Jules Dassin let this Southern-Italian meller boil way past al dente. Set in a stifling little coastal town where the aging Don (Pierre Brasseur) dictates ‘the law’ to everyone, from the mayor to the priest, from the chief of police & on down, while his sharp-dressed heir apparent (Yves Montaud) works from the bottom up. But a couple of free-spirited women (Gina Lollobrigida & Melina Mercouri) threaten the established order with respective fixations on an educated outsider (Marcello Mastroianni) & Montaud’s lawyer son (Raf Mattioli). But these personal dramas play alongside a strange, sadistic truth-or-dare drinking game called ‘the law,’ a nasty piece of one-upmanship meant to keep everyone in their place. Dassin gets heaps of atmosphere & tension from this set up, but the storyline was hamstrung when his producers insisted on La Lollobrigida in a role designed for a hormonally-charged teenager. Actions that need to play out with the unthinking self-interest of youth come across with cruel calculation from a stunningly beautiful Gina at 32. And this effects the entire cast who respond with heightened playing on the verge of hysteria. You eventually adjust, ‘50s melodrama and all that, but it takes a dramatic toll. While you wait for the emotional blinders to kick in, enjoy the local detail, a great fishing sequence, and the fabulous cinematography from Otello Martelli, best known for shooting early Fellini.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Except for Marcello, the principals all appear to speak their own (dubbed) French dialogue on the only audio track of this excellent Oscilloscope DVD. But this international production must have originally been issued in many languages. Stateside it came out as WHERE THE HOT WIND BLOWS, and you can hear Jerry Jackson (?) sing the title song via SPOTIFY.
DB: Try a classic Neo-Realist look at another poor Italian fishing village in Visconti’s LA TERRA TREMA/’47.