IL BIDONE (“The Swindle”)
(directed by Federico Fellini, 1955)
***+ (out of 5)
> It’s interesting, and kind of strange, to see iconic Hollywood actors Broderick Crawford and Richard Basehart speaking badly dubbed Italian.
. I can understand their desire to work with this great director, and Fellini’s desire to boost international box office by casting such well-known names, but the dubbing of the Italian voices is just so careless and slapdash it’s hard to get beyond. No effort of any kind appears to have been made to match the words with the American actors’ lips. The result can’t have been completely palatable to either Italian or American audiences. Every scene just feels so… awkward and artificial, that it continually draws one away from the reality the great director was striving to establish. (Though Fellini embraced artifice, reveled in it, as in AMARCORD and JULIET OF THE SPIRITS) But once the viewer moves beyond this, there is so much to enjoy in this good-natured examination of three Roman con men applying their slippery trade in a swirl of Bacchanal celebration that brings to mind LA DOLCE VITA and modern Italian film THE GRAET BEAUTY.
. For these revelers, life is one big party. Their calculated scams are a game, they have no empathy for their victims seeing themselves as lovable rogues. Broderick Crawford is kind of lost here, but Richard Basehart gives one of his most memorable performances as a giddy grifter with a wife and child he adores, knowing he will someday lose them to his secret life of crime. Basehart has a very endearing drunk scene where this fine actor seems to really let down his guard and create a whole separate character, vulnerable and sweet for a man who does such bad things with no sense of remorse.
. This film is growing on me. It’s better than I thought at the time.
. The problem was the ending. Broderick Crawford does something that made NO FRIGGIN’ SENSE TO ME AT ALL setting up an ending that really soured me to an otherwise charming and delightful film. I can’t discuss it here without giving the climax away- but it just didn’t work for me. The character (and filmmaker, by extension) tries to have it both ways, and in the process- neither way makes any sense. This one-of-a-kind director was like that: a total iconoclast who didn’t care much about his audience. Fellini was going to do what Fellini was going to do, and either we crashed the party or we didn’t.
. I don’t think he much cared.
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