Director: Federico Fellini / Script: Federico Fellini / DP: Otello Martelli / Editor: Mario Serandrei / Music: Nino Rota
Cast: Broderick Crawford / Giuletta Masina / Richard Basehart / Franco Fabrizi
They did a bad, bad thing…
Italy is slowly emerging from the memory of war and enjoying an economic boom to rival Germany. But this remains a country of inequality; of both the exploited and those who exploit.
In Il Bidone (‘The Swindle’), Fellini gives us a trio of petty scammers, who run a variety of rackets, the cruellest being to sell non-existent council flats to the desperate souls of the Roman slum. But two events shift the group’s centre of gravity.
First, their leader Augusto (Broderick Crawford) meets his estranged daughter and is reminded of the life he has forsaken. Secondly, they attend a bacchanalian New Year’s Eve party hosted by another hoodlum, who’s lifted his horizons higher and gotten away with more. As the scales lift from their eyes, they each begin to see things as they are – and what they might be.
So Picasso (Richard Basehart), the would-be painter, chooses to be home with his family rather than live a double life. He might yet be redeemed. Roberto (Franco Fabrizi) looks to be a career criminal who just can’t help himself, but it’s Augusto, who might have seen the brightest light.
Turns out his daughter needs three-hundred grand (Lira, so about £6.50) as a surety to work in a bank and he’s decided to find it for her (Fellini thus conjoins criminality and banking in the same breath). Providentially for Augusto, this happens to be the take from a re-run of another trusty scam, but rather than split it with his (new) crew, he tries to steal it for his daughter…
It ends in tears, naturally, but not as you might expect.
It’s as though Fellini is swindling Augusto in the final scene and, by extension, us. For despite the sunshine, the mood is dark. In his final reckoning, Augusto comes-up short, undone by his original sin. Indeed, there is no honour among thieves and Fellini lingers here, as if to send us out of the cinema dwelling on that point. As if the film’s title isn’t a big enough clue by itself, he’s telling us that, in order to thrive, post-war Italy has to hold itself to a higher standard. That such criminality can’t – won’t – stand in the Brave New Future to come.
So much for that theory!
If you shake his hand, make sure to count your fingers. There might be a couple missing…