Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nick the Sting

aka Gli Amici Di Nick Hezard

The dirty rotten American businessman Robert Clark (Lee J. Cobb) spends most of his business life doing extremely illegal deals. His newest one is a little insurance fraud. He hires a burglar to steal highly valuable jewelry from his own villa to get at the insurance money and be able to sell the valuables later on. Usually, that's the sort of theft we here approve of, but Clark also kills the burglar, just to be sure he isn't talking.

And that's not safe enough Clark. He also puts the small-time conman Nick Hezard (Luc Meranda) in possession of a piece of the stolen jewelry, so that the police and the insurance company will blame the whole business on Nick and unknown accomplices. Then it's just the little business of murdering Nick and his fence and Clark's perfect crime is done. Too bad for Clark that he doesn't kill Nick, but a friend of Nick's.

The young conman wants revenge, although he isn't the type to go into all guns blazing action hero mode, so he plans on doing the biggest con of his career on Clark. With the help of his pimp mother (Valentina Cortese) and a bunch of old partners of his conman father, he gets to work. However, it's not as easy as he would have wished for, with Clark's henchmen and an insurance inspector (William Berger) and a cop on his trail.

Did you love The Sting? Well, a lot of people in Italy obviously did, and if there is one thing for certain when it comes to the Italian film industry of the time, then it's its incredible hunger for the production of cheap rip-offs of everything that has made even a little money.

Nick the Sting has the definite advantage over other second row caper movies of having been directed by Fernando Di Leo. Today (at least outside of Italy), Di Leo is mostly known for his harder Eurocrime and cop movies, but he of course also made a lot of Western or whatever else the genre of the day might have been.

It turns out that Di Leo's snappy sense of pacing is useful in a caper movie as well as when showing the more brutal film version of gangster life like in Milano Calibro 9, and so whatever faults Nick the Sting may have, being slow or boring certainly isn't one of them. And if any kind of chase or a little brawl is needed to liven up the proceedings, Di Leo is the right man to deliver them with surehanded enthusiasm.

Neither is the acting a problem, although I find Meranda more convincing when he is not donning silly disguises, but I'd put that inherent ridiculousness more on the genre conventions (which require broadness and obviousness of disguises as to let the viewer feel superior over the hero's victims) as on the actor. Everyone else seems to have a lot of fun with her or his role, giving the film a bit of a party feeling that seems only too fitting when one keeps in mind that one of the pleasures of films of this type has always been to watch clever working class criminals sticking it to the rich, brutal gangster types in a less bloody variation on the "little man strikes back" theme. Nick the Sting even puts further emphasis on this part of its subtext by giving the conpeople an appearance of community and social responsibility for each other the big gangsters and the police seem to lack.

One could of course go on and criticize the film's script for the much too complicated scam its heroes are setting up, but another pleasure of the genre lies exactly in this baroque complexity that is meant to demonstrate the good guys' cleverness. After all, it's not supposed to be a realistic scam, because then the victims would be poor old people and the protagonists much less sympathetic, it's supposed to be an idealized and utopian version of a scam where no one really gets physically hurt, and only the real bad guys are hurt at all - where it truly hurts them, their bank accounts. (Please imagine Billy Bragg and Wilco playing "The Unwelcome Guest" here).

A more troubling problem of the plot is its closeness to the original The Sting, and I would decry the film's near plagiarism loudly and violently if not for the fact that I didn't find myself caring much about things like intellectual property while watching.

Instead, I was having quite a fun time with one of the friendlier genre films coming from Italy.


No comments: