Mario Monicelli (the most ingeniously irreverent director of Italian comedies) had this to say about the powerful innovation Alberto Sordi gave to the world of comedy: “He invented an exceptional comedic style that made people laugh by looking at the negative side of things.” There is no doubt that a lot of the credit should also go to Sordi’s trusted screenwriter, Rodolfo Sonego, whose writing here manages to be so confidently scathing. The “hero of our times” of the title is a petty man, always ready to lay the blame on others, himself a victim of his environment. And yet, he manages to be intriguing: in fact, more than one critic has noticed similarities to Chekhov characters. Monicelli, Sordi and Sonego are masters of the bittersweet comedy that serves as a mirror to the pettiness of the world, leaving us hanging between laughter and indignation. This is basically a prototype of the best commedia all’italiana. We should also mention the talented supporting cast, especially Franca Valeri, at her usual best.
Oppressed by his aunt and a suffocating housemaid, Alberto fears any sort of commitment. He always sides with those in a position of power and has difficulty relating to the opposite sex. He is unwittingly suspected of a political assassination attempt. Once cleared of suspicion, he decides the best way to protect himself is to join the police.