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Aging small-time con man Augusto, who swindles peasants, works with two younger men: Roberto, who wants to become the Italian Johnny Ray, and Bruno, nicknamed Picasso, who has a wife and daughter and wants to paint. Augusto avoids the personal entanglements, spending money at clubs seeking the good life. His attitude changes when he runs into his own daughter, whom he rarely sees, and realizes she's now a young woman and in need of his help to continue her studies. His usual partners are away, so he goes in with others to run a swindle, and they aren't forgiving when he claims he's given the money back to their mark. They leave him beaten, robbed, and alone. Written by
Federico Fellini followed "La Strada" with this film. A forgotten classic that on second viewing still has the same impact when we saw it at a retrospective of the master's work some time back. Fellini was instrumental in creating this magnificent movie about con men that operated in Italy in the years that followed the end of WWII. Fellini worked on the screen play with his collaborators, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano; they gave life to all these swindlers and made them human. Nino Rota's music and Otello Martinelli's cinematography compliment the film and make it even better.
Fellini was a director that got a lot from his actors, as he shows in "Il Bidone". Working with Broderick Crawford, and again with Richard Basehart, he was able to have both men give excellent performances, especially Mr. Crawford, who looks as though he is nothing but Italian because he convinces us he is the hard man he is portraying.
The three friends, Augusto, Picasso, and Roberto, go from one scheme to the next, never thinking about who are they stealing from. The best caper occurs at the beginning of the film as the trio arrives at the farm of the two older women with the promise of riches hidden in their land. Mr. Crawford's bishop is perfect. So is the assistant priest of Richard Basehart. Franco Fabrizi is the driver. The solution for getting the money away from the poor women is something not to be believed.
Augusto's life is an empty one. He goes from one job to another trying to outsmart his victims. It's not until Augusto meets his daughter Patrizia by chance, that he begins to feel what might be some remorse for his actions as he notices his beautiful daughter now grown and on her way to making something out of her life. His conscience begins to bother him because he realizes the evil of his ways.
The other best sequence in the film involves the party at Vargas' house where the swindlers have been invited to celebrate the arrival of the new year. We watch as Iris, Picasso's wife, realizes what her husband and the others are really up to. Roberto, the ladies' man, steals the gold cigarette case, not realizing that he is at the home of another con man and his actions will not go unnoticed, but even the embarrassment he goes through in front of the guests will make him give up his life.
"Il Bidone" is a fine example of the Italian cinema of those years as it shows an artist of the caliber of Federico Fellini in top form. The film will delight people that haven't been exposed to that part of Mr. Fellini's career seldom seen these days.
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