Resurrected in 2007 to an enthusiastic reception at the 44th Annual New York Film Festival, Alberto Lattuada's mordant 1962 black comedy about a successful auto-factory foreman who gets entangled in his Sicilian roots is a small comic masterpiece that dares to deal with that of which many Sicilians dare not speak: the Mafia.
After years of nonstop toil at Milan's Fiat factory, department head Antonio "Nino" Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi, wonderful star of several early Fellini films) decides to take his wife, Marta (Norma Bengell), and their young daughters (Cinzia Bruno, Katiusca Piretti) on a two-week holiday to his tiny Sicilian hometown, Calamo, the same village that was once called home by the family of Nino's New Jersey-born boss, Dr. Zanchi (Armando Tine). Shortly before Nino's departure, Dr. Zanchi entrusts him with a small but valuable gift for Calamo patriarch Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio). Nino is thrilled to be home in the land of "the sun and Cyclops," but Marta, a northern-born blonde, is unsettled by the oppressive heat, the chilly reception she gets from Nino's disapproving mother, his one-handed father and his mustachioed sister (Gabriella Conti), and by the disturbing signs of violence beneath the village's sleepy surface. Nino dutifully delivers Dr. Zanchi's tribute to Don Vincenzo — whose businesses include facilitating profitable deals with mainland companies by torching local factories, and "administering" to estates that once belonged to Sicily's ancient nobility — and Vincenzo's congratulations on Nino's Milanese success are mixed with subtle reminders of the debt he owes for past generosity. During the chaotic years after WWII, 18-year-old Nino took an oath to be a picciotto d'onore: a child of honor. Nino mentions the trouble his father has been having with a landowner (Francesco Lo Briglio) over the sale of a stretch of property, and when the problem magically disappears, an eternally grateful Nino declares himself to be at the don's disposal — an obligation he'll be soon called to fulfill in a way neither he nor the audience could ever expect.
Scored by the great Piero Piccioni and written by Rafael Azcona and Marco Ferreri (LA GRANDE BOUFFE) and the famous screenwriting team of Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY), this mordantly funny film pokes fun at Sicilian life while offering a courageous glimpse into the workings of the real-life Mafia, one that bears little resemblance to the romance of the Sopranos and the Corleones. Breaking the code of silence that still surrounds Cosa Nostra really meant something in 1962, a time when few people were even willing to acknowledge the existence of an organization that would soon grow to destroy the quality of Sicilian life. Finally back in circulation after decades of obscurity, Lattuada's film belongs on a very short list of brave, truthful works that includes Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard and writer Leonardo Sciascia's metaphysical mysteries. Keep an eye peeled for Hugh Hurd, star of John Cassavete's 1960 debut feature, SHADOWS. leave a comment --Ken Fox