Mario Monicelli, the Italian director known as one of the great "comedia
all'Italiana" filmmakers for movies including "Big Deal on Madonna
Street" and "La Grande Guerra" (The Great War) in the 1950s and 60s,
died Monday in Rome in an apparent suicide. He was 95.
A spokeswoman for the San Giovanni hospital in Rome, where Mr. Monicelli
was being treated for a pancreatic condition that appeared terminal,
told news agencies that he jumped to his death Monday night from his
hospital room. His body was covered by a sheet for hours as police and
medical examiners investigated the circumstances of his death.
Mr. Monicelli was a contemporary of the noted Italian filmmakers
Federico Fellini and Ettore Scola and worked closely with some of the
nation's greatest actors, including Marcello Mastroianni, Toto and
Alberto Sordi. His career spanned more than 60 years in which he wrote
and directed dozens of films, documentaries, shorts and TV series,
including 2006's "The Roses of the Desert." He was most well-known for
the comedies "Big Deal on Madonna Street" (1958) a crime caper where
inept criminals bungle their robbery of a pawn shop, and "La Grande
Guerra" (1959) which won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion Award
for its comedic take on the tragedies of World War I. In 1991, the
Venice Film Festival honored him with a lifetime achievement award.
Beyond its humor, Monicelli's work combined comedy with serious social
criticism of the difficulties faced by an Italian society that had been
traumatized by wars and the Fascist movement.
"Monicelli's films focused on the problems of people on the lower rungs
of society trying to make do in a world that is just as ludicrous as
their foolish attempts to get ahead," The Times noted in a review of a
1997 retrospective showing eight of his films at Lincoln Center's Walter
In addition to the critical success of his films, Mr. Monicelli also
found commercial success.
"It took something to be able to combine great art and make great money
at the box office," said Peter Bondanella the author of "A History of
Italian Cinema." "Monicelli was really a super commercially viable guy
who had a touch of genius too, and he knew what he could do with really
good actors with a good script."
His influence was also felt in American cinema. Several directors have
have produced work inspired by "Big Deal on Madonna Street," including
Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks," Louise Malle's "Crackers," Alan
Taylor's "Palookaville" and the Russo Brothers' "Welcome to Collinwood."
Ultimately, it was the mix of tragedy and comedy that drove Mr.
"All Italian comedy is dramatic," he said in a 2004 interview with
Cineaste magazine "The situation is always dramatic, often tragic, but
it's treated in a humorous way. But people die in it, there's no happy
ending. That's just what people like about it. The Italian comedy, the
kind I make, always has this component."