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Film / Illustrious Corpses

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Illustrious Corpses (Cadaveri Eccelenti) is a 1976 film from Italy directed by Francesco Rosi.

Someone is murdering judges in Palermo. After Judge Vargas is shot down in broad daylight in a public street, Inspector Rogas (Lino Ventura) is put on the case. Soon a second judge, Judge Sanza, is killed, then a third, Judge Calamo. Inspector Rogas sets out on his task, but he soon finds that the authorities have a definite idea of where the investigation should go. When he uncovers evidence that Judge Calamo was on the take, he is told to suppress it. Rather, his immediate superiors and his higher bosses in the ministry are much more interested in pinning the murders on the Communists and the political left in Italy.

Inspector Rogas eventually zeroes in on a pretty good suspect. One Cres, a pharmacist, was put in prison some years ago for the attempted poisoning of his wife. The only problem is that he didn't do it; his wife framed him, got him sent to jail, and then absconded with his money. Judges Vargas, Sanza, and Calamo were the judges in the case, along with a fourth judge, Judge Perro. Inspector Rogas goes to warn Judge Perro, which does not save Judge Perro from being killed by a sniper later that same evening.

None of the above sways Inspector Rogas's bosses from their focus on the Communists and left-wing student protestors. Eventually, Inspector Rogas figures out that his superiors don't really want to solve the case, but rather use it for their own political ends.

This film was produced around the time of the "historic compromise" that saw the Christian Democracy, a centrist Catholic party, join in a political alliance with the Italian Communist Party. Max von Sydow has a small part as Chief Judge Riches, yet another judge on the Cres case that Rogas believes is on the target list.


  • The Bad Guy Wins: Inspector Rogas is killed, as is the secretary-general of the Italian Communist Party. Rogas's superiors in the Security Ministry pin the murder of the secretary-general on him. The Security Minister and the other reactionaries in the government get away with everything, as does Cres, who escapes punishment for several murders.
  • Chalk Outline: A chalk outline marks where Judge Sanza fell in the street. There's a dramatic bloodstain in the middle of the outline when the body is moved.
  • Conversation Cut: Rogas's supervisor says the killer must be a paranoid type. Rogas, who has come to believe that the killer was one of the innocents railroaded by the judges, says that he was paranoid for good reason. Cut to a completely different setting as the supervisor asks, "What do you mean, 'paranoid with good reason'", and Rogas explains his theory.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The extremely weird "Catacombs of the Capuchins", a Palermo tourist attraction in which mummified corpses of VIPs dating back centuries are preserved for public view. Judge Vargas tours through them in the opening scene, right before he himself is murdered.
  • Dies Wide Open: When Judge Sanza is flipped over on the street the camera is confronted with his sightless staring eyes.
  • False Flag Operation: Not only is the Security Ministry trying to pin the murders of the judges on the Communists, they are murdering additional judges themselves, to keep the scare campaign going.
  • Frame-Up:
    • In the backstory, Madame Cres faked her attempted murder by her husband, in order to send him to jail. She even poisoned her own dog.
    • In the present day, the cops are pinning the assassinations on the student left, and Rogas himself is identified as the murderer of the party secretary.
  • The Hero Dies: Inspector Rogas is shot and killed in a museum, just as he's telling the Communist Party secretary what's going on. The secretary is shot and killed with him.
  • Knight Templar: Judge Riches, when told that the Cres case was an error in judgment, says that by definition a judge cannot be wrong. He then reveals himself to be an unhinged loon when he says that society is so sick that it cannot be saved, except by the ancient Roman legion practice of decimation, the killing of one man in ten. He tells a shocked Rogas that it doesn't really matter if Cres was guilty of anything in particular, he went to jail as part of the punishment of society.
  • Leg Focus: When the attractive Streetwalker who witnesses the Perro shooting is called in to the interview room, she rearranges her skirt and shoes in a way that shows off her long, dangling legs.
  • Monochrome Past: Flashbacks include the murder of the mechanic's twink lover, the testimony of the witnesses in the Judge Perro shooting, and the scenes where Madame Cres framed her husband. All are presented in black and white.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: Rogas when he hears the surveillance tape that recorded the Security Minister talking about murdering judges. He rewinds and listens several times as the truth sinks in.
  • Shower of Angst: Rogas is shown taking a shower and looking depressed, at the same time that his Voiceover Letter to his superiors about being followed plays on the soundtrack.
  • The Twink: One of the red herrings involves a gay mechanic who had a young pretty-boy lover. When the pretty boy was murdered, the mechanic was unjustly accused and convicted.
  • Visual Title Drop: The "illustrious corpses" are the mummified bodies of deceased friars and local gentry, as shown in a creepy Real Life Dead Guy on Display tourist attraction.
  • Voiceover Letter: A voiceover letter from Rogas to his superiors, in which he says he knows he's being followed, and it might serve the police better to use that extra manpower to catch the killer.