Thursday, February 3, 2011

Don Camillo (1952)****


        Don Camillo is a warm, entertaining and quite funny screwball comedy set in a small town in Northern Italy, The title character, played by French comedian Fernandel, is a grumpy but lovable country priest who dispenses fisticuffs and sacraments with equal aplomb. Camillo's power in the community is threatened by the town's newly elected communist mayor Pepone (Gino Cervi), and his ambitious plans to modernize the bucolic village and move it into the 20th century.

      The two men have been feuding since childhood, and an amusing game of one-upmanship ensues, as each attempts to curry favor with the local populace and hopefully make the other look bad in the process. Over the course of the film, we learn all about the petty squabbles and grudges that have simmered in the village for generations, and continue to shape the lives of its citizens to this day. And ultimately Camillo and Pepone find their long running rivalry giving way to a sort of mutual, if reluctant, respect.

      Fernandel and Cervi were both talented and experienced actors, and they portray the antagonists with a charming effortlessness. Fernandel is particularly funny in the scenes where he converses with a statue of Jesus, and to the delight of the audience, the crucifix responds with useful advice delivered in a dry, sardonic wit. Those seeking lighthearted entertainment suitable for all ages and tastes will find Don Camillo tailor-made. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go and add the sequel Don Camillo Returns to my queue.