Hands Over the City Movie Review

Anyone who's seen In the Heat of the Night knows all about Rod Steiger's way with inflections. Playing a small-town sheriff and foil to Sidney Poitier's polished, Philadelphia outsider, Steiger wrings meaning from his lines - hesitation, resentment, guarded admiration - that appear much more in the actor's instincts than in the script. He was a patient, controlled actor, and he took his time with his speech when needed, letting the viewer watch his thinking as he distilled the desired connotations from even the simplest of declarative sentences. In Heat of the Night, he could issue an unqualified warning to his big-city colleague by simply speaking his name. "Virgil..."

That's not to say that Steiger couldn't impart meaning in other ways, and it's a testimony to his abilities that, overdubbed in Italian in Francesco Rosi's 1963 political melodrama Hands over the City, he suffers no noticeable decline in emotive power. (Steiger appeared in films shot in French, German, and Magyar as well.) Playing a ruthless Neapolitan land developer named Edoardo Notolla, Steiger loses the inflection but gains an impressive physicality: He matches the most authentically Italian cast members for gestural speech and his attack-dog demeanor tells you that you oppose him at your own physical and political risk.

Opposing Notolla, in Hands over the City, means standing between him and a generous financial windfall that will come to those who own a swath of land, presently slated to remain undeveloped and fallow, should the city's counselors choose to disregard the current zoning plan and redirect development there. Notolla himself is an elected counselor, a centrist, and the implementation of his scheme requires that alliances be forged with the right. Allying himself with the left is impossible due to a recent building collapse in a residential neighborhood that claimed two lives and gravely injured a child, and that likely took place through the negligence of Notolla himself. The left, headed by councilman Da Vita (Carlo Fermariello), is in fact launching an inquiry into this collapse with the stated aim of finding Notolla responsible, and with elections right around the corner, everything, for the players involved, hangs in the balance.

Such is the substance of Hands over the City, a bracingly muckraking piece of filmmaking that followed on the heels of director Rosi's similarly political Salvatore Giuliano. Rosi ends his picture with the disclaimer that the film is based only on hypothetical events, but his impassioned tone belies that proviso: clearly the city of Naples suffered from the meddling of profiteers very like Notolla following the war (the city historically endures economic hardships, with an estimated 20 percent of working-age males unemployed to this day) and Rosi, as was his wont, used film to confront them head-on. Abetted by Steiger and by Piero Piccioni's wonky, tortured-jazz score, he gets the job done.

This being a film whose dramatic structure is supported by the formation of political alliances and the unmasking of damning, but largely technical, detail, a portion of the audience is liable to find Hands over the City too "talky" - think All the President's Men. But for those who are willing to focus - and can keep up with the subtitles - the experience is compelling indeed. (A likely added disadvantage, for American viewers, is the downbeat ending.) Hands over the City dramatizes ferociously a very specific act of exploitation, but the universality of its message is built-in: Capitalism, Rosi says, invariably produces a class that preys on the underprivileged for its own material gain, the final irony being that, in the case of the world's Notollas, the underprivileged reelects them and are exploited again.

The Criterion Collection has released a two-disc edition of Hands over the City; they deserve our admiration not only for making a beautiful transfer of the film available (and soaring views of Naples and shots of chic, Italian interiors merit the remastering) but for making it available at all. Criterion is nothing if not canny as regards their release schedule; the director clearly had an agenda, but you have to wonder if, in an election year, Criterion didn't have something they wished to let us in on as well.

Extras include Rosi's 1992 sequel Neapolitan Diary and a wealth of interviews and discussion.

Aka Le Mani sulla città .

Cast & Crew

Director : Francesco Rosi

Producer : Lionello Santi

Starring : , Carlo Fermariello, Salvo Randone,

Comments

Hands Over the City Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2006

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