“Il Federale” (1961)

Luciano Salce’s Il Federale appeared long enough after the war that the Italians could laugh at what’s nearly a slapstick comedy about collaborating with Mussolini’s government.  Ugo Tognazzi plays a hard-ass fascist functionary who’s been ordered to arrest a politically troublesome professor in a provincial village and transport him back to Rome to a certain death sentence. He makes the arrest without any trouble, but he has terrible luck with every mode of transportation he employs, plus the professor, when he’s not badgering the fascist with questions that prick at his humanity, keeps trying to escape. If that sounds like a certain Robert De Niro movie, well, there are also a couple of shots and situations that are near clones of Midnight Run.

It’s still only a very charming comedy until the final 10 minutes, when it turns into something more. Tognazzi lands his mitts on the provincial party secretary’s uniform he’s been lusting after throughout the movie, and having worn out his own clothes he dons the uniform and proudly marches his prisoner into Rome. He doesn’t notice the strange new street-signs dotting the intersections, and it isn’t until he spots a platoon of GIs relaxing atop crates of Pall Mall cigarettes that he realizes how things have changed in his absence. Some civilians on the street spot his spiffy new uniform, and in a stunning tracking shot Tognazzi finally realizes his danger and makes a break for it, only to be hauled under by a crowd intent on beating him to death. He doesn’t die, but neither does he wind up humbled or humanized by his adventures. Il Federale finishes on an ambivalent, somewhat bleak note that looks forward to the ending of The Conformist. It’s a surprisingly filling movie.

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