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  • Ravi Swami

"Un Maledetto Imbroglio", Dir: Pietro Germi, 1959

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Following on from the previous post covering "Divorce Italian Style" and thanks to a recommendation from a friend, "Un Maledetto Imbroglio" (Eng: "The Facts of Murder"), directed again by Pietro Germi and released two years prior 1959, is a complex film noir adapted from the novel "That Awful Mess on Via Merulana" by Carlo Emilio Gadda.

Gadda's novel is set in the late 1920' during the rise of Fascism in Italy and details the investigation of a murder of a wealthy woman, by her friend the police inspector Ciccio Ingravalo, in the film played by the director Pietro Germi himself,

I'm not a massive fan of crime fiction even though, admittedly, some of my choices during lockdown have been crime fiction in the film noir sense. I think what made them watchable for me is in how the plot shifted focus away from the forensic details of a crime and placed peripheral characters centre stage-"Elevator To The Gallows" being a good example.

The crime, which opens the film, is a robbery and subsequent murder of a wealthy woman in Rome (period shifted to 1959) and is relatively banal in criminal terms, however since the woman is a friend of the investigating police inspector, Ingravallo, the severity of the crime assumes a different dimension to the run-of-the-mill criminal case.

However, this proves not to be a simple case for the inspector since conflicting witness testaments lead to blind alleys and misdirection. To complicate things further, Ingravallo's second in command, the bullish Detective Saro (Saro Urzi), never seen without a "panini" in hand, is convinced that he knows who the culprit is and determined to prove it.

What makes the film unusual is that the culprit is established virtually at the outset - the woman's house maid, played by Claudia Cardinale in an early role, leaves the crime scene to rendezvous with her boyfriend, played by Nino Castelnuovo, who has been working at the crime victim's property as an electrician. He is subsequently arrested, grilled and then released since he has an alibi.

You would think from this that there is not really much meat left on which to hang a story and indeed what follows is an often maddeningly complicated circuitous journey in which Ingravallo goes from pillar to post to unravel the mystery - the body of the film itself in fact is composed of cleverly scripted exchanges between various characters that reveal next to nothing, so much so that unusually for my lockdown viewing I had to watch the film over three nights to get a handle on what was going on.

On one level you could say it's a work of genius on Germi's part to build a plot on such thin material, resulting in a film noir classic, but in fact this aspect of focussing on the details of exchanges that are mostly dead-ends in the criminal investigation is a feature of Gadda's original novel, as if to say that the nature and details of the crime are of less importance than what the characters say to each other, characterized in the film by snappy dialogue.

The film concludes as an increasingly frustrated Ingravallo stumbles on an overlooked piece of damning evidence, a literal key to the crime, and the culprit is revealed to be Diomede (Castelnuovo), who has fled the city with Assuntina (Cardinale) and is subsequently tracked down and arrested.

Film noir in the classic sense often feature a banal crime at the centre of the plot around which various interactions between characters occur and that form the actual story, the crime being simply a turning point for revealing the motivations of the individual characters, and "Un Maledetto Imbroglio" follows this template closely to deliver a film that will certainly keep you on your toes throughout.

The portraits posted above of Germi and Cardinale were the result of attending an online Character Workshop by the animation designer / director Robert Valley, who demonstrated his drawing techniques based on real-world character reference that results in his distinctive graphic style.

"Un Maledetto Imbroglio" features some distinctive faces, not least that of Pietro Germi, and while the film was still fresh in my mind it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss to apply some of Valley's techniques to drawing them, though it would be more accurate to say that the end result is inspired by Valley's work rather than an imitation, I would hope.

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