Johnny Stecchino

This afternoon (with thanks and apologies to PP) I at last got around to watching Roberto Benigni’s 1991 cult classic, Johnny Stecchino. Benigni plays a sweet dupe, Dante, and a gangster-turned-grass, Johnny, whilst Benigni’s real life wife, Nicoletta Braschi, plays the gangster’s scheming wife, Maria. A series of comic riffs are derived from the plot’s central deceit – that Dante is the spitting image of Johnny. Maria schemes to have Dante, mistaken for Johnny, assassinated, so that she and Johnny can then escape to Latin America and live happily ever after – or does she? There are some great gags but, basically, this film’s all about Benigni and if you happen not to like him then this isn’t for you. For those who do, though, Benigni is in a long line of comic actors, starting with Chaplin, who can make you laugh without saying a thing. I was trying to think of a British nearest-equivalent. No, not Rowan Atkinson, whose Mr Bean creation has an unredeeming mean streak but, rather, the far more lovable Norman Wisdom and his endearing creation, Norman Pitkin. And that’s why, in the end, this film doesn’t quite work for me. Benigni has spent a whole career developing the image of the gentle, lovable, talkative clown (think Bob in Down by Law for a start) and no matter how far he deepens his voice, his depiction of the evil Johnny just isn’t plausible. Italians would probably tell me that that is precisely the point. It’s good fun, anyway.

1 Comment

  1. Leo A. Sielsch

    24/02/2012 at 8:24

    Why is it impossible to obtain a DVD of this movie? I saw it on TV a number of years ago but now it seems to have gone into hibernation! I have friends to whom I have praised this movie.

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