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Lello (Ben Gazzara), a handsome low-level crook, recruits fame-hungry movie extra Tortorella (Oscar-winner Anna Magnani) and her old pal Umberto (Italian comedy legend Totò) in his efforts to pick pockets at a ritzy New Year’s Eve party. Soon, the trio are on an all-night odyssey across Rome, encountering ugly Americans, German aristocrats, and assorted other swanky celebrations and celebrants in this brilliant character-based comedy with a big heart. Risate di Gioia (or “joyful tears”) was the original Italian title of The Passionate Thief, and the movie is a career highpoint for director and co-writer Mario Monicelli (1915-2010). A master of the commedia all’italiana, Monicelli was known for deliv- ering big laughs, often while exploring deeper societal issues. Here, the satirist with a gentle touch joins forces with a trio of instantly likeable movie stars to create a funny yet compassionate portrait of three downtrodden misfits who are just trying to survive in the era of Italy’s economic “miracle.” It would be apt to compare Lello, Totorella, and Umberto to the gang of inept criminals in Moni- celli’s best known movie, Big Deal on Madonna Street, but The Passionate Thief also plays like a scaled-down, working class parody of La Dolce Vita. Indeed, it was released the same year (1960), shot on some of the same Roman locations, and utilizes the same production designer (Piero Gherardi) as Fellini’s masterpiece. Gazzara, making his first appearance in a non-U.S. production, is memorably suave, while Totò and Magnani, frequent co-stars on the Italian stage, each provide one of their finest big-screen performances. The recent digital restoration of The Passionate Thief has been provided by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Rialto Pictures. (JH)

  • Year
  • Runtime
    106 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
  • Director
    Mario Monicelli
  • Screenwriter
    Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Mario Monicelli
  • Producer
    Silvio Clementelli
  • Cast
    Anna Magnani, Totò, Ben Gazzara, Fred Clark,
  • Cinematographer
    Leonida Barboni
  • Editor
    Adriana Novelli
  • Music
    Lelio Luttazzi