Original running length: 117 mins
A Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica & Orsay Film production
Distributed by De Laurentiis
Director: Carlo Lizzani
Story: Luciano Vincenzoni, Elio Petri, Tommaso Chiaretti
Screenplay: Ugo Pirro, Carlo Lizzani, Mario Socrate, Vittoriano Petrilli
Cinematography: Leonida Barboni, Aldo Tonti
Music: Piero Piccioni
Editor: Franco Fraticelli
Art director: Mario Chiari, Pasquale Romano
Cast: Gérard Blain (Alvaro Cosenza, aka “Gobbo”), Anna Maria Ferrero (Ninetta Moretti), Bernard Blier (the Marshall), Ivo Garrani (Marshall Moretti), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Leandro, aka “Er monco”), Teresa Pellati (“Fiorin Fiorello”), Ljuba Bodine (Nella), Enzo Cerusico (“Scheggia”), Roy Ciccolini (“Er bello”), Franco Balducci (“Pellaccia”), Nino Castelnuovo (Cencio), Rocco Vidolazzi (“Pezze ar culo”), Alex Nicol (American official), Maria Laura, Rocca Terracini (mother superior), Jim Granite (Peter, an American soldier), Guido Celano (Borsaro nero), Tino Bianchi (Fascist guard), Edgardo Siroli (a partisan), Lars Bloch (German guard), Ermelinda De Felice (Sora Tuta)
Despite its wartime setting, Il gobbo deserves consideration in any study of Italian crime cinema. Not only was it directed by Carlo Lizzani, who would go on to become one of the leading lights of the genre as the 1960s progressed, but also – with its outlaw protagonist, breakneck pacing and realistic backdrop – it exerted a huge influence on numerous films to follow. It’s a debt acknowledged by Umberto Lenzi and Tomas Milian in the hugely succesful Roma a man armati (76), whose kill-crazy villain was seemingly modelled on this films rather more sympathetic Alvaro Cosenza, as played by Gérard Blain.
Cosenza, who’s also known as ‘Il gobbo’ (‘the hunchback’) because of his disability, becomes one of the most notorious of Italian partisans during the closing stages of the second world war. Despite the best efforts of the facist Commissioner Moretti (Ivo Garrani) to capture him, he’s brave and clever enough to stay one step ahead of them, gathering a close-knit group of loyal friends around him to help carry out a series of raids and attacks. He’s also ruthless, though, and takes his revenge on the troublesome Moretti by forcing himself on his daughter, Nina (Anna Maria Ferrero) who, despite herself, begins falling in love with him.
The animosity between the two men only increases: during a failed attack on a German depot, Cosenza is badly wounded, and Nina hides him in their loft until he has recovered and is able to make his escape. When Moretti finds out, he flies into a rage and steps up his attempts to hunt down the partisans, becoming increasingly brutal and relentless in his task. Left with no other option, Cosenza ambushes and kills him before going into hiding.
When the allies arrive and free Rome, Cosenza is proclaimed a hero because of his wartime deeds. But this doesn’t make much of a difference to Nina, who can’t forgive him for her father’s murder and, despite the increasing desperation of her circumstances, rejects all of his advances. With his love unrequited, and seeing that the American troops are just another occupying force, he decides to put his considerable talents to a new, more profitable purpose: banditry.
By 1960, Lizzani had been an established filmmaker for a good decade, and his work had already touched on the crime genre with the 1952 film Ai margini della metropoli. This is very much a successor to his respected 1951 release Achtung! Banditi!, which told the story – based on real events – of a group of partisans in Northern Italy during the Nazi occupation. Il gobbo takes the same basic starting point and pulls it in a different, yet logical direction, showing just what the disillusioned partisans get up to after the war has finished.
Like Francesco Rosi, Lizzani seems to have been fascinated by outlaws, and in particular true-life outlaws. The character of Cosenza was based, like the protagonists of Lizzani’s later films, on a real person, Giuseppe Albano, a former partisan who later became an outlaw and general thorn in the authorities side who was assassinated in 1945. Furthermore, the story is shot in a highly realistic fashion, giving a distinct aura of authenticity to the production. It’s not hard to see a direct progression between the partisans of Achtung! Banditi!, ‘Il gobbo’, the Cavallero gang of Banditi a Milano and the Luciano Lutring character in Wake Up and Kill, clever but doomed figures who operate outside of the law and who, despite their cruelty and amorality, are actually treated with a degree of understanding, if not exactly sympathy. In all of the films, their activities are given a degree of justification because of the fact that the political and social system is in some way dysfunctional; in this case even the US forces, initially welcomed as saviours, waste no time in emasculating their former allies and taking advantage of the desperation of the locals. And Moretti, the representative of the previous, fascist regime, is even more bloodthirsty and violent than the men he’s tracking down.
This is a transitory film for Lizzani, then, a halfway point between his earlier neo-realist and war films and his later, contemporary crime films. It also harks back to melodrama as well, with Anna Maria Ferrero’s Nina, in particular, being the kind of ill-fated female character who would crop up repeatedly in the popular dramas of the 1950s. And, although Cosenza is an anti-hero, he’s not a total outsider: even when he’s turned to banditry he uses the proceeds for beneficial tasks, funding an orphanage and distributing cash to the poor, making him more of a Robin Hood type figure than the out and out criminal anti-heroes of Banditi a Milano and Wake Up and Kill.
But, even at this stage of his career, it’s also notable that Lizzani was already managing to merge political and social ideas with popular drama. As well as being immaculately made – the look and feel of the film is comparable to the best of neo-realism – it also moves along at a cracking pace, especially when compared to the likes of the not disimilar Rocco and his Brothers, which was made the same year. It’s interesting to note that the scriptwriters included several figures who’d become active in the 1950s and would go on to have an important impact on Italian cinema in the following years: leading lights of the Italian new wave Elio Petri and Ugo Pirro, Luciano Vincenzoni (a script doctor who work on numerous popular films in his long career) and Vittoriano Petrilli (who worked more often in genre cinema such as The Great Silence (68), which also featured a group of sympathetic outlaws).
There are also a couple of trivia points worth noting. Firstly, Pier Paolo Pasolini has an important part as Monco, one of Cosenza’s men who later betrays him and is partially responsible for his death. He obviously liked working with Lizzani, and also made another rare appearence in his later film, Recquiescant (67) as well (as, hey ho, a member of a group of freedom fighters being hassled by a fascistic villain, albeit in a western context). Also, there’s a quite fabulous chase through cornfields which is a remarkable antecedent of the similar, celebrated scene in Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown (a western about… an outlaw who has fallen foul of the system being chased down by the forces of the law).