Thanks to TCM for airing this Rossellini curio, thought lost until just a few years ago.
I love movies, but hate them too, because my complaint about half of them is that the whole “problem” being presented in the movie could be solved if “they would just kill that guy over there.”
I often think the same thing about real life.
The Machine That Kills Bad People teases out the unintended consequences that rain down when a simple man gets this wish.
The ingenious main plot is adorned with tart little touches: the villager who can’t remember whether it was the Germans who messed up a section of town — or the Americans; the colliding funeral processions (boy, Italians sure like processions…).
You almost wish this movie was in colour so we could enjoy the no-doubt ravishing Italian seaside scenery, but black and white was all that was available at the time and it helps maintain the film’s pedantic fairy tale quality.
If you like movies about movies — or in this case, the power (and lack thereof) of images — you’ll especially enjoy The Machine That Kills Bad People:
Interestingly, Rossellini never again returned so forcefully to the idea of the camera – be it for still photography or shooting motion pictures – as a potent social force, with its ability to “kill” in many ways prefiguring the “mondo” reality craze that would sweep through Italy in the following two decades thanks to Mondo Cane (1962) and its progeny. This film may have been too minor to be considered influential, but despite its lighthearted and fantastic aspects, one can find traces of its themes in later films ranging from Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), Paolo Cavara’s The Wild Eye (1967), and numerous films by Brian De Palma, among others. Rossellini’s supernatural farce isn’t as significant as some of those, of course, but it would make an oddly appropriate double feature with any of them.
But of course, it’s also a picturesque slice of Southern Italian village life, with its (pagan) religiosity, corruption, resignation and earthiness.
What a delightful fable. Track it down.