While Fellini went crazy with the glamorous Anita and Marcello in the Rome of La Dolce Vita, Monicelli passed through the same locations with Magnani and Totò as a pair of irresistible losers
Totò and Anna Magnani together for the only time, in one of the most surprising films from the master of Italian comedy
Risate di gioia, for a long time underappreciated, slots straight in alongside Mario Monicelli’s other masterpieces of Italian comedy. After the successes of La grande guerra and I soliti ignoti, Monicelli puts together two of the giants of Italian cinema: Totò and Anna Magnani. In doing so, he makes the most of their considerable acting skills, in two difficult and delicately nuanced roles; the resulting performances are a far cry from the comfortable “masks” they wore in many other works. Written by Monicelli, Age & Scarpelli and Suso Cecchi D’Amico, and loosely based on a story by Alberto Moravia, the film is far more bitter than the title promises, despite being full of variety-style gags and irresistible jokes. Anna Magnani (having returned from her time in America, which saw her appear alongside Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster, and win an Oscar) wanders around with an ostrich feather boa, sporting a head of blonde hair. Totò drags out his old tuxedo to once again toil at the art of getting by. The two stars pass through the same Rome that, a few months earlier, Federico Fellini interpreted in his own unique way in the excesses of La Dolce Vita, enriching the Eternal City with a disconcerting feeling of an altogether different nature. At the time of its release, the film wasn’t as successful as had been expected, perhaps a result of its nostalgic and melancholic feel and its dense mix of laughter and pessimism, of which Monicelli was an expert. It remains the only film to feature both Magnani and Totò, a fact that ought to be sufficient to reserve a place of honour for it. And to embellish the dish, it also has a healthy side serving of a young and devilish Ben Gazzara.
The night of December 31st. Gioia, a no longer young film extra, imposes her company on Infortunio, a fourth-rate actor, who would instead like to devote his evening to pulling off some robberies with a younger accomplice. The three go on a variety of adventures and Gioia convinces herself that the young scoundrel is in love with her. Then, as dawn approaches, he attempts to commit a sacrilegious crime. Gioia tries to prevent him, but due to a misunderstanding she ends up getting arrested.