“The Strategy of the Scorpion” (La strategia dello scorpione”). From the Don Matteo series. Season 1, Episode 5. First broadcast 21 January 2000. Regular cast: Terence Hill (Don Matteo), Nino Frassica (Marshal Cecchini), Flavio Insinna (Captain Anceschi), Claudio Ricci (Nerino), Nathalie Guetta (Natalina), Francesco Scali (Pippo), and Pietro Pulcini (Ghisoni). Writer: Carlo Mazzotta. Director: Enrico Oldoini. In Italian with English subtitles (MHz International Mysteries series).


   Don Matteo is Italy’s answer to Father Brown. Terence Hill, who is most known to American audiences for his spaghetti Westerns, plays a parish priest with a knack for solving crime. Indeed, without Don Matteo many innocent people would be serving life sentences for murders they didn’t commit.

   Not that the police are idiots — they’re good at their jobs but basically lack the priest’s insight into situations.

   Take this episode, for instance. A prison inmate has evidently been murdered in his cell, with the valve handle from a boiler sticking out prominently from the middle of his spine. Since the dead man was known to have clashed with another prisoner (over, what else, a woman) and since this same man worked on the boiler, it looks like a simple case of murder for revenge.

   But for Don Matteo, the obvious discrepancies point in a different direction: the fact that the barred window of the victim was standing wide open in freezing weather; the upside down fingerprints on the window latch; the well-kept secret that the dead man had leukemia — all of these convince Don Matteo that this crime isn’t what it appears to be.

   Even after Don Matteo explains what actually happened, however, Captain Anceschi insists that without more solid evidence his solution will have to remain simply a theory.


   Such solid evidence is available, though, in the form of two eyewitnesses who can give the accused man an alibi — but if they do so, it will cost them dearly.

   If you know what a scorpion does when it’s in a hopeless situation (and I didn’t), you might be able to solve this one halfway through.

   Don Matteo has already run in Italy for eight seasons; a ninth one is scheduled for 2013. It’s a mixed bag: usually the whodunits are easily figured out, but on occasion they’re real head-scratchers. The humor is often forced, with the best by-play between the Marshal and the Captain.

   (Passing thoughts: Perhaps only in Italy could a priest enter a prison carrying a large sack of what he says are gifts and not be stopped for a search. As for the prison facilities: American criminals should have it so good.)


IMDb series listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0178132/