on May 19, 2002
Il Bidone is a stark, gritty, unyielding portrait of the life of small time con men in Rome. Augusto sees those who've escaped the rounds about him, at forty eight he is far past his prime and just beginning to realize that he has no idea to escape the rut. The movie is very spare, the cons not particularly interesting as cons, but very weighty in symbolism. The script is playful, sly and heartless, until Augusto bumps into his estranged daughter and begins to work his way back towards humanity. That it will cost him dearly is rarely in doubt, but the passage is fascinating to watch.
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.
on June 28, 2002
My friends hassled me for starting off my Fellini collection with Il Bidone but I've seen the classics and have pretty easy access to seeing them any time. Something a little bit more obscure like this one is harder to track down, so I figured that I'd buy it based on the reviews here. I wasn't disappointed. people were pretty accurate in their impressions. The story is told well, the acting is good and it's something that I lok forward to watching many more times.
on January 9, 2001
Il Bidone aka The Swindle is one of Fellini's least known films and part of his trilogy of loneliness (La Strada and Nights of Cabiria) Nights. .. recently received a complete restoration, limited theatrical release and Criterion DVD release. Il Bidone is available on DVD now, but without a single solitary extra. It's still worth getting though.
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.