27 September 2007 | Bunuel1976
THE RIP-OFF (Luciano Ercoli, 1977) ***
This delightful caper spoof was one of the most pleasant "Euro-Cult" surprises I've had in recent times, especially when considering that it could have been lost to us altogether: it's ironic not to say chilling that reality would imitate art so soon afterwards (the plot involves a kidnapping, and the producer was himself the victim of one in real-life, causing the film's release to be unceremoniously cancelled!).
I've always felt that the film's star, Walter Chiari, was the poor man's Vittorio Gassman: he's wonderful here, though and, in fact, his character (a would-be crook modeling himself on Alain Delon) especially recalls Gassman's stuttering mastermind in Mario Monicelli's classic BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (1958). The rest of the cast is equally well chosen: Maurizio Arena (a chubby song-and-dance man in a run-down variety act), Ettore Manni (a henpecked and alcoholic restaurant owner), Marisa Merlini (Arena's possessive mother), Susan Scott (as a prostitute and Chiari's old flame), Vittorio Caprioli (an irritable wealthy industrialist whose son is the kidnap victim), Franca Valeri (his wife, who strikes a deal with Chiari's gang for half the ransom price!), Venantino Venantini (as the French gangster behind the kidnapping and who has a penchant for S&M games the most memorable involving his private parts and a suitcase! which Scott is all-too-happy to oblige).
Chiari devises an elaborate scheme to double-cross the kidnappers by following their every move via a number of vehicles (car hidden in moving van, motorcycle stashed in car boot, etc.); the film's comedy quotient (both verbal and visual) is consistent and generally inspired with perhaps the most hilarious running-gag being the car about to pursue the kidnappers tumbling sideways out of the van onto the pavement. Though suffering from the occasional longueur due to excessive length, the film is buoyed by a most pleasant score from Gianni Ferrio; ultimately, THE RIP-OFF emerged as a more satisfying effort than the gialli for which director Ercoli (whose last film this proved to be) is best known!