The Law (La Loi)

| September 25, 2010

Social power plays among the inhabitants of a coastal Italian town are the focus of Jules Dassin’s 1959 feature, The Law (La Loi), starring Gina Lollobrigida (Beat the Devil), Marcello Mastroianni (8 1/2), Yves Montand (Jean de Florette) and Melina Mercouri (Dassin’s Never on Sunday and Topkapi). Although Dassin saw it as one of his lesser films due to the numerous concessions he was forced to make to his financiers, fans of Dassin’s other work (such as Rififi and Night and the City) will definitely want to check out The Law with the release of Oscilloscope’s beautiful, bonus-packed set.
With photography by Otello Martelli (La Dolce Vita, La Strada), a fantastic cast, and masterfully crafted tonal shifts that veer seamlessly from the comical to the nerve-wracking and back again, The Law is anything but a minor film. Interestingly, too, is how the film’s themes are developed in relation to a drinking game played by the men early on in the film, that they call “The Law.” The game is fairly simple, a man chosen at random is “the boss.” He chooses a second in command, and between the two of them, they decide who drinks and who doesn’t from a pitcher of wine for which they all have paid. Once the pitcher is empty, a new boss is chosen and the game apparently continues until it is either broken up by the cops or a fight breaks out. The purpose of “The Law” is simply to show who’s boss, and in the town of Porto Manacore, power is almost exclusively gained through humiliation, and fear.
In our introduction to Porto Manacore, Dassin presents us with all the key players and a number of minor ones, creating an impression of a community not unlike those crafted by Fellini films like Amarcord and I Vitelloni. Dassin goes to great lengths to bolster a connection between us, the viewers, and Porto Manacore, that we ultimately care (not just for the sake of our protagonists, but for the town as a whole) who, in the end, will be left to make la loi.
The 2-disc set from Oscilloscope, in their 100% recyclable packaging, offers a terrific transfer and a wealth of special features that turn what Dassin considered a minor work into an important release. Features include:
-A fun and fascinating audio Commentary by film critic David Fear.
-An alternate ending (which is not so much an alternate ending as it is an extended version of the existing ending).
-1958 episode of Cinépanorama from the set of The Law, which features Dassin, Lollobrigida, Montand and Mercouri.
-A 1957 interview with Roger Vailland, author of the novel La Loi.
L’Ultima Osteria, a documentary about the drinking game, “The Law” as played in Southern Italy today.
-Theatrical Trailer
-And an essay by Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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