Noirvember 2020, Episode 25: The Facts of Murder (1959)
The Facts of Murder (Un maledetto imbroglio, 1959)
Directed by Pietro Germi
Produced by Guiseppe Amato, Mario Silvestri
Written by Ennio De Concini
Based on the novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda
Cinematography by Leonida Barboni
Edited by Robert Cinquini
Music by Carlo Rustichelli
Distributed by Cineriz, Seven Arts Productions
(1:55) Noir City International, AFI Silver, streaming
That rarity of rarities is a movie – a murder mystery, no less – that succeeds in telling an effective story while combining more than enough comedy to satisfy audiences who may not typically enjoy murder mysteries. Did I mention the film also is an excellent police procedural? It boggles the mind that one film can combine all these elements, but The Facts of Murder not only does this, but does it with a cast of characters that’s almost too good to be true.
Okay, so hang with me here: A masked bandit steals jewelry from a palazzo apartment. Not a big deal for police Inspector Ingravallo (Pietro Germi, left). So far so good. But then a witness from a neighboring apartment is found murdered. This is where things get delightfully complicated.
Almost every resident of the building is suspicious. First there’s Remo Banducci (Claudio Gora), the husband of the murdered woman. Ingravallo is convinced Banducci has secrets he’s trying to keep hidden, so he sends his men to keep tabs on him. Soon Ingravallo’s men are keeping tabs on a suspicious doctor named Valdarena (Franco Fabrizi), a beautiful young woman (Claudia Cardinale, first photo above), a marathon runner, an eccentric man trying to stay out of the newspapers, and we’re just scratching the surface. The suspects just keep coming, and Ingravallo’s men are running their own marathons attempting to watch everyone’s movements.
The way director Pietro Germi balances all of these elements is a wonder, but when you also consider that he has the lead role, his own balancing act is astounding. Many critics and audiences have mentioned that Peter Falk’s Lieutenant Columbo was at least partly based on Ingravallo, but Germi’s detective contains perhaps more dimensions.
With each suspect, Ingravallo plays it slightly differently, feigning ignorance or thickness with one, aggressive tactics with another, and biting banter with another. During one scene, Ingravallo has just interrogated a suspect in his home and is moving down the stairs. The inspector knows he’s made the suspect nervous enough to step outside his apartment to make sure the police presence is gone. Even without turning around, Ingravallo knows this, waving his hand to the suspect as he descends the stairs. Germi is simply spectacular in the role, with facial expressions that sometimes tell the suspect (and the audience) exactly what he’s thinking. Or not. When he puts on his sunglasses, all bets are off.
If Ingravallo isn’t interesting enough, his men doing most of the case’s legwork provide comic relief for us and exasperation for Ingravallo. Maresciallo Saro (Saro Urzi) eats constantly throughout the film. The telephone is always ringing, and it’s never the person Ingravallo wants to hear from. No one gets any sleep. All of this is comedic without becoming tiresome. I have no idea how Germi managed to pull all this off. I would love to read the original source novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda, but this film is such a work of genius that I don’t know if the novel would be anything other than a letdown.
Yet we’re here for a murder mystery, and it’s a terrific one. The film also contains a terrific score by Carlo Rustichelli, one that I could listen to for hours. The Facts of Murder, although more police procedural than noir, is so entertaining most noir fans won’t even care. If you enjoyed the Italian film Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) or even the Pink Panther movie A Shot in the Dark (1964), you’re bound to enjoy The Facts of Murder.