Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET Cinecittà / Lux Film Italian, 1958. Original title: I soliti ignoti. Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatore, Memmo Carotenuto, Claudia Cardinale, Tiberio Murgia, Marcello Mastroianni and Toto. Written by Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli. Directed by Mario Monicelli.

   Drop what you’re doing and find a video of this. It’s funny, suspenseful, fluid, funny, and above all — Human.

   Now what else can I say about it? Every plot summary from every reviewer says BDOMS is about a motley crew of small-time thieves trying to pull off The Big Caper, and I can only add that they don’t come any motlier than this: an old rogue, a no-talent prize-fighter, a dumb kid, a preening Sicilian and others less easy to define, all interacting as real people do while they stumble toward their predestined pie-in-the face.

   The Caper in question is no bank vault or art treasure, merely the safe in the back room of a pawn shop, with an unexpected means of access, and the antics involved are all the more frantic because the stakes are so small. This film positively dances with the characters, as they plot, prepare, quarrel, fall in love, grow disenchanted, babysit, steal and just generally live lives of noisy desperation.

   Along the way there are some funny pratfalls, well-timed comic bits and a hilarious car chase with amusement-park bumper cars, but there are also moments of real tenderness and surprising tragedy, as if some Real People found their way into a Caper Film and had to make the best of it. And when we finally get to the Caper itself, it comes off with all the tension of Topkapi or The Asphalt Jungle — and damn funny, too.