In this Italian farce, a motley crew of unskilled small-time robbers attempts to rob a local pawnshop.
Big Deal on Madonna Street (I soliti ignoti; also known as Persons Unknown in the United Kingdom) is a 1958 Italian comedic caper film directed by Mario Monicelli that is regarded as one of the classics of Italian cinema. Its original Italian title simply translates as “the usual unknowns,” which approximately translates to “the usual suspects” in English. The name of the Roman street in the English title is a little mistranslation since the Italian name of the fictional Roman street where the film’s nighttime robbery takes place is the Via delle Madonne (The Street of the Madonnas), not “Madonna Street.”
To add to the confusion, the genuine Roman street where the scene was recorded is the Via delle tre cannelle (The Street of the Three Spouts), not the Via delle triple Madonne (The Street of the Three Madonnas).
The comedy revolves around a bunch of small-time crooks and ne’er-do-wells who botch an effort to rob a pawn store in Rome. Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatori, Carlo Pisacane, Tiberio Murgia, and Marcello Mastroianni play the five unhappy would-be thieves. The success of the film boosted the careers of both Gassman and Mastroianni, especially Gassman, who was previously judged unsuitable for humorous parts. Claudia Cardinale appears in a tiny part; she would subsequently become well-known for other projects. In addition to its actors and narrative, the picture is renowned for composer Piero Umiliani’s breezy jazz music, which helped pioneer the type of jazz soundtracks currently considered emblematic of European cinema.