It is New Year's Eve in Rome and the 52-year-old movie extra played by Anna Magnani is filled with hope for the night. She longs for romance, adventure and excitement and finds all three, though not in the way she had anticipated. She runs into a drunk middle-aged American businessman played by Fred Clark. She keeps running into another Cinecitta bit actor portrayed by Toto, then 62. And finally she meets Ben Gazzara, then thirty, the title character of "The Passionate Thief", directed by Mario Monicelli.
In this 1960 film which is also known as "Joyous Laughter", Monicelli captures all the tension which traditionally accompanies New Year's Eve, a night when we think of our progress as human beings, our ability to attract and sustain love, and our own mortality. To stave off such cosmic musings, there are parties and celebrations and endless glasses of champagne. Magnani's character is forever in pursuit of The Ultimate Party, but there are obstacles wherever she turns. She is late for a bash with co-workers, who leave the rendezvous point without her. She spends much precious time alone on public transportation after being ditched by Gazzara and Toto. She is spared the knowledge that the hot-fingered Gazzara, her romantic target for the night, has no interest in her and only wants to pick up some stolen loot, with Toto as a reluctant accomplice.
With Magnani in the role. the adolescent longings of this small-time actress are quite contagious. She believes in love, in the future and in herself. She is not jaded by life's many setbacks, although she certainly has plenty of reasons. She is willing to pay for her mistaken dreams and she seems invulnerable to despair. Magnani's and Toto's tour-de-force performances contribute to make "The Passionate Thief" a very funny, immensely touching story.
© 2007 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 1/10/07
The Passionate Thief
Italy - 1960