Il bidone (1955) | Federico Fellini’s bittersweet swindler drama gets a Masters of Cinema HD restoration

Il Bidone aka The Swindle

1955’s Il bidone (aka The Swindle), Federico Fellini’s first flop and one of his greatest films, is released in a new high definition restoration as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series in a Dual Format edition.

In 1950s Rome, 40-something conman Augusto (Broderick Crawford) travels the countryside with his associates Picasso (Richard Basehart) and Roberto (Franco Fabrizi) preying on gullible peasants using an array of nefarious scams, including dressing up as priests in search of buried treasure. But after encountering his grown-up daughter, Augusto hatches one final scam in a bid to turn his empty, lonely life round.

Il Bidone aka The Swindle

1955’s Il bidone forms the centerpiece of Federico Fellini‘s ‘Trilogy of Loneliness’, book-ended by La strada (1954) and Le notti di Cabiria (1957), but was badly received by critics and audiences, who criticised the director for making fun of poverty and people’s faith.

Italy post World War Two was in a state of political chaos and deep poverty, with many Italians without a roof over their head and thieving becoming a way of life. It was a situation that fed the cinema of neo-realists like Rossellini and Visconti. By 1955, however, economic recovery was taking place and the last thing Italians wanted was a reminder of their own poverty. One of the cruelest scams portrayed in Il bidone involves getting people living in hovels under the Claudius Aqueduct to hand over money for fake contracts for new apartments that don’t exist. But Fellini’s portrayal was too close to the bone for Italian cinemagoers.

Il Bidone aka The Swindle

Unlike the neo-realists who made social commentary about poverty, Fellini was excited to mingle with the masses and bring structure out of the chaos, which he achieves in his deftly structured crowd scenes. With Il bidone, he also mixes the real with the imagined, and this marks the beginning of his move away from nature, which he felt too constraining, towards surrealism and his ‘megalomania of decors’* as witnessed in 1960’s La Dolce Vita and beyond.

Fellini, however, doesn’t abandon reality altogether in Il bidone. While Crawford plays his naturally roguish self in the film (and required a bodyguard to stop him from heading to the bars while shooting), most of the cast is made up of non-actors, including some shady characters Fellini had met in the bar Canova on Piazza del Popolo (which appears in the film) like Lupaccio, a known criminal who was the inspiration for Crawford’s character, Augusto.

Il Bidone aka The Swindle

Because both Broderick Crawford and Richard Basehart spoke their lines in English, the film was dubbed afterwards, except for Guiletta Masina (the director’s wife and muse) who plays Basehart’s wife in the film. This allowed Fellini greater creative control in the editing stage (using two editors, including Mario Serandrei, who coined the phrase neo-realism), with the film’s standout scene being an elaborately orchestrated 20-minute party scene which took two weeks to film, using 10 time more footage than required. It’s pure Fellini that, along with the beautifully poetic finale of despair and Nino Rota’s typically exuberant score, puts Il bidone on an artistic level not seen in the neo-realists.

Il bidone may have had the least success, but when seen now, it really is a great Fellini film and probably the darkest examination of human nature he ever attempted.

The UK 2013 Blu-ray release includes the following:
• New HD master, presented in 1080p.
• Optional English subtitles.
• Original theatrical trailer.
• Interview with Dominic Delouche, Fellini’s former PA and ‘lucky talisman’.
• Collector’s booklet.

SOURCE: * Dominic Delouche interview

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on January 1, 2014, in Must-See, World Cinema and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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