With this, I’ve begun an 8-film tribute to Italian director Risi – who passed away recently at the venerable age of 91. It features one of the country’s foremost stars in Alberto Sordi: personally, I tend to find his antics overbearing – but this is clearly a cut above his average vehicle and, accordingly, he delivers an excellent performance as an incompetent but proud lower-class man who only achieves success after marrying eminent society woman Franca Valeri (a popular comic actress who here matches Sordi, dominating and mocking her spouse – calling him “Cretinetti” (little idiot ) – at every turn, as well as being something of a philanthropist while refusing to finance any of Sordi’s own business schemes!).
Running parallel to its sharply-observed satire on industrialization and the class struggle, the film is a black comedy detailing the hero’s brush with the titular status. Starting with his recounting a dream where he joyously attends Valeri’s funeral, it later transpires that a train she was supposed to travel on has been derailed (so he takes over his wife’s legacy and starts making all kinds of changes, as well as installing working-girl mistress Leonora Ruffo in his house)…except that Valeri missed the fateful train – shades of Laurel & Hardy’s SONS OF THE DESERT (1933) in reverse! – and, to her husband’s horror, turns up at their residence in the thick of the funeral arrangements!! Going through a period of meditation at a convent (an incident probably borrowed from Luis Bunuel’s EL !), he devises an elaborate plot – involving a trio of associates – in order to get rid of her once and for all…but, of course, this too goes tragically awry (especially for Sordi himself!!). A very typical product of its era, the film is necessarily talky and frenzied in tone – but, nonetheless, emerges a stylish and often inspired comic offering (notably the bare-back dress worn by Ruffo throughout the funeral reception, exasperating a usually bubbly industrialist no end…but which doesn’t prevent the latter from making the girl his own mistress, if only for a short while!).
Incidentally, the star had a number of similar generically-titled vehicles – such as THE BACHELOR (1955) and THE HUSBAND (1958) – which would suggest a form of loose trilogy, though they all had different directors (and he played a different character in each). By the way, I have several other Sordi titles in my “Unwatched VHS” pile – including a quartet he directed himself…
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