Illustrious Corpses (1976)

Lino Ventura, Tino Carraro, Marcel Bozzuffi, Paolo Bonacelli,
A detective (inspector Rogas) is assigned to investigate the mysterious murders of some Supreme Court judges. During the investigation he discovers a complot that involves the Italian Communist Party
  • 7.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Tonino Guerra, Lino Iannuzzi, Leonardo Sciascia, Writer:
  • Francesco Rosi, Director:
  • Alberto Grimaldi, Producer:

All subtitles:

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10 / 10

Murder among politics

Am a fan of foreign cinema and wanted to finally see more of Francesco Rosi's films, having loved his film version of 'Carmen' for years. That became one of my favourite opera films after seeing it for the first time at a relatively young age getting into opera and still is, it's actually even better now with the few things that didn't quite do it for me on my very first viewing, like the opening, not being issues.

Enough of talking about that film and lets talk about his 'Cadaveri Excellenti' ('Illustrious Corpses'). Was expecting great things after hearing a lot of positive things about it and was not let down, it deserves every good thing that has been said about it and deserves to be better known and accessibly. Am a subjective person but that 'Illustrious Corpses' was not available on DVD for a while and is to this day still underseen is inexplicable, when films nowhere near as good and in some cases not good films not only have wider coverage and highly marketed but are shown on television far more and are popular on DVD.

Talking now about 'Illustrious Corpses' as a film, it looks wonderful with some of the most strikingly beautiful and atmosphere-filled cinematography of any Italian film that doesn't have Federico Fellini's name on it. Some of it makes for many beautiful and at times nightmarish imagery, the mummified bodies will give one the creeps. The locations are also cleverly used and have both exquisite allure and stark atmosphere (apologies for throwing around this word a lot, it is hard not to when it is to me a crucial element of a film and should be mentioned). The music is haunting and has presence, whether understated or more bold, without being too loud.

'Illustrious Corpses' is intelligently written and thought-provoking, thematically it is bold and brutally honest yet human. Its depiction of Italian politics may not be innovative as such but was, and still is, honest and really quite daring (in a way that nobody expects) for back then. The story is deliberate in pace yet to me was transfixing, with a slow burning tension to the thriller/mystery parts sustained brilliantly with nothing being what it seems and .

The opening sequence is one of the best beginnings of any film seen recently, and perhaps ever, not just in how incredibly shot but also the emotion and chills one feels watching it. Even more striking is the shocking and really quite powerful ending that ends not in a way one expects, some may not like it but for me that it didn't end conveniently, predictably or less downbeat was actually appreciated and it did not jar tonally like those potentially would. There is suspense and there is nothing given away too early, one is kept guessing throughout with not much to help us. The killings are unlenting and the characters compellingly real with a lead character written with such honesty that it makes the outcome even sadder.

Rosi directs exceptionally with impeccable style and sense of mood and gets the best out of his cast. Lino Ventura is in the lead role and smoulders unforgettably on screen, giving a performance of magisterial and brooding intensity. It is a performance that has garnered comparisons as being the Italian Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart and one can see why. The other standout is Max Von Sydow, an actor so consistently great that it would have been very hard to get a bad performance out of him. A bad performance this is nowhere near close to being, instead it is repellent unrepentance at its most chilling yet nuanced, it is a masterclass of saying a lot without always saying much or anything and Von Sydow always was a master at this.

Concluding, superb film and deserves far more credit. 10/10 Bethany Cox

9 / 10

a candidate for best film opening ever

Made in between, Lucky Luciano and the much acclaimed Christ Stopped at Eboli, this is a fabulous, very impressive tale of the power of corruption and paranoia. The wonderful Lino Ventura is spot on as the laconic detective investigating, first the assassination of judges and then to what lies behind. Not everyone is so keen, of course, and as the plot thickens we begin to join up the dots that represent, the church, the judiciary, the mafia and the government. Maybe its all the fault of the hippies and students or maybe the corrupted officials will inadvertently fan that flame. Measured, beautifully photographed and never too explicit, we journey with mr Ventura and just hope he is on the right track. Fantastic opening with long corridor and religious artefacts and mummies that wouldn't look amiss in a Luis Bunuel film leading us to the first brutal killing. Surely a candidate for best film opening ever.

7 / 10


Grab your chins and prepare to do some stroking because we are in serious territory here with Francesco Rosi's Illustrious Corpses.

No jaw-socking, car chases and even gunfights here, but don't run off to Maurizio Merli yet. What we have here is a nice, thick Spezzatino full of meat (plot), vegetables (twists), and herbs (cameo appearances by various Italian genre actors), all mainly revolving around middle-aged policeman Rogas.

The general tone of the film is set when we see an elderly judge wandering through the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, looking at the corpses and perhaps considering his own mortality. That would be ironic because about a minute after he leaves someone unknown assassin shoots him.

This brings us to Rogas, Italy's best detective, brought in because killing judges isn't generally approved. At first Rogas brings in the local mob, but as one Don states: "You know you are wasting your time with us." While he's doing that another judge is killed on a highway, and yet another while Rogas is in the same building. This piles significant pressure on Rogas as the situation becomes, as one person puts it 'political'.

Rogas reckons he's nailed the case when he starts digging into trials involving all three judges, which leads to him finding a suspect for whom every image has been destroyed, including photo albums and even police documentation. This leads the film into giallo territory for a brief time as we see another judge get stalked and murdered, while Rogas is pushed to look at subversive groups and bag a quick arrest by his superiors.

This two hour long film that has very little action should be snooze-fest, but it is relentlessly fascinating to watch Rogas weave his way through the political labyrinth of Italy's Years of Lead, speaking with bemused, yet sinister Senators like Fernando Rey (great here), angry, unrepentent judges like Max Von Sydow (also great), and the Communist party (including journalist Luigi Pistilli). You also get cameos from Marcel Bozuffi and Tina Aumont thrown in for good measure.

What also keeps you watching is the ever growing sense of doom and paranoia that begins to surround Rogas as he loses confidence and trust in every single person he deals with, leaving him constantly looking over his shoulder. There's a scene where he realises his telephone is bugged that's as foreboding as any horror film.

I highly recommend this one - it's dark and complex. Like a Spezzatino.

10 / 10

By making "Cadaveri Eccelenti", Italian director Francesco Rosi has created a masterpiece of political cinema.

"Cadaveri Eccelenti" is an intelligent thriller which incites viewers to find out the truth about the motives behind some senseless killings.It does not give easy clues to viewers to ascertain the identity of the killer.This is why viewers are somewhat forced to guess till the very end about the real identity of the killer.Francesco Rosi has shot "Cadaveri Eccelenti" in a very formal manner in which it is hard to tell whether some influential people are behind the political killings or are they the brainchild of a lunatic who is determined to take revenge on judges who punished him for no fault ? The political milieu depicted in the film appears to be true as well as close to reality as one watches with interest how phones are tapped,conversations of key persons recorded and influential politicians rub shoulders with their business associates.The saddest thing about the film is its depiction of how an honest police man is defeated.It forms an integral part of a surprising end which might be a little disappointing for some. However,it can be accepted solely for being highly unpredictable.

8 / 10

The best work of Rosi

The best work of Francesco Rosi. One of the most thought provoking political thrillers that is even better than Costa-Gavras' "Z." There is a killing sequence (of the von Sydow character) where Rosi has evidently been influenced by Visconti's "Conversation piece" (74) opening credit sequence (death of the Lancaster character).