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I jotted down ROMA BENE on my Want to See list back in 1972; finally watching it 40 years later ('twas never released near me), I discovered it to be an obvious misfire, of interest only to see what went wrong.
Film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis, pulling out all the stops. But intriguing casting and lavish production values don't ensure an interesting movie.
Stuck with too many leftover Swinging Sixties clichés (topless beauties go-go dancing all over, casual drug use), story presents vignettes in the lives of the idle rich of Rome. No LA DOLCE VITA results.
Nino Manfredi is a police captain, giving an onlooker's point-of-view towards the decadent society folk. Awkward screenplay keeps injecting him artificially into the action, always called in when some crime or rumpus occurs.
Party itself features a down & out baron, comically played by Vittorio Caprioli, who dances with the party's glamorous hostess Virna Lisi (all dolled up for this movie -looking gorgeous), so that he can steal her valuable earrings. When they're missing, she's angry enough to call in the cops (Manfredi shows up) and have the baron taken away. This being Italian comedy, low humor is injected, as Manfredi gives Caprioli a fast-working laxative and we wait to hear the chink, chink as the earrings plop into a bowl he's sitting over (aural not visual cinema, thank God).
At the party we have satirical hipness, as in everyone yelling "Viva Mao" or "Viva La China" at mentions of the populous country (recall: in those far-off days pre-Berlusconi everybody in Italy was a left-winger).
Lovely Senta Berger stars in a key subplot, in league with hubby Umberto Orsini and cardinal Gastone Moschin (perfect casting for this underrated thesp) in an elaborate building project scam. Moschin owns a hydrofoil, where he doffs his clerical garb in favor of more appropriate dress to hang out with a bevy of beauties and live it up. They even use it as a gambling ship, showing how the jet set passes their leisure time. A cute scene has Moschin pausing to pray at a statue of Christ, and then turning to the camera to give the viewer a "don't look at me, what do I know" pose.
A clever scene has Berger trying to play footsie under the table with a chubby businessman mark, but the guy only has eyes for her hubby Orsini. Not to worry, Orsini is pressed into service in almost a running gag going AC/DC to move the scam forward.
MANY SPOILERS AHEAD:
Cast goes on a hunting expedition, in which the film tilts past black humor into complete absurdity. A hoarse-voiced major domo leading the expedition has a young child in tow, the kid also toting a rifle to shoot at quail. But the kid prefers human targets, injuring one guy and then allowed to continue, shooting a hapless fellow hunter in the chest The punch line all'Italiana is major domo rush to the hospital to see if the victim is all right, but he's merely looking in at the kid, oblivious to the death of the kid's prey.
Next subplot involves an elaborate fake kidnapping and ransom scheme involving attractive younger cast members Ely Galleani (soon to become a soft-core porn star) and Dado Crostarosa, children of Lisi and her hubby Philippe Leroy. This seems to be injected merely to give the film a connection to younger viewers.
Sporting an attractive pixie haircut and alluring deep décolletage, French star Michele Mercier has a cute but brief segment concerning her philandering husband, notable for a clever comic twist of both finding themselves patronizing the same high-toned brothel! She becomes a widow when he has a heart attack.
My favorite whimsy was the vignette devoted to Irene Papas. That great actress associated with heavy Greek classical performances, is used here to execute exaggerated face-pulling and low Italian comedy, always dressed in fabulous costumes -quite a treat for her fans.
She conspires with her mother to kill her pesky husband. It's dumb, but casting Papas made it work, and Lizzani couldn't resist playing "Zorba" type music. Papas succeeds and when Manfredi gets close to the truth, he is merely taken off the case, kicked upstairs with a promotion, and the upper-class evildoers get away with yet another crime.
Lengthy epilogue to the film is announced upfront as "inspired by the drama of Luigi Bruno di Belmonte: 'Mani aperte sull'acqua'". This takes the film in an entirely different direction, a tongue-in-cheek switch from Fellini-land to Antonioni-ville.
Cast is assembled partying on Papas's new yacht, and when they go for a swim, the yacht floats away, improperly anchored. With its steep hull and no hand-holds, they can't get back aboard. Leroy flies over (with a young beauty in tow) reconnoitering, but fails to assist, and then Moschin in his hydrofoil similarly lets his buddies tread water sans aid. Final aerial shot next morning shows a lone doggy on deck, as our heroes have all drowned.
This nonsense needed the strong hand of a master of dark Italian humor, be it Germi, Risi or Monicelli. By hiring Lizzani, De Laurentiis went with a skilled genre helmer, with fine Westerns, thrillers and soft porn under his belt, but clearly the wrong man for the job!
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