Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is now a master at reading rapid-fire subtitles.
"Murder, betrayal, office politics, temptation…"
The subtitles for Detective Montalbano (originally Il commissario Montalbano in Italy) are burned on—the series was made for Italy's RAI, and is being shown in the United States on MHz Networks—but if you could turn them off, you might decide Montalbano looks like an ordinary mystery movie, with the beautiful Sicilian coast whetting your appetite for a vacation as a bonus. Looks are deceiving, though.
Detective Montalbano: Episodes 23/24 is dedicated to a fan here in the States who died this year. Andrea Camilleri wrote the books it descends from.
Facts of the Case
Each mystery movie has its own disc:
• "Angelica's Smile"—People with second homes are being burgled—twice. While looking into the circle of friends involved, Salvo Montalbano (Luca Zingaretti, Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia) goes to bed with victim Angelica (Margareth Madé, who played Sophia Loren in My House is Full of Mirrors).
• "Mirror Effect"—A beautiful neighbor (Barbora Bobulova, Balancing Act) takes an interest in Montalbano just as he begins investigating a series of bombings. It would look like protection rackets—except that the storefronts were empty.
The first episode, "Angelica's Smile," opens ordinarily enough, with Detective Salvo Montalbano in bed with his girlfriend Livia. Things take a turn, though, as soon as he gets a call from his office. It's a protracted discussion with Catarella (Angelo Russo, Corleone), one of his subordinates; most of it is stuff like Montalbano trying to explain that "the filer" is the guy who filed the police report, but isn't necessarily named "Mr. Filer." Soon, Montalbano runs into a lot of people—suspects, victims, and a waiter—named Carlo, just after hearing his girlfriend refer to Carlo in a dream. As the movie goes on, you'll notice every line seems just a little ridiculous. Luca Zingaraetti as Montalbano is usually the straight man, seeming more like a bedroom-oriented version of Bob Newhart than the Kojak-esque tough guy he first appears to be. However, he's always open to, say, looking like a "dickhead"—Montalbano's own word—in a TV interview if it'll get answers.
In short, Detective Montalbano is a farce. It isn't a high-concept farce; the crimes have twists, but they're still more or less predictable and there's nothing there that's grotesque or offbeat. This isn't Midsomer Murders: Sicily. You'll note that even the score tips off the show's intentions with comic flourishes.
That said, even though you're likely to solve the murders before they're finally committed—that's not a challenge when said slayings occur about 80 minutes in. If you check it out, you're likely to realize that Detective Montalbano isn't a bad show. It seems a little more solid than you'd think, when you're smiling over bizarre lines of dialogue.
The comedy is mostly verbal, and you're reading it. That's a bit inconvenient, but the subtitles seem to be well-done, a necessity for dialogue that involves translating a lot of puns. I can't recall ever giving a thumbs-up to the translator, but here, the anonymous contributor's work stands out. There is an occasional outright pratfall, but no more so than in any other mystery movie series.
The picture is solid; those shots of narrow Sicilian streets and beautiful beaches come across excellently. The score is a bit loud, but it's handled well on the DVD. The DVD cover explains that Vigata, Montalbano's seaside beat, is really Ragusa. Alongside the IMDb description, there's a link to an article from The Guardian on British Montalbano tourism.
Each episode has a "behind the scenes" segment, mostly dedicated to interviews with the seductively beautiful guest star of the week. A good chunk of these segments are in English.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While Detective Montalbano isn't a bad show, the movies do clock in at almost the two hours alloted, while a typical ITV mystery is more like 90 minutes or so, with more in the way of plot and action. That feels like half-an-hour too much, at least, especially when you're reading dialogue. I had to take breaks and decide these were unofficial two-parters. It does feel protracted.
A lot of the detection on Montalbano seems to be handled off-screen by Fazio (Peppino Mazzotta, We Believed), his right-hand man. Thus, viewers get the information and the clues in the dialogue, too.
It's also to be noted that other countries allow bare breasts to slip into a prime-time drama, and even without them, the situations and dialogue are racy.
Detective Montalbano isn't bad, although the length of the movies and the predictability of the stories I've seen work against it. I can see how you might get into the habit of watching if you found it on your local MHz channel, although collecting it at two episodes per DVD set might be a little daunting if you're not familiar with it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MHz Networks
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