Total (Flavio Bucci) is an accountant in a bank, which is odd enough in itself for he is allergic to money, but that's not all that troubles him, as the clients who he sees every day, making their deals and transactions at his place of employment, set him thinking, wondering if these people actually deserve to be as rich as they are when so many in society are going without. The final straw arrives when he is in the main public area of the bank, seeing the wealthy butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) hand over cuts of meat as bribes to ensure his deals go smoothly, and suddenly a gang of robbers make their presence felt. They are on a hiding to nothing of course, the security there is simply too effective, and as the guard dogs are set on them the butcher also starts beating one of them up...
This is too much for Total, as he has a revelation right there: he must strike a blow against the capitalism rampant in society, and to do so he will make an example of the hated butcher by manufacturing a victim out of him. This was writer and director Elio Petri wrapping up a trilogy of movies where he took on his accustomed social commentaries in his equally recognisable mix of surrealism and message making, a format very much of its time in European cinema, and not generating many lasting works that would be well known to the casual film watcher. Here, while it was billed as a comedy, you may find precious little to laugh at thanks to a decided heart of steel beneath the strangeness.
Fair enough, the concerns stemmed from a very sincere worry over the state of the world, but the methods Petri went about this statement of what to do with the problem of the haves and the have-nots, could be offputting to those unfamiliar with the common styles of Italian film of the nineteen-seventies, as this doubled as a crime thriller too. Crime was a subject on everyone's mind in the nation during this decade, it was inescapable in the picture houses as every time the public visited one they would more often than not be confronted with filmmakers serving up their take on the wave of robberies, kidnappings and murders spreading like a rash across the country, not to mention the rapes - all of these featured in the movies.
Whether Petri believed he could change things for the better with this effort in particular was a moot point since there were so many of these jostling for attention, which may be why there are so few among the comedies, thrillers, horrors and dramas that stand out as a single example of the genre: you really had to take the flavour of a number to see both the appeal and what they were getting at, and even then the quality could vary wildly. This was one of the better ones in one way, in that it clearly set out a radical course of events as a solution, so you could well understand Petri's themes, yet in another it was a steadfastly unfriendly experience, the laughs falling into the bizarre category rather than the kneeslapping hilarity one, and in some instances turning truly unnerving as Total implements his plan.
The butcher initially wonders who has nicked his hat and the carving knife he uses for his cuts of meat, though we know it is Total, who presumably was intended to be an anti-hero as he turns to crime to seek justice in a heavily paradoxical manner. When he shows up at his target's swanky town apartment wearing said hat over a stocking mask and wielding the knife to persuade the butcher’s girlfriend Anita (Daria Nicolodi, best known for her collaborations with Dario Argento) to hand over her pearls and jewellery, it is the act less of a noble revolutionary and more the act of a man who gets his kicks self-righteously justifying his lawbreaking behaviour with that time-honoured claim, "they were asking for it!" The treatment of Anita was especially troubling, consciously knocked around by both the antagonists for they regard her a property, an object to be used as a bargaining tool if it comes down to it. One would hope Petri was being satirical, but to be honest women were punished so terribly in Italian movies of this stripe it was difficult to discern. Plus Total's notions of justice were hard to accept anyway, in an off-kilter, uneasy watch. Music by Ennio Morricone, also off-kilter.