If I’m being honest, this should have been called “Rocco And His One Deadbeat Brother”, but hey.
Rocco (Alain Delon) is one of the Parondi brothers, all of whom once lived on a farm in the south of Italy. Eldest brother Vincenzo (Spiros Focás) has already given up farm life and moved to the city of Milan, so when the family patriarch dies, mother Rosaria (Katina Paxinou) decides they need to pack in farm life, rounds up the kids and follows him, expecting that Vincenzo will do right by the family and get everyone jobs. However, she didn’t exactly tell Vincenzo she was coming – but Vincenzo has a surprise of his own for the family, having literally just gotten engaged that same day. At least, that’s what he tells Mama when she and the family turn up right bang in the middle of his engagement party. A scandalized Mama picks a fight with the future bride’s family, Vincenzo and his fiancée start fighting as well, and Vincenzo is tossed back in with his clan.
For the first few months, the family can only afford a two-room apartment in a flophouse, with the brothers all working odd jobs where they can find them. The family more or less keeps to themselves, save for one eventful evening when an upstairs neighbor, Nadia (Annie Giradot) is thrown out of her father’s house for “sleeping around”; Vincenzo chivalrously takes her in, persuading Mama to give her some old clothes and food before she hits the road. But in short order, Vincenzo’s girl takes him back and he moves out; brother Ciro (Max Cartier) gets a mechanic job at a car factory; and little Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) gets into a good school. That leaves Rocco and Simone (Renato Salvatori) – both of whom had some small fame as boxers back in their old town. Rocco was the better boxer, but wasn’t all that interested in continuing that path; as for Simone, he had the potential to be good, if he could keep his temper under control. A second chance meeting with Nadia, during which she gushes about how cool it’d be if he were a boxer, is enough to convince him to give things a go, and he embarks on a volatile boxing career – and an equally volatile relationship with Nadia, as Rocco finally joins the army.
We then jump ahead a couple years to find Rocco in Turin, wrapping up his tour of duty – where he is surprised to bump into Nadia one day. She’s just been let out of jail, she says, where she’d been doing time for prostitution. She tells him that Simone’s career went into a tailspin at about the same time; he never visited her in prison, either, and as far as she was concerned they were never really a “thing” anyway. But as they catch up, Nadia realizes she’s quite attracted to the quiet, decent Rocco, and he in turn is moved by her sad fate and her determination to go straight; and soon, they become a couple. Unfortunately, Simone does not take this news very well at all, ganging up with friends to attack Nadia and Rocco one night. Rocco is spooked enough that he tries to persuade Nadia to go back to Simone – something which she is not the slightest bit interested in – but when even that doesn’t stop Simone from snapping out of his destructive path, Rocco resorts to more and more desperate attempts to help him.
It’s something of a soapy plot, and I’ll admit it took me a little while to figure out who everyone was; I wasn’t even sure which brother was Rocco until about a half hour into the film. In the print I saw, a lot of the earlier scenes were dimly lit, so it was a little difficult to tell who was talking anyway. But I’ll admit I was also distracted by the fact that the version I saw was the English-dubbed print, rather than a version with subtitles; some of the voice actors held double-roles, and that also made it a little difficult to follow who was speaking for a bit.
I also wasn’t all that satisfied with how Rocco and Nadia handled Simone’s jealousy, and what Nadia did with Rocco’s suggestion that she go back to Simone. However, it’s probably telling that I bought this plot thread during the movie – and it wasn’t until a day later that I thought more about it and realized that wait, that was kinda stupid. In fact, it wasn’t until after watching that any of the film’s warts occurred to me – Paxinou falls back on hand-wringing melodrama a little too often, Ciro and Luca and Vincenzo all but disappear from the plot for most of the film, and Rocco’s self-sacrifice is supposed to look noble but sometimes veers close to “enabling”. And yet, none of that occurred to me while I was watching the film – I was going along with the ride wherever it happened to go.