The English title comes from a conversation midway through, a wry jibe following a car explosion in Palermo: One local notes that the city these days is beginning to look like Chicago, another one assures him that back home in the provinces "we still kill the old way." Elio Petriís spiraling helicopter shots give the seaside Sicilian village a Kokoschka view, his camera bobs and weaves to introduce the characters at an outdoors cafť before zooming to reveal the contents of an anonymous envelope ("This letter is your death sentence"). The town lothario and the doctor are killed during a hunting party (sudden shotgun blasts amid a flurry of birds, a Leonesque flash), the whole thing is dismissed as a cuckoldís "honor killing" and scapegoats are summarily produced. Unconvinced, the university professor and former Communist (Gian Maria VolontŤ) sets out to investigate and uncloaks a tight web of government, crime, church and family. "The age of poets with their heads in the clouds is over." A nation under the rule of gangster politics becomes both jungle and desert, sharp contrasts and pungent imagery state the theme: Potted foliage persistently intrudes into the frame in offices and chambers, the buildings outside are ancient rocks against which Irene Papas poses in mourning black. A diary with pages ripped off, a parked car turning its headlights on and off in the dark, the blind patriarch inside his mansion of a hundred bells -- itís such a network of dread that even Leopoldo Trieste, Felliniís favorite gentle clod, turns up sinister, wizened, and slicked with wormy shoe polish. A splendid shot caps Petriís formulation, an entire town trying to hide its corruption behind celebratory whites only to be gradually backlit into murky, blobby silhouettes. (Fulci in Donít Torture a Duckling drags their sins back out into the harshest light.) With Gabriele Ferzetti, Salvo Randone, and Luigi Pistilli.
--- Fernando F. Croce