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Films I Neglected To Review: One Last Bit Of Exorcise For 2020
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Cleansing Hour" and "The Passionate Thief."

Although "The Cleansing Hour" is not a particularly good movie by any means, its biggest sin the general lack of originality on display--even entry-level horror buffs will have seen much of what is being offered up here before and the moments where it at least attempts to make a little more of an effort still have a whiff of the familiar about them. The film centers on Father Max Tyler (Ryan Guzman) and Drew (Kyle Gallner), two friends who are behind The Cleansing Hour, a web series in which the former performs elaborate exorcism rituals for all to see. The entire thing is, of course, bullshit--Max isn't even a priest--but their audiences are growing exponentially and they are buying too many of their equally suspect "Vatican Approved" merchandise to make them even consider stopping things while they are ahead. One night, the actress hired to play that episode's possessed victim doesn’t show and Drew’s fiancee, Lane (Alix Angelis) is pressed into service at the last second as a replacement and it is at this point, of course, that an actual demon turns up to possess her and confront Max and Drew over their own sins as the ratings begin to skyrocket. The performances are okay and director Damien LeVeck--whose name is almost startlingly on point for the subject at hand--puts things across with a reasonable amount of style and flash for what is essentially a low-budget programmer. The trouble, as previously mentioned, is that there is precious little to LeVeck's screenplay that hasn't been seen before and it never quite finds its own approach to the material that might have helped push it through. "The Cleansing Hour" isn't awful--there are far worse ways by which one could go about killing 90-odd minutes--but if you were asked to come up with a genuinely positive thing to say about it, even the most forgiving of souls will find themselves coming up short.

Although the similarities between the two are presumably more coincidental than anything else, it will be hard for most viewers of the 1960 Italian import "The Passionate Thief"--now retiring to art house theaters in a newly restored version--to look at it without thinking of it as a less gaudy and more European riff on the original "Ocean's 11" (1960). After all, both tell tales of attempted New Years Eve robberies that go comedically awry, though Mario Monicelli's take is somewhat more subdued and subtle than the American Rat Pack spectacular. On New Year’s Eve, Tortorella (Anna Magnani), a struggling actress whose career consists almost entirely of extra work, fails to connect with the friends she is supposed to be attending a party with and when she runs into fellow extra Umberto (Toto), she decides to latch on to him in order to save face. What she doesn't realize is that Toto is working with professional pickpocket and thief Lello (a young and dewy Ben Gazzara in his first big-screen appearance after "Anatomy of a Murder"), who is planning to make a killing by lifting valuables from revelers and passing them on to Umberto to hold. Needless to say, Tortorello’s presence throws their plans into chaos and while Umberto is willing to scrap the whole plot in order to be with Tortorello, Lello is not easily dissuaded and as the three move from one setting to the next, Umberto's attempts to serve Lello while placating Tortorello result in the expected array of comic disasters.

To hear the basic premise of "The Passionate Thief," one might assume that the film itself is a broad, high-spirited farce, especially if they recall Moncelli’s most famous work as a filmmaker, the international hit caper comedy "Big Deal on Madonna Street" (1958). In fact, while there are a number of undeniably funny moments strewn throughout, the tone leans a little closer to the melancholy--we are always made aware of Tortorello's deep-seated insecurities regarding virtually every aspect of his life, Umberto's conflict between his desire for money and his desire for Tortorello and the very real danger that the not-joking Lello poses to both of them if he is prevented from making his needed score. It is still drolly amusing without ever becoming too frantic for its own good and film buffs may get a kick out of seeing Magnani in a role that is somewhat lighter than the heavy dramatic fare that she was famous for and seeing Gazzara turn up in such an unexpected manner. This is the first time that "The Passionate Thief" has been afforded a legal home video release in this country and while it may not prove to be an absolute classic, it is nevertheless an unusual charmer of a film that will allow viewers to end 2020 on a high note, at least cinematically speaking.


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originally posted: 12/30/20 15:13:31
last updated: 12/30/20 15:21:36
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