Italian director Alberto Lattuada adapts and expands Nikolai Gogol’s short story about a mousy clerk who gets a newfound respect when he purchases a handsome new overcoat in this little-seen classic from 1952 Italy. Overshadowed by the neo-realist films of the day, the satirical, smartly-made “The Overcoat” is just as contemporary and relevant as those acclaimed street dramas.
Renato Rascel, a comic actor and, according to Dave Kehr, a song and dance man, plays the meek scrivener Carmine De Carmine. He gives this mousy little clerk the hapless expression and submissive body language of the resigned patsy in a bleak human comedy, happy to toiling in the backrooms of city hall until he’s hauled out to record an official meeting. His naïveté is all too obvious when he obliviously delivers the officials a mish-mash of disconnected fragments that nonetheless captures the pompous arrogance and back-room deals of the office. It almost costs him his job, until he overhears the Mayor talking with his mistress (Yvonne Sanson, the statuesque sex symbol of Raffaello Matarazzo’s overheated melodramas). He never even realizes that the sudden “bonus” he uses to finally purchase his beloved coat is actually bribe money to keep him quiet. Not that it would even occur to Carmine, a well-meaning boob who takes pride in his calligraphic skills while the rest of the staff gossips and goofs the work day away, and attempts to champion citizen petitions ignored by the Mayor as he looks to cash in on an expensive archeological project with dubious merit.