A switch from dour drama to caustic satire for Pietro Germi, only now the weight of the institutionalized corruption and decadence that he's been scrutinizing rests on the sloped shoulders of Marcello Mastroianni, effetely slicked dark hair and mustache, cigarette holder and heavy eyelids, contemplating Sicilian fields from a moving train. A baron, close to forty, virtually ruined but left with a spacious home full of relatives and decaying elegance; Daniela Rocca is his wife of a million irritations, from the hairs above her lips to her braying cackle to her tiny coffee sips from his cup. In his mind, where the film takes refuge, he has long dumped her stabbed corpse inside a boiling caldron, yet in reality he is stuck with rigid matrimonial laws that forbid divorce -- meanwhile, Stefania Sandrelli, his luscious cousin, picks flowers in the garden next door, a vision of female purity clinching the Nabokovian joke. Muggy heat hovers over latent murder, as it should for Mastroianni's early draft of his Meursault for Visconti's The Stranger, cannily pantomimed; the courts go light on killing executed in the heat of passion, and he scans opera house and church for a potential lover for his wife so he can reach for the pistol. Painter Leopoldo Trieste gets picked for the plan, and soon he and Rocca are put together in the same room, nudged into adultery as Mastroianni listens through the hidden recorder. He rewinds the conversation and the image rewinds along with it, segueing into the central self-reflexive trope, a provincial screening of La Dolce Vita, fully condemned by the town's twin poles, the pulpit and the Marxist office. Sardonic velvet served by Germi with gliding technique, on the surface closer to Ealing than to Cinecitta, heir to Sturges and forefather to Axelrod yet Italian (or Germiesque, more specifically) to its very fingertips. Amid local cappos and macho codes, the wormy nonhero, a product of a hypocritical system, defends his honor to pretend he has it, the crime thus rewarded with a hero's welcome and Sandrelli in a bikini, ready to start a cycle of her own. With Odoardo Spadaro, Margheritta Girelli, Lando Buzzanca, and Pietro Tordi. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce