Law, The: Dassin’s Film, Starring Mastroianni, Montand, Lollobrigida

In exile in Europe, American Jules Dassin, blacklisted during the McCarthy political witchhunting, directed a dozen films, some excellent, other mediocre, and still others rather bad.

Flaunting an international cast, dubbed in French, “The Law” belongs to Dassin’s weaker movies, a “curio item.”

Set in a small Mediterranean town, the story revolves around a group of men who meet every night in the local tavern to play a vicious game called “The Law.”  According to the rules, one man is selected and the others have to obey and to do whatever he decides–no matter how silly, absurd, or humiliating.

Gina Lollobrigida plays the voluptuous Mariette, the servant and object of desire of Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur), who’s married to Donna Lucrezia (Melina Mercouri).  Lucrezia is in love with Francesco, the son of crime boss Brigante (Yves Montand).  Meanwhile, Mariette has fallen in love with Enrico, a poor engineer played by Marcello Mastroianni.

Melodrama kicks in when Mariette decides to get a dowry so that she marry Enrico and take matters in her hands. Lucrezia and the much younger Francesco plan to leave town on a bus, in defiance of Brigante, but father reproaches son.  When Lucrezia tries to return hoom to her husband, Brigante decides to humiliate and punish her with a seductive act that leads to her suicide.  In the end, Mariette’s scheme pays off and she gets Enrico to marry her, while rebellious son Francesco finally stands up to his patrirachal father and leaves town by bus.

Shot in black-and-white, “The Law” again displays Dassin’s facility with the camera, which rises above the trepidations of the convoluted plot.  There are at least half a dozen scenes, mostly exteriors set by the water, that are visually satisfying.

The two appealing women provide color—and camp–an unintentional effect of the preposterous situations and ludicrous dialogue, co-penned Dassin, who adapted Vailland’s 1957 popular French novel.

There are several high-camp sequences, such as Lollobrigida getting whipped by the women in an act of revenge, a seduction scene between Lollobrigida and Montand that involves spitting (by her, before she succumbs) and slapping (by him) that ends badly, a semi-erotic scene between Mastroianni and Lollobrigida, getting wet in the sea so that we’ll be able to observe her lush body.

Among the side benefits are a reminder of Lollobrigida’s gorgeous looks and shapely breasts (manifest in the tight deep-cleavage dresses, Montand with a thin and unsuitable moustache begging for a drink while in chains, and a Melina Mercouri (Dassin’s real wife) in short blond hair.

“The Law” (“La loi”) was originally released in the U.S. under the absurd title of “Where the Hot Wind Blows!”

The DVD release of the film by Oscilloscope Pictures in 2010 gave the picture a second life.

Cast

Gina Lollobrigida – Mariette

Pierre Brasseur – Don Cesare

Marcello Mastroianni – Enrico Tosso, the Engineer

Melina Mercouri – Donna Lucrezia

Yves Montand – Matteo Brigante

Raf Mattioli – Francesco Brigante

Vittorio Caprioli – Attilio, the Inspector

Lidia Alfonsi – Giuseppina

Gianrico Tedeschi – First Loafer

Nino Vingelli – Pizzaccio

Bruno Carotenuto – Balbo

Luisa Rivelli – Elvira

Anna Maria Bottini – Maria

Anna Arena – Anna, Attilio’s wife