25 June 2008 | Bunuel1976
I MOSTRI (Dino Risi, 1963) ***
This is considered a classic of Italian comedy – one of many anthologies satirizing their way of life while showcasing the versatile talents of particular stars (in this case, Vittorio Gassman and Ugo Tognazzi); director Risi would himself later make the similarly episodic I COMPLESSI (1965), SESSOMATTO (1973) and this film’s own sequel, I NUOVI MOSTRI (1977) – which, quite surprisingly, was a Best Foreign Language Academy Award nominee the following year.
As with most films of its type, quality varies throughout the 20(!) episodes – some of these are so short that they’re over before having even begun, while others work their way to a punchline which can be seen coming a mile off; however, a fair number of them are genuinely inspired and side-splitting to boot (the general tone throughout, as befits the title, is one of irreverence). A few episodes include other name performers – such as Michele Mercier and Lando Buzzanca – but it’s Gassman and Tognazzi’s show all the way (the two appear either separately or as a team). Armando Trovajoli’s upbeat score (which is mixed with a handful of current hit songs) is the perfect accompaniment to this entertaining and well-made compilation.
My favorite episodes are the following: the opening one – in which scoundrel Tognazzi’s schooling of his nerd-ish son (real-life offspring Ricky, later an actor and director in his own right) works all too well, to his own personal detriment; another where a gang of ‘thugs’ including Gassman kidnap an old lady (apparently for the nth time)…as it transpires not for ransom purposes but, rather, so that she can perform a dangerous and humiliating stunt involving a wheelchair-bound woman being thrown into a pool in a film whose director is Gassman himself (in another role)!; also, a courtroom drama in which simple-minded Tognazzi’s voluntary testimony is turned against him by the underhanded tactics of the defense counsel (a flamboyant Gassman); the most famous episode, then, is the concluding one with the stars as a couple of boxers way past their prime who decide to try their luck at the game one last time (with Gassman in the ring and Tognazzi as his manager) – we last see them flying a kite on the beach, Gassman having taken such a severe beating that he is reduced to a vegetable!
Other notable skits include the titular episode where a murderer is captured by a couple of cops – except that these are so ugly that one wonders who The Monster actually is!; one involving a soldier (Tognazzi) who meekly presents his deceased sister’s diary to a newspaper, ostensibly the one she was most sympathetic to herself…except that it eventually transpires that he was merely interested in how much he could make out of the salacious memoirs and that he naturally would let them go only to the highest bidder!; yet another deals with Gassman, living in the slums with a plethora of kids and relatives, cursing his rotten luck – and, yet, has no qualms about spending his measly pay on soccer matches every Sunday (where he contrives to forget all his misery and lets rip with enthusiasm for the game)! Two (minor) episodes, then, play with issues of gender and sexual orientation: in one Gassman even appears in drag as a female literary critic (who awards the “Book Of The Month” prize to none other than her own protégé, a novice author!), and in another Tognazzi and Gassman play beach studs who discover they have greater affection for each other than their possible ‘preys’!