Combustible Celluloid
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With: Broderick Crawford, Giulietta Masina, Richard Basehart, Franco Fabrizi, Sue Ellen Blake, Irene Cefaro, Alberto De Amicis, Lorella De Luca, Giacomo Gabrielli, Riccardo Garrone
Written by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli
Directed by: Federico Fellini
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/09/1955

Il Bidone (1955)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Con Patrol

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While not a new Italian film, Federico Fellini's 1955 classic The Swindle may as well be new. Most Fellini fans I know of -- including myself -- have never even heard of it, much less ever seen it.

Coming on the heels of Fellini's Oscar-winner La Strada, The Swindle (a.k.a. Il Bidone) was a flop both in Italy and here in the U.S. (though the French embraced it). Broderick Crawford stars (in a role originally intended for the ailing Humphrey Bogart) as Augusto, an aging con man and the leader of a group of four. He dresses as a bishop for a scam that works on remote farmers: a murderer buried a treasure chest next to the body of his victim on the farmer's land. The farmer can keep the (worthless) treasure but must pay for the last rites of the (phony) dead man.

The youngest of the con men Carlo (Richard Basehart) is married to Iris (Giulietta Masina) who constantly wonders how he can make so much money as a salesman. Augusto worries that Iris wields too much influence over Carlo, but he himself runs into his own teenage daughter about to go off to college. He promises her money for her education that he cannot deliver.

The Swindle falls between Fellini's two best films, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, and deserves to stand at their side. It comes at a time when the master Italian director was still experimenting with neo-realism (before he launched off into pure spectacle) and was attempting to artistically craft his stories around events that could really happen. The images in The Swindle are rife with poetry -- depicting struggle, loneliness and guilt in the loveliest and most poignant way imaginable. It's an unforgettable treasure.

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