“Rich people don’t kill on a whim!” is one of the many gems of pulp wisdom in expat filmmaker Jules Dassin’s 1959 French-Italian co-production “The Law” (La legge; La Loi), never released in its Italian-language version before in the U.S., a melodrama set in a small Italian seaside village with the ravishing cast of Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri, Yves Montand, Montand’s mustache, and Pierre Brasseur. The dialogue’s spoken Italian waft is rich alongside Lenny Borger’s pleasingly blunt subtitles: “There are those who are in charge and those who submit.” There are those who will find pleasures here: be prepared to submit. The blocking of and gestural acting is gloriously broad, almost as arcane as kabuki and as mesmerizing in its dated yet expressive style. The plot sounds awful in synopsis—Mastroianni comes from the north to drain a malarial swamp—but Dassin moves through its paces with unabashed energy. Cliché romps with the assurance of 1950s dramatic archetype, graced with the enjoyable addition of rabid kisses, sweat and spilt blood. The title refers to a drinking game, which gives you an idea of another kind of steam rising from the film. Distributor Oscilloscope has good taste in many ways, including converting their green-and-yellow presentation credit to the same bold black-and-white. 117m. (Ray Pride)
“The Law” opens Friday at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.