Big Deal on Madonna Street (The Criterion Collection) [DVD] (DVD)

Big Deal on Madonna Street (Italian: I soliti ignoti, also released as Persons Unknown in the UK) is a 1958 Italian criminal-comedy film, directed by Mario Monicelli, and considered to be among the masterpieces of Italian cinema. Its original title translates as “the usual unknown persons”, a journalistic and bureaucratic euphemism for “unidentified criminals”. The film is a comedy about a group of small-time thieves and ne’er-do-wells who bungle an attempt to burgle a state-run pawn shop (Monte di Pietà in Italian) in Rome.

The main roles are played by Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatori, Carlo Pisacane, and Tiberio Murgia. The careers of both Gassman and Mastroianni were considerably helped by the success of the film, Gassman in particular, since before then he was not deemed suitable for comedic roles. Claudia Cardinale featured in a minor role (a chaste, black-clad Sicilian girl, almost held prisoner at home by her overbearing brother, played by Tiberio Murgia); she would later rise to fame for other work. The film is also notable for its breezy jazz score by the composer Piero Umiliani, who helped develop the style of the jazz soundtracks now considered characteristic of European films in the 1960s and 1970s

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