Back on Cine34 (channel 34 of the remote control) at 21 a great all-Italian success: “Johnny Toothpick” by and with Roberto Benigni. A parody of mafia movie conceived and created by the Tuscan actor who not only takes care of the subject, the screenplay (together with Vincenzo Cerami) and the direction, but he recites it twice.
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In fact, in the 123 minutes of film, the great interpreter plays the role of two different charactersso similar as to be doubles of each other, but immensely different from the point of view of character: a naive boy who is a little ditzy and a mafia scammer.
The narrative scheme of Benigni’s film is soon said: a wicked character sentenced to death who wants to exploit the resemblance to an unfortunate double to save his skin by implementing a complicated but diabolical plan which in the end is thwarted by the same accomplices. An oft-repeated pattern: indeed the plot of “Johnny Toothpick” (released in theaters in 1991) seems to closely follow that of “Toto in Paris“, played by Totò and directed by Camillo Mastrocinque in 1958.
The film outside of its comical and hilarious aspect, once again represents a social complaint – which can be said to be characteristic of benign cinema. Society is in fact portrayed here in all its aspects of injustice, corruption (such as the judge and the minister colluding with Johnny and the mafia), perversion, a society incapable of acting honestly, but which is based only on what it sees .
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Synopsis (from comingsoon.it)
Dante (Roberto Benigni), a naive and somewhat childish young man lives in Florence, where he drives a school bus for the handicapped: his only friend and confidant is one of them, Lillo, who suffers from diabetes. Almost as a joke, Dante amuses himself by stealing some bananas and, above all, by cheating the insurance company, by pretending to be seriously crippled in his right hand. One night Dante is hit by the car of a beautiful young woman, Mary (Nicoletta Braschi). He was not damaged, but the lady, who hastened to help her, looks at his face enchanted, then faints at her feet. Meeting her again, Dante falls in love with her immediately, in her pure and dreamy way. She calls him Johnny and – as if on a whim – draws a mole on his cheek, makes him carry a toothpick in his mouth, and after buying him an elegant suit, takes him to lunch in a luxury restaurant. Causing him by coaxing her, but without giving him anything, Maria manages to get him to leave for Palermo, where she hosts him in an ancient and luxurious villa. Here she introduces him to an alleged drug-addicted lawyer uncle, who makes him believe that it is simply a medicine against diabetes. Meanwhile, Dante finds himself entangled in a dangerous affair, which he doesn’t understand: Maria is in fact the wife of a famous man “repentant” mafioso, the Italian-American Johnny Stecchino (Roberto Benigni), who has been living in hiding in the basement of the villa for some time, because the mafia has sentenced him to death. Now, having found Dante by chance, who is Johnny’s perfect double, Maria has decided to have him killed by the mafia, instead of her husband, who will thus be able to leave peacefully with her for abroad. But the unsuspecting young man causes a series of misunderstandings and troubles, always managing to save himself. The salient moments of the mess are the secret meeting with a corrupt and cocaine-addicted minister, who is candidly unmasked by Dante, and an evening at the opera, in which the young man, in a box with Maria, is exposed to the insults of the Palermitans and to the revenge of the mobsters who mistaken him for the real Johnny Stecchino. Finally he even manages to escape the trap set for him by the mafia in a barber shop. Meanwhile the real Johnny, who believes the double is already dead, is murdered by the mobsters in a public lavatory. Returning to Florence, Dante gives his friend Lillo the bag of drugs, to cure his diabetes: the boy, having tried the “medicine”, runs exalted down the street.
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With over 42 billion lire, Benigni’s film earned first place in the 1991-1992 film ranking, a David Special Of Donatello And 2 Silver Ribbons. The success of the public prompted the authors to publish a novelization (the novel based on the film) by Benigni himself and the co-writer Vincenzo Cerami. The fortunes of the film in the USA were completely different , where it grossed only $ 500,000 and the final scene was even censored .
“Irresistible comedy of errors,” he writes Massimo Bertarelli in “Il Giornale” in 2001: “a laugh factory from the exceptional comedic tempos, which the amazing author Benigni wrote, with Vincenzo Cerami, tailored to the phenomenal Benigni actor. You laugh so much that you bring tears to your eyes without the help, for once, of the bad word. If the first half hour lasted ten minutes and if all the gags were up to the formidable one of the theft of the bananas, it would be a truly perfect film”.
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