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December 30, 2020


written by: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli & Mario Monicelli
produced by: Silvio Clementelli
directed by: Mario Monicelli
rated: not rated
runtime: 106 min.
release date: October 12, 1960 (Italy), December 5, 2014 (New York City, digitally restored) & December 30, 2020 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL) 


The Italian film “The Passionate Thief” has an overall relatable manner to it – that is, if you’ve ever found yourself with no plans on New Years Eve. Worse yet, it brings to mind the times when you found yourself without a date or a significant other on the last night of the year. I’m sure we’ve all gone out with friends to celebrate the coming year, not quite knowing what the evening will bring or who we’ll meet. That’s what comes to mind while watching Mario Monicelli’s 1960 light comedic tale set in Rome, a wonderfully shot black-and-white film that follows a trio of characters through an unpredictable night.

It’s 8 o’clock in the evening of New Years Eve in Rome and actress Gioia “Tortorella” Fabricotta (Anna Magnani) has finished filming a dramatic scene for a sword-and-sandal epic on the set of Cinecittà Studios. Like her fellow actors, she is scrambling to get out of makeup and costume in order to find a way to celebrate the new year. She feels insecure for having no plans, but takes an offer to meet up with some friends at a nearby fountain and join them for late night festivities.

Those plans get derailed by a call from Umberto Pennazzuto (Totò), who asks Tortorella if she’d accompany him to a party. He is an older fellow actor and street artist, known as “Accident” for his collecting money on insurance fraud claims on movie sets. He refuses, but her time on the phone with her old friend makes Tortorella let for her rendezvous, and it’s the first of many unfortunate turn of events for the actress.



She inevitably meets up with Umberto, who turns out is assisting a local professional pickpocket, Lello (Ben Gazzara), who plans on hopping from party to party, in an effort to make take advantage of the partygoers of the evening. Claiming he works best with an assistant, Lello is pointed towards Umberto, whom he persuaded to work alongside him for the evening with the goal of using him as a distraction when necessary. Tortorella is struck by the handsome Lello, unaware of what he is or his plans for the night and he becomes interested in her as well, with Umberto getting bounced between the two of them, as they make their way haphazardly thru the night.

Viewers gradually meet the three main characters, but “The Passionate Thief” opens with a tracking shot of a bustling Rome after dark, landing on a motorcyclist calling out to Alfredo (Mac Ronay, mumbling to the point where it feels dubbed) a subway train engineer who is leaving his family for the evening to go to work. They will celebrate without him and we will see him later on, but Monicello’s point in such an opening is to introduce the audience to Italian life on a specific night with its liveliness and traditions.

Monicello, who co-wrote the screenplay with the trio of writers (Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli) he worked on “Big Deal on Madonna Street” with the goal of taking viewers on an unexpected journey with these characters, with the primary focus of exploring comedy and behavior while navigating around Rome. The main characters they have written have a certain frustration about them that is intriguing, seemingly ranging from failure to frustration, yet all with a certain determination of carefree hope.



The supporting characters the trio will meet throughout the film offer a spontaneity that accentuates the overall entertainment. There’s a drunk American (Fred Clark) who first meets Tortorella then encounters Lello and Umberto when they’re in a jam, eventually being taking away by the police at Trevi fountain. At a lively party in Eur, the trio meets a man (Toni Ucci) who turns out to be a scammer as well, prostituting his girlfriend, Milena (Dori Dorika) off to easy targets. There’s also a prominent sequence at a mansion where a reserved party hosted by Germans is in full swing that the trio get themselves invited to. Something pivotal happens at this location, which showcases an interior with opulent temptations for Lello. Knowing the kind of precarious situations Lello can get Tortorella in, Umberto warns her to distance herself from him, but she can’t help but feel flattered by his gaze and increasing advances.

Like many Italian comedies, “The Passionate Thief” ends on a sad note albeit with a light humorous and fitting tone to the story. The film boasts standout filmmaking with striking cinematography from Leonida Barboni (“Divorce Italian Style”) and edited by Adriana Novelli (Marriage Italian Style”) and stylish production and costume design from Oscar winner Piero Gherardi (“8 1/2” and “La dolce Vita”). The highlight though is watching Magnani (who won a Best Actress Oscar five years earlier for “The Rose Tattoo” and also starred in Sidney Lumet’s “The Fugitive Kind” the same year this was released), effortless funny Totò (one of the most popular Italian performers), and a dashing Gazarra (dubbed in Italian), all of whom work off each other well and are engaging to watch on screen together.

In 2013, the film was digitaly restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna using the original camera negative and working off an optical soundtrack negative and a vintage combined dupe positive for the sound. These elements were made available from the film’s producer, Titanus. The original camera negative was scanned at resolution and digitally restored at 2K resolution and the restoration was carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in 2013.

“The Passionate Thief” is that rare movie in which a story takes place on New Years Eve and it’s a film that probably hasn’t been seen by many. That can be resolved by viewing it through Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, which is offering it now as an at-home viewing option. Tickets and more information can be found here.






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