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Augusto, Roberto e Picasso sono tre furfanti di piccolo calibro, esperti nei classici 'bidoni' con i quali truffare della povera gente. Quando la moglie di Picasso comincia ad avere dei dubbi sul'attività del marito, questi tronca ogni rapporto con i complici. Augusto invece tenta di fare un'altra truffa tentando di mettersi in tasca l'intero malloppo, ma i suoi nuovi compari non gliela faranno passare liscia.
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This is where the re-watch proved its worth - the multi-layers of post- war Italian society; its Catholicism fighting at odds with poverty and corruption. The characters interweave their human stories to take us on various personal journeys. Fellini's attempt to include American actors as the male leads, dubbed, fooled me - the oft drawling Broderick Crawford seemed perfect as the guilt-weary protagonist (aka The Swindler) who in actuality was often drunk on set.
For me, the audacious nature of the Swindlers in action, abusing the Catholic position of power by posing as high clergy and conning penniless peasants was bold; certainly for its time. Re-watching brought the trademark Fellini wild party in full swing - as wild and spirited as any he's staged - all rather sickened and over-the-top; portrayed as being funded by immoral, criminal money and in total pursuit of power and hedonism. The ending is one of those that etches itself into your psyche, both haunting and provocative.
However, unlike most 'popular' Fellini films, the leads aren't that likable and one doesn't rally with them in the way of, say, Cabiria or La Strada. That maybe explains why this Fellini isn't generally known, or loved. It's actually rather closer to La Dolce Vita in tone and could be seen as a precursor to that classic.
Il Bidone isn't the easiest film to watch and has its faults; a jarring narrative and inconsistencies that one accepts from amateur crowds on location.Read more ›
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I recently revisted Il Bidone (The Swindle) and was mesmerized by it's restrained style, story, and acting. I had forgotten how Fellini had somehow managed to get a superb performance out of Broderick Crawford (who's raging alcoholism in real life caused Fellini to have to make script changes during it's filming -changes Fellini later believed helped the over-all film).
The film begins by introducing us to it's main trio of con men. They perform a masterful swindle where they dress up as priests, to swindle hardworking peasants and farmers. I won't spoil the mechanics of the con, since it's fascinating to watch it unfold and ponder how it will work.
We meet the three con men who work for 'The Baron Vargas'. Carlo ( nicknamed Picasso) played by a very youthful Richard Basehart, is a frustrated painter who cons to support his family and loves his wife deeply. Roberto (Franco Fabrizzi)is a devil-may-care hedonist who's addicted to the fast life-style but believes he will somehow leave it behind before he winds up like. . . Augusto. At 48, Augusto (Broderick Crawford) is constantly reminded of his age, how lonely the life of a con man truly is and how the life is taking its toll on him. He feels trapped by the con life and much older than his 48 years. A chance meeting with his estranged daughter re-awakens the love and compassion he has within him and allows him to re-capture the spark and energy of his former self as it gives him an unselfish goal and purpose he can care about.
It's a remarkable transition, not just within the character Augusto, but for the film itself. Augusto is re-discovering the love and compassion which is inside even a burnt out con man, like he imagines he truly is. But the film is not one to give in to sentimentality or false hope or manipulations. It's a tragic film. Augusto does not suddenly change into a different human being. He knows what he is and to leave it completely behind would be to sacrifice part of himself for someone else. He is too selfish for that and too set in his ways. It forces him through a series of complication to work with con-men who are not ones that look up to him or respect him, but scavengers who can not be trusted. And it will prove his undoing.
Fellini plants the seed early that Augusto is not having fun putting one over on the peasants and farmers and gas station attendants that he once must have. He is burnt-out. He has started to think too much about how the money they con out of these people will hurt them. It's as dull a job to Augusto as any other, except that it pays far better than most jobs and is all that Augusto knows. He is trapped in a prison and has begun to realize it, all too clearly. This life is a lonely one and loneliness is a prison as confining as the one that comes with bars. If one does choose a lonely life, one can not have compassion or guilt.
In contrast we see Roberto getting a positive adrenaline rush from pulling off a con successfully. It's the drug that makes him high. He still enjoys the life. He still pursues the fast women, enjoys the night life, and wants to have as much fun as he can. . He believes once it stops being fun he will stop before he becomes old and stuck in the lonely life like Augusto is. But later we will see how addicted Roberto has become to his rush and we know he is a more reckless, younger version of Augusto and is doomed.
Carlo is a lot like Augusto. He's eager to learn everything he can from Augusto. He is more careful, more disciplined and wants to learn the skills to become a better con man. He is relieved when he has performed his role in a con successfully and he is eager to show his wife the money he has made which will help them pay off their debts. But Augusto knows balancing a normal life with a con life is not possible. He has tried it. He will teach Carlo, he will guide Carlo. Carlo will be Augusto's clay, and Augusto will mold him into a better con artist than he ever was.
Broderick Crawford gives a complete performance. He's dubbed into Italian so it's a performance minus his distinctive voice. Since Crawford's latter performance line readings tend to be spit out and sometimes garbled, and since he usually waddled through his performances without much nuance, it's interesting to see his full range on display six years after he won an Academy Award for All the King's Men.
Guilietta Masina (Mrs. F. Fellini) as Iris, Carlo's wife is not required to do all that much, but appear as a devoted wife. At a party scene we see Iris start to relax and have fun, and later see her egister some genuine concern for her husband as he tries to get an opinion/approval on one of his paintings. Hers is an expressive face which Fellini used in several of his films. She was best in La Strada, Nights of Cabiria and Ginger and Fred. Il Bidone (aka The Swindle - 1955) was written by Fellini , Tulio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano. It's a film that pre-dates Bresson's Pickpocket(`59). It's a gem.
Chris Jarmick, Author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder Available End of January 2001.
If you've heard comparisons to The Sting, forget about them. That would be like calling the South Pacific and Lord of the Flies similar since they're both set on islands. Il Bidone does not function as a story of revenge, or as an example of the grand old life of con men. As a piece of neorealism, we can expect a somber mood and only passing happiness, but it is well worth watching the awakening and demise of Augusto - not as a lesson in morals, but as one in storytelling. Il Bidone carries an emotional punch, half a century later and if you're an admirer of La Strada, here is a harsher, perhaps better, companion piece.
Technically, "Il Bidone" is a very strong film with memorable performances, including the smaller cameos. Fellini's directing is as satisfying as always and many scenes remind of his future triumphs (New Year party is a stunning sequence and brings to mind "La Dolce Vita", 1960 ). Nino Rota's music and Otello Martinelli's cinematography add to many pleasures of the film, one of them is Giulietta Masina who plays supporting role of Iris, the wife of Picasso (Richard Basehart), the younger con artist with a dream to become an Artist. Both, Masina and Basehart starred in Fellini's first chapter of "trilogy of loneliness", "La Strada" (1954).