Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Most caper films of the 1950s finished with the criminals dead or being locked up for long prison terms, and the original 1958 comedy I soliti ignoti, a.k.a. Big Deal on Madonna Street saw the hapless photograper-cum-burglar played by Marcello Mastroianni sent off to the Big House, Italian style.
The title of this follow-up farce says 'twenty years later' but it's really a twenty-seventh anniversary reunion for several surviving cast members of the original heist film. The comic actor Tot&orave; died in 1967 but Vittorio Gassman, Tiberio Murgia and Gina Rovere are back to add nostalgic weight to a rather light tale of clumsy criminality.
Twenty years after going up the river for robbery, Tiberio (Marcello Mastroianni) emerges from prison to find that his wife Teresa (Gina Rovere) is living with another man. The son he never knew has grown up into a 'sissy' and all of his old photography equipment is long gone. Tiberio reluctantly goes to work smuggling for his old crony Peppe the Panther (Vittorio Gassman) even though he's terrified of being caught. Peppe has contracted to slip contraband currency into Yugoslavia but suffers a stroke -- and Tiberio must improvise on his own.
Tiberio pops out of prison to find his crooked pals Peppe the Panther and Michele Ferribote (Tiberio Murgia) urging him to join them in a new criminal enterprise. He flatly refuses until he finds out that his beloved Teresa (a much heavier but still-loveable Gina Rovere) has been lying to him all these years. To pay the bills and put their son Brunino (Giorgio Gobbi) through school, she's accepted the bed of a hulking boarder. Incensed, Tiberio finds that he can no longer make a living even as a street sneak thief. A lot more has changed. The once-wild Ferribote has been tamed by his feminist sister (Rita Savagnone), and young Brunino may be a homosexual. Tiberio's immediate response to that news is to hook Brunino up with Marisa (Clelia Rondinella), a virtuous abandoned mother.
Big Deal on Madonna Street 20 Years Later is a slapstick farce that tries but doesn't make deeper emotional connections. Before Peppe has his stroke, Tiberio tries to get in on the smuggling job by dressing up as a woman. Other comedy touches are less silly but are also lacking in ambition. Tiberio assembles a fake family to pose as day-tripping vacationers into Yugoslavia. It includes his son Brunino, old crony Ferribote and a 'borrowed' mother-in-law who insists on stopping at regular intervals to watch her television soap operas. Marisa comes along for the ride with her baby, giving Tiberio an opportunity to solve Brunino's sexual identity problem at the same time.
The idea of a good father 'curing' his son of a lack of heterosexual impulses is more than a little dubious and makes 20 Years Later seem twenty years behind the times. That, and the fact that Tiberio is inviting Brunino and the innocent Marisa along on a crime that could ruin their lives, keep Big Deal on Madonna Street 20 Years Later from winning us over. The movie is serious enough to make us worry about Tiberio's glaring irresponsibility. The cowardly crook faints when confronted by a friendly customs inspector, but we're no longer in a mood to laugh.
The film has a shaky resolution as well. The smuggling comes off, even though we're certain that the criminals will double-cross Tiberio once he's delivered the goods. Only Peppe, who stays behind recuperating from his stroke, ends up paying a penalty in the film's oddly upsetting finale.
Marcello Mastroianni does some funny clowning and Vittorio Gassman reprises his stuttering act from the first film, back when both were on the brink of major stardom. Only a couple of inter-cuts are used to remind audiences of the original B&W movie. It was director Mario Monicelli's biggest success, and Amanzio Todini can't be blamed that the sequel doesn't live up to it. Big Deal on Madonna Street 20 Years Later shows Tiberio reacting to the sight of a city transformed by tall apartment buildings but the best it can do to express cultural changes are jokes about TV soaps and the younger generation becoming unwed mothers and sissies. A much better Mastroianni seriocomedy about changing times is 1990's Stanno tutte bene (Everybody's Fine) by Giuseppe Tornatore.
Koch Lorber's DVD of Big Deal on Madonna Street 20 Years Later is an indifferent non-enhanced encoding with weak color. The tape master looks to be an older transfer for television. An Italian trailer is included.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Big Deal on Madonna Street 20 Years Later rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Good --
Supplements: Italian trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 10, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson