhibits an expert sense of pacing and rhythm with this film.  It marches along at a good clip for the duration, never slowing down, never weakening, and never forgetting to go for the laugh.  His cast of actors is in top form here…they must have had the times of their lives making the picture.

Big Deal on Madonna Street is a perfect comedy…clever, well-paced, filled with great ideas and acted out by a superb troupe.  Best of all, it’s funny.  VERY funny.

Video ***

Criterion delivers again with another winning transfer for a classic black and white film.  Big Deal boasts terrific contrast and detail, with sharp images throughout and clean representations of blacks, whites and all the grays in between.  The print shows a little bit of age in the occasional appearance of specks and debris, but these are few and not distracting.  Overall, a commendable effort.

Audio **

The mono soundtrack serves the film well, with a fair amount of dynamic range and good clear rendering of the dialogue and jazzy musical score.  Some bits of background hiss are noticeable during the quieter scenes, but these aren’t anything to really worry about.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

One of the best comic capers I’ve ever seen, Big Deal on Madonna Street delivers a payload of laughs and entertainment with a great cast, creative director, and clever spoofing of a popular film genre.  If you like to laugh, you’ll love this film.