Monday, February 23, 2009

Caccia al Volpe / After the Fox (Vittorio de Sica, 1966)

Two things—a Peter Sellers comedy, which is good enough in itself. Here he plays Aldo Vanucci, an Italian master criminal, with full Italian cinema shtick, first as a gangster, and then as an over-the-top director Federico Fabrizi (the parodic snipe at Fellini is right out front). Vanucci conceives a scheme to smuggle gold stolen in Egypt by the befezzed Egyptian Okra (Akim Tamiroff, ready to play any sort of exotic foreigner), under the cover of making a movie. To do so, he steals the production equipment from Vittorio de Sica, playing himself in a brilliant satiric setpiece: as Moses walks into the desert, the director, riding on a crane, cries out, “More sand! More sand in the desert!” The giant fans blow and dust envelops everything. When it clears, de Sica is sitting on the ground and every bit of equipment is gone. And then the production, in a tiny coastal village, is a breathtaking parody of neorealism, with all the villagers clamoring to play parts, the vagueness and phony existentialism of the director’s posturing, and the cheekbones of the starstruck police chief (Lando Buzzanca). "Fabrizi" lures a has-been romantic lead Tony Powell (Victor Mature) and casts his girlfriend "Gina Romantica" (Britt Ekland) to play the ingenue. So much of the film industry and film culture is satirized it's hard to keep up a list--the international crime caper (think Pink Panther, Topkapi, etc), the epic film, the greed of producers, the affected mannerisms of directors, the overblown egos of actors, the unthinking adulation of the public, the barely submerged longing in everyday people for admission to the world of movies, and more.

At the trial—because of course everything goes wrong and everybody is arrested—the prosecutor shows the film the gang shot while carrying out their scam. It's a grotesque jumble of random black & white footage, but a film critic in the courtroom leaps to his feet applauding, and is carried out of the courtroom crying out that it is a work of primitive genius. The story is by Neil Simon, the star turn is by Peter Sellers, but the parody is pure de Sica. And the movie's satirical richness startled me; I had no idea!

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