Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Recommended for Your Viewing Pleasure: Il vigile (1960)

Il vigile (1960) uses a lively 5-minute tracking shot to acquaint the viewer with its obnoxious know-it-all lead character, Otello Celletti (Alberto Sordi).  Otello, sent by his wife to buy milk, jauntily makes his way down the street and manages to annoy the various people he encounters.  The man has no good qualities that can be seen.  He is vain, tactless, lazy, and ungracious.  He hasn't had a job in four years and has had to rely on his relatives to feed and house his family.  His son, capable and sensible beyond his years, earns money as a mechanic.  He acts like a responsible adult while his father acts like a silly child. 

Andrea Bini, the author of Male Anxiety and Psychopathology in Film: Comedy Italian Style, wrote:
[Otello] is reduced to living the role of the child in his family, a disposition of authority represented by the motorcycle, which is handled by his son with a professional ability.  The father-son roles are completely reversed, to the point that his son Remo complains that he is disturbing him and does not let the father turn the motorcycle on.
Otello eventually fulfills his wish to be a traffic cop.  The town's mayor (Vittorio De Sica) finds this arrogant, oblivious fool to be a constant irritant, much like Herbert Lom's Chief Inspector Dreyfus later found Peter Sellers' arrogant, oblivious fool Inspector Clouseau to be a constant irritant.

I wrote in my book "I Won't Grow Up!" that Jerry Lewis cast himself in the role of America's postwar manchild.  Sordi was Italy's postwar manchild, a role that he firmly established in Il seduttore (1954) and L'arte di arrangiarsi (1955).  The bloody defeat that Italy suffered in the war had the greatest impact on young Italian men, who felt dispossessed, confused and humiliated.  Bini wrote:
What makes Il vigile a comedy Italian style lies in the humoristic representation of a disoriented man lost in postwar Italy, a man who is enduring an identity crisis similar to that of the other characters played by Sordi in the early to mid-1950s.

Bini saw Sordi as a new type of film comedian.  She wrote:
Differing from Totò, Chaplin, and the like, Sordi is the first comedian to use eccentric characterization to represent average members of society rather than limiting eccentricity to the depiction of outsiders unwilling and unable to adapt to social norms.  Sordi's humor is always disturbing – whence his scant success for many years – because he is one of us, like us, so that the typical scapegoat mechanism in which we laugh at the comic butt as deviant does not apply.
. . .

We saw that the protagonist in a commedia may be funny and often become the butt of slapstick moments.  This is, however, only a temporary condition – the sign that they still lack the maturity and the social identity they will eventually assume – the ending of the commedia is happy but not "funny."  This situation of psychological and social confusion is essential in classic comedy plots, only to be followed by the restablishment of the harmony between the desires of the individual and the rules of the community.  In contrast, Sordi introduces a new type of character, and therefore a new type of comedy, where this maturation process, which requires the integration of desires within the social norm, is disavowed.  With Sordi, the maturation of the protagonist fails, revealing a basic condition of neurosis and even manifestations of psychosis.  For this reason, Grande called commedia all'italiana "the epic of failure seen not like a mechanism that introduces to adulthood and 'teaches' access to society anymore (as in classical comedy), but as a permanent condition of living with no center or periphery" (2003, 87).  With movies such as Un eroe dei nostri tempi, L'arte di arrangiarsi, and many others, Sordi established in Italian cinema his unsympathetic characters who reflect "the behavior of the middle-class Italian in the exhausting search for a new moral identity" (Brunetta 1991, 324).  Sordi gave voice and body to a new Italian male who knows no duties, only desires: he is childish, conformist, cowardly, irresponsible, and sly.

Il vigile takes a significant turn when the zealous police officer issues the mayor a traffic ticket.  The mayor, in a rush to see his mistress, failed to slow his car as he approached a dangerous curve.  But the mayor, regardless of his guilt, is outraged to receive a ticket.  Otello is, as usual, oblivious.  The rookie officer believes that he is just doing his duty and assumes the mayor is only pretending to be angry to test his commitment to his job.  The mayor suddenly loses patience and drives off.  Otello, determined to enforce the law, speeds after him on his motorcycle and catches up with him at the mistress' villa.  It is an awkward scene to say the least.

The mayor fires Otello the next day, which stirs up a public scandal.  This absurd situation is based on a real-life incident in which a police officer, Ignazio Melon, issued a traffic ticket to Rome's Police Chief, Carmel Marzano.  The ticket didn't infuriate Marzano as much as the fact that one of his own officers failed to recognize him. 

In the film, the mayor has his staff devote their time to digging up dirt on Otello and his family.  They learn that Othello's sister is a prostitute in Milan, his brother-in-law supplies his butcher shop with untaxed and uninspected meat purchased off the black market, his father was in military prison for three years for being drunk on guard duty and shooting at the king, and Otello never married his wife (she was married to a man who abandoned her and fled to Africa).  Otello is crushed.  He realizes that his family's reputation will be destroyed if he challenges the mayor in court.  Otello, for all of his flaws, suddenly appears noble compared to the pompous, adulterous and vindictive mayor. 

Many of Sordi's films involved corrupt public officials.  The actor alternated between playing the corrupt official and a victim of the corrupt official. 

Sordi, a film star in Italy for nearly a half a century, had a career that few could match.  Sordi had his first starring role in Mamma mia, che impressione! (1951). . .

 and his last starring role in Incontri proibiti (1998).

Reference source

Andrea Bini, Male Anxiety and Psychopathology in Film: Comedy Italian Style.  New York, N. Y.: Springer (2015).

In addition. . .

Alberto Sordi in Due notti con Cleopatra (1954)

Plot summary: Cleopatra (Sophia Loren) conceals her absences from the palace by having a double take her place.  A Roman soldier (Sordi) encounters the double and begins an affair with her without realizing her true identity.

No comments:

Post a Comment