Review – THE BAND OF HONEST MEN (“La Banda degli Onesti,” Camillo Mastrocinque, 1956, Italy)

Band of Honest Men posterWhile it may be internationally underrated, The Band of Honest Men (1956, originally released in Italy as Totò il Falsario, no doubt in order to capitalize on the popularity of its undisputed star) is a quietly influential Commedia all’Italiana. Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque, the film is especially known in Italy as a vehicle for Totò, the country’s greatest cinematic clown whose unparalleled popularity with Italian audiences lives on to this day.

Here, Totò plays the caretaker of a building in Rome who, following a series of curious circumstances, comes up with a plan to make fake money with the help of a typographer, Lo Turco (Peppino de Filippo), and a painter, Cardone (Giacomo Furia). All three are honest men, as suggested by the title, who take this drastic decision as a result of oppression and financial troubles. They are also lovable klutzes, which means that they never fall out of favour with the audience.

The story of The Band of Honest Men, in dealing with ordinary men opting for crime as a moneymaking solution, recalls that of the widely acclaimed and admittedly superior Big Deal at Madonna Street, directed by Dino Risi, released two years later. It comes as no surprise to find that both movies were written by Age e Scarpelli, the most popular comedy film writing team of the day. While Big Deal at Madonna Street is much more narratively compact, The Band of Honest Men happily allows its lead comedian Totò breathing room for him to do his thing. As a result, the latter film is less internationally appealing and relies much more on the sensibilities of an Italian audience or, at the very least, an audience with a strong knowledge of the Italian sense of humour and Italian language.

Nonetheless, this approach also has its upsides: Totò’s charisma does, indeed, shine. This is particularly true of his interactions with his ideal straight man, De Filippo. The two formed a formidable team in numerous movies and, in fact, The Band of Honest Men is rightfully regarded as the film that consecrated them as a great duo: their reputation would soon be further solidified that same year with the release of Totò, Peppino, and the Hussy, possibly their greatest collaboration.

Although Totò was highly prolific in his lifetime, making hundreds of films, and never quite losing his popularity with audiences, his work is known much more in his home country than on an international level. Admittedly, most of the titles of his filmography feel like nothing more than comedy vehicles, no different than those starring Adam Sandler or similars today. Yet, a number of them are less reliant on cheap laughs and jokes and have a compelling, if not completely original story. The Band of Honest Men is certainly among them. – ★★★★

LA BANDA DEGLI ONESTI | 1956, Italy | Comedy | Directed by – Camillo Mastrocinque / Produced by – Isodoro Broggi / Written by – Age e Scarpelli / Cinematography – Mario Fioretti / Editing by – Gisa Radicchi Levi / Music by – Alessandro Cicognini / Starring – Totò, Peppino De Filippo, Giacomo Furia, Gabriele Tinti, Giulia Rubini, Nando Bruno, Luigi Pavese, Memmo Carotenuto / Running time: 106 mins.

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