Italy between the war and modernism is the flickering allegory, couched by Federico Fellini in half-affectionate, half-acerbic nostalgia. The eponymous "fatted calves" are a gang of twentysomething blokes in the Adriatic provinces, forever snappy in their suits but already too old for their idling and clowning. The fatuous Don Juan (Franco Fabrizi), the bulbous mommaís boy (Alberto Sordi), the passionately talentless playwright (Leopoldo Trieste), and the thoughtful loner (Franco Interlenghi) are introduced in a gently zigzagging tracking shot outside a boardwalk restaurant, where a modest beauty pageant signals the end of summer; sudden raindrops send everybody scrambling indoors, band music complements the howling storm, "itís beautiful, like the end of the world." Their routines of time-wasting in pool halls and deserted piazzas are punctuated by tragicomic vignettes with symbolic punchlines like the giant papier-m‚chť head dragged by the spent reveler or the angelic statuette caressed by the village idiot. At the center is the rakeís progress enacted by Fabrizi, forced into domesticity but unable to resist leaving his pregnant wife (Leonora Ruffo) waiting in a movie theater while he comes on to some Italian version of Marie Windsor. (Later, Fellini halts the search for the runaway wife for Sordiís razzing salute to roadside workers, a celebrated gag out of Hal Roach.) Elsewhere, Trieste voices the stranded poetís lament ("At midnight this town goes dark! How can an artist feed his demons?") to the sagging theatrical hambone (Achille Majeroni), who responds with a theremin-scored seduction. The stifling immobility of a community that can only lose itself once a year behind carnival masks and under a rain of confetti, where patriarchal rule tries to reassert itself with a belt and still winds up looking like Sordi in drag, drunk and slumped on a chair. Capra circa Itís a Wonderful Life is the stylistic model, the chief beneficiary is Scorsese in Mean Streets. Interlenghi in the train waving to his slumbering chums is Fellini himself, of course, yearning for the sea and the moon and leaving behind the province of Neo-Realism. Music by Nino Rota. With Riccardo Fellini, Jean Brochard, Claude Farell, Carlo Romano, and Lida Baarova. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce