An ineluctable mystery, plain as day. Back into the past goes the Milanese auto works floor supervisor, to the town of his childhood in Sicily, on vacation with his wife and two small daughters. The factory owner is an American from New Jersey but ultimately a Sicilian with the same home town. A gift is conveyed for Don Vincenzo there.

Nothing has changed in Calamo, the comedy grotesques and Sordi’s performance anticipate Gene Wilder. As a young man at the end of the war, the supervisor was a lookout for cosa nostra, he honors Don Vincenzo, who packs him in a crate on a jet to deliver a letter.

He’s unpacked in Manhattan, shown a home movie, driven to North Bergen, given a pistol and told to shoot the man in the barber chair. And now he’s back in Sicily, supplied with hunting garb and fresh game for his alibi. At the sight of his sleeping wife and children, he weeps.

At the factory, he returns a pen he walked off with. “If there were more people like you,” says the accountant, “the world would be a better place.”

The triple form of realism perfectly photographed, comedy flawlessly played, and surrealism abruptly applied, makes for a masterpiece derived (like The Godfather and Get Carter) from Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi, which treats of wartime as a gangster affair. Lattuada throws the whole thing into a nightmare of exactitude and vivid remembrance, a civilian called up to do his duty and launched into battle according to anyone’s succinct account of the experience, on a princely grievance.

Kafka used to laugh at his own stories, he was an artist down to his fingertips, as the saying is, his elaborate constructions are for a reason, they give the thing its proper perspective, its own unfolding or unfurling or deployment. This has something of Menzies’ Things to Come, if you will. The backward telling allows Don Vincenzo to be thanked at once for help in obtaining the Milan position, so that Lattuada is always aware of the nightmare’s locus. The clean lines do not obstruct the symbolism with anything like an administrative gloss, the letter is torn up in a Manhattan hotel room by its recipient, an older man who doesn’t even bother to open it but gives the supervisor a long kiss on the lips and shows him a film of the target.

At Calamo, the relatives are greeted like Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows with ecstatic emotion. The former chums make the same sand woman on the beach. The supervisor’s beautiful wife is carefully shepherded from them, but with a laugh.

Northerners do not understand the Sicilian way of life, the sane and happy man rejoices in the memories, plucks mussels out of the sea, enjoys his vacation. The wife sticks out at first and cries but warms to it, she is admitted to be brava when she helps the young woman of the house to shed a hirsute appearance. The girls enjoy the beach and sun, after the strangeness of cuisine and the hot town streets with death markers fill them with ennui.

The exact relationship with Don Vincenzo is expressed by him when the request is made, “Mama commands, Baby obeys.” It’s on these loving terms that amicability and devotion are pressed into service.

Piccioni’s great syncopated theme drinks a brindisi to the beauty of the factory in motion and of modern design, abstract parts cleanly painted lean like statuary, a chassis curves along an overhead track like a dancing girl, and to the men who work there, like the man at a stamping press who is timed by the supervisor and told to slow down (this initiates the nightmare) a second or two so the work can be accomplished correctly, the hole he is cutting must be allowed to clear and he runs the risk of having one in his thumb instead. The supervisor imparts a rhythm for the work and walks on with clipboard and stopwatch. The same advice is given him over the Hudson in New Jersey, relax and be the first to shoot.

The film was well-enough received by the New York Times on its initial release, and probably remembered in Boorman’s Deliverance.


Fršulein Doktor

A legend, after Pabst et al., of the morphine-soothed German spy in World War I.

She sinks Kitchener, steals the French poison gas formula, finds out Allied plans for defense of the “Western Front”, evades British Intelligence and is decorated by Ludendorff.

Related films include Marquand’s Eye of the Needle and Powell’s The Spy in Black, also Chudnow’s The Doberman Gang for the schematic practice run against Belgian HQ. Critics were generally diffident.

Monthly Film Bulletin, “Lattuada is well below form with this curiously disjointed revamping”.


Stay the Way You Are

The hopeless plight of a Roman architect with a wife who has hobbies, a guest in his own home.

His new mistress might be his own daughter by a former flame who walked out on him just as this one does, in a movie theater (Dreyer’s Vampyr).

∆stheticism of a certain kind is also promulgated by a matronly client.

A naked girl on a rocking-horse is the sufficient image.

“Interesting ambitions”, said Janet Maslin (New York Times), “and not much follow-through”.

The English dub of Cosi come sei.