Caught red-handed for a crime he swears he didn’t commit, the hopeful criminal mastermind and—for now—small-time thief, Cosimo, entrusts the square-jawed boxer, Peppe, with the plan for a seemingly fail-proof pawnshop heist on the quiet Madonna Street.
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The film’s climax is as meticulously staged and almost as long as the legendary half-hour heist sequence in Rififi, but replaces the Frenchmen’s laconic professionalism with the Italians’ noisy ineptitude. The use of arch, silent movie-style intertitles to further the narrative adds to the apparent air of mockery.
What is clear on a revelatory re-viewing [is] an uncompromising creativity that clearly didn’t seek solutions to the problems of story or of filmmaking but rather took up with its hero and subject and went with it, using its allegiance as a fund for inspiration and energy. The filmmaking doesn’t follow the subject: it is one with the subject.
One of the funniest Italian comedies ever made—certainly much funnier than the many imitations and remakes (i.e., rip-offs) it’s spawned over the years. Monicelli’s sense of character is priceless, and his fabulous cast—including Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, and Renato Salvatori—makes the most of it.