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La Legge (The Law) (1960): Tooth and Claw

Thanks to my son having minor surgery yesterday that kept us in the hospital way longer than expected, I’m once again playing catchup…

La Legge (The Law) (Jules Dassin, 1960)

An artist's loving rendition of Gina Lollobrigida graces the movie poster.

Legislature, as usual, is overturned by cleavage.
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Jules Dassin made a number of films which are now considered among the best ever shot—Rififi, Never on Sunday, Topkapi, etc. The Law is not one of them—it’s more low-rent soap opera/rural Peyton Place ripoff than it is classic cinema—but it’s stupidly enjoyable and contains Gina Lollobrigida wearing a number of tight outfits. Put those two things together and is it worth killing an hour and a half with? Of course it is.

Lollobrigida lounges in a pile of cash in a still from the film.

The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees.
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Lollobrigida plays Marietta, a small-time thief (it is never stated, but implied once or twice, she’s also a hooker) in a small, impoverished seaside town in Italy. Half the town is in love with her, including her boss Don Cesare (Children of Paradise‘s Pierre Brasseur), a bedridden old lech who’s actually the power behind the town, and the local crime boss (The Wages of Fear‘s Yves Montand) AND his brother (Violent Summer‘s Raf Mattioli), the public faces of the power behind the town, but Marietta only has eyes for Enrico (La Dolce Vita‘s Marcello Mastroianni). Problem is that Enrico is too poor to get married and Marietta is too poor to have a dowry. So she decides to use her skills to rectify that situation…

Lollobrigida in a... strange outfit in a still from the film.

“Does this make me look fat?”
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The name of the film comes from a drinking game the town’s men play every night, something so bleak and hope-crushing that it may as well have come out of a Béla Tarr movie. The men gather at the local tavern to play The Law. They draw lots; the winner is selected as boss, and may treat the others as his lackeys for the rest of the night. (One must be careful not to go overboard, for the chances you won’t be in the box the next night are pretty slim.) While it’s mostly set decoration here—one assumes it plays more prominence in the book, which I haven’t read—it certainly sets the proper tone for this noirish romance. I mean, look back at that synopsis and see if you can count the number of things that could possibly go wrong here. (Or just say “all of them” and you’re in the right ballpark.) Ultimately, that’s the problem with The Law; Dassin sets the scene and then does everything with it as predictably as he can. The comparison in the first paragraph to Peyton Place, the movie version of which was released three years previous to this, is not casual. Still, it’s a soap-opera good time with a lot of very pretty people doing very unpretty things, and it was made during the golden age of cinema by one of said golden age’s favorite sons, so what have you got to lose? ** ½


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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