Friday, 10 November 2017

Illustrious Corpses (1976)

And so another of my longstanding 'would like to see' films (Italian title "Cadaveri eccellenti") bites the dust...and once again I was a little disappointed. From the socially aware director Francesco Rosi the film focuses on Italy's bloody decade of political turmoil in the l970s. In the director's own words the film is 'a trip through the monsters and monstrosities of power'. It's a paranoid thriller in the vein of 1974's "The Parallax View".

Someone has murdered three senior judges in different parts of the country and Italy's top homicide detective Rogas (Latin for 'you ask') is called upon to clean up the mess. Played by the strong and tough actor Lino Ventura, he soon develops a theory that the murderer is one of three victims of a miscarriage of justice and he soon hones in on one elusive killer. However the murders continue and it becomes apparent that these are 'copycat' killings to rid the State of potential enemies by unknown powers-to-be. Rogas finds evidence of widespread surveillance -- wiretaps and bugging -- and even his own apartment is being watched. Who can one trust?

The film has a wonderfully brilliant opening set in Palermo's Convento dei Cappuccini with the first victim wandering through the crypt with its 8000-odd bodies, some mummified, some rotting, indulging in a silent dialogue with power figures from the past. As he emerges into the sunlight and reaches toward a new spring blossom, he is shot dead. Unfortunately this is the only involving scene and I found the construction of the remaining movie something of a jumble, with meaningful scenes cut short and irrelevant scenes played at length.

With cameos from Fernando Rey, Max von Sydow, Charles Vanel, and Tina Aumont, it's only Ventura who holds the plot together -- but I found the largely linear story far from clear or straightforward. It finishes with a shock ending (no spoiler here) in a classic museum setting, as throngs of banner-waving communists march through the streets while just out of sight tanks are revving up for their right-wing antagonists.

I remember viewing an American television movie from l999 called "Falcone" (original working title "Excellent Cadavers") with Chazz Palmentieri as a crusading cop. However that film is not a remake of the above political expose; rather it is a semi-documentary of the fight against the Mafia set in Sicily a decade later. This earlier Italian film above is considered a classic by some, but I can't count myself among them.,
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