The Silence of the Hams

Il Silenzio dei Prosciutti opens with a shot of Venice, Italy, identified as Venice, California (double-parking in Los Angeles nowadays is like tying up your gondola outside your palazzo). Downtown it’s a typical day, New Yorkish sidewalk crowds ignore a thug beating two cops with a stick, but a video cameraman gives notes.

The top Homicide man (Stuart Pankin) leaves an inferno blazing in the men’s room behind him, then strides into the squad room and discusses his favorite spicy dish at some length, while a fireman in silver emergency clothes rushes to the pyre in the background.

The killer serves pretty girls up in the form of pizzas with titbits—an arm, a head, a thigh. Our sleuth (Billy Zane) confers with Dr. Animal Cannibal Pizza (Dom DeLuise) at the very heart and center of the madness.

You arrive at his lair like CONTROL, through a series of passageways and barriers and a three-star restaurant. He stands with his back to visitors, intuiting their presence falsely like a bad sideshow act.

This is one of DeLuise’s great turns, and you should not on any account (least of all what a newspaper hack writes) miss it. It’s a very strange thing, take it all around, that some of his best work is in great films that are overlooked somehow, like The Busy Body with Sid Caesar, Cannonball Run II, or Haunted Honeymoon. He launches into one of these burlesques with an uncanny reach of inspiration, incorporating the set and costumes and apparatus (a New York neurosis, a dead cat, a dress, or here dramatic underlighting) into the satire, it’s all weather to his sails, nothing burdens the vessel, on the contrary.

Then there is Phyllis Diller as the doddering aged headquarters secretary foisting coffee on everyone relentlessly, and Larry Storch just there to be dinged ineffably, and Mel Brooks with a knife in his back, and Martin Balsam likewise with a variety of implements.

Greggio’s best joke might be this sight gag, Balsam is in a phone booth at night calling a lady at home, split screen, a drunken bum lolls in behind the phone booth and totters into the boudoir, where he’s startled at first and then continues off and returns lugging a television set back to the other half of the screen which expands and leaves him confused and frustrated, like a maniac in the “Hollywood Nuthouse” here, or a film critic anywhere in the U.S.A.