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Friday, March 9, 2018

PROFUMO DI DONNA / SCENT OF A WOMAN (1974)

This, one of the best examples of the bitter Italian comedies of Dino Risi, has unfortunately been buried by Al Pacino’s Oscar-winning 1992 remake; half as good, twice as sentimental, nearly an hour longer. The basic outline remains: young army cadet Alessandro Momo is assigned to accompany Vittorio Gassman’s blind, embittered, possibly suicidal, retired military officer on a trip to Genoa, Rome & Naples. Purposefully arrogant & willfully opinionated in a determined attempt to avoid unwanted contact, slights, condescension or pity, Gassman goes well past the expected model of rude Falstaffian life force, something the boy picks up on, and off to a level of rhapsodic cruelty aimed at whomever is around to take a hit. It keeps the film bracingly uncomfortable at times, vibrating with real-life possibilities glossed over in the equally popular remake. So, the big set piece in ‘92 is a blind man’s tango while here it’s hunting up a proper whore in Genoa. It's probable that Risi hadn’t the heart to follow this tough line of reasoning all the way to the end, and the second half of the third act does wind up feeling like a compromised first draft of what might have been. Not enough to really hurt the film, but still, not quite up to the rest. Gassman is very fine, broad & true as prime James Cagney; and matched step-for-step by the heartbreakingly young Alessandro Momo, dead in a motorcycle accident at 17 shortly before this was released.

DOUBLE-BILL: Gassman plays another impossible arrogant life force, this time accidentally mentoring Jean-Louis Trintignant in Risi’s superb IL SORPASSO/’62.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Dino Risi is often remarkably similar in theme & film technique to Blake Edwards. (Though preferring to work in ‘Flat’ rather than WideScreen formats.) A classic misdirected blind man’s punch in the Rome section of PROFUMO is pure Edwards, reveling in offhand, perfectly timed, shockingly funny bad taste.

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