Back in the ’60s, postwar Italian cinema flooded American art houses with masterpieces by the greats: Rosselini, Visconti, De Sica, Fellini, and Antonioni. Meanwhile, in Italy, moviegoers favored less heady fare, such as the popular comedies by mainstream directors: Mario Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), Pietro Germi’s Divorce, Italian Style (1961), Alberto Lattuada’s Mafioso (1962), newly restored here for DVD release. Lattuada, like the others, was no auteur; he helmed workmanlike films over a long career with no consistent style or theme, much to the chagrin of trendy critics of the time, who venerated personal visions. But that didn’t prevent Lattuada from creating a number of excellent films, most especially this early and unusual view of the Sicilian Mafia. Italy’s well-known funnyman Alberto Sordi plays a vain and self-satisfied technocrat in Milan’s industrial North. Eight years away from his roots in rural Sicily, he’s acquired a beautiful blonde wife and two adorable daughters, all of whom are about to meet his family back home for the first time. Bathed in nostalgia, the trip to Sicily shifts smartly from the opening factory montage, seducing viewers with the languid camera work. But things soon turn strange and violent, as the proud and successful company man, a comic figure throughout most of the film, is obliged to repay a long-ago favor to the local don. And Lattuada’s lens discovers yet another landscape, a bright urban scene that covers some very dark doings. This brilliantly paced piece, with its visual surprises and perfect performances, proves that even a crowd-pleasing director can make a genuine work of art. –
About the Writer
Thomas DePietro, a former contributing editor of Kirkus Reviews, has also published in Commonweal, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review. He recently edited Conversations with Don DeLillo, and his book on Kingsley Amis is forthcoming.