Review: 'Illustrious Corpses' Reminds Us That Truth Is Not Always Revolutionary

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 28, 2021

"Truth is not always revolutionary."

Strangely, the great Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi directed only 20 films in his career, but they included masterworks such as "Salvatore Giuliano," "Many Wars Ago (Uomini contro)," and "Christ Stopped at Eboli." One that must be added to that list of greats is a film that, up until now, was hard to see except in bootleg form: "Illustrious Corpses" (a.k.a. "Cadaveri eccellenti," a.k.a. "The Context"). Thanks to Kino Lorber, it has been restored in 4K, using two 35mm vintage prints (preserved by the British Film Institute), and it looks terrific. The audio (once you get past the normal Italian dubbing issues) is fine as well. Most importantly, we can finally appreciate this extraordinary work here in the U.S.

The 1976 release opens with a haunting scene of an elder judge walking amongst, and chatting with, skeletal remains in Palermo's catacombs right before he is murdered. Two more judges are slain, and Inspector Roga (the great Lino Ventura) is brought in to investigate. Roga soon narrows the suspects down to three victims of cases that ended up overturned by the three dead justices. Alas, as he continues his investigation he discovers a grand conspiracy at play that goes much deeper and higher up the political ladder; one that may get him killed.

Italian politics has always been complicated, and the 1970s were an incredibly turbulent time in Italian history. Rosi and his co-screenwriters (Tonino Guerra, Lino Jannuzzi, Leonardo Sciascia) capitalize on this by setting a frightening mood filled with paranoia and tension, paced perfectly. The terrific score by Piero Piccioni and the grim, but gorgeous, cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis certainly add to the thriller appeal.

Max von Sydow appears as a Supreme Court judge, and has quite a riveting speech where he spews his cockeyed view about how justices do not make errors, blaming everything on Voltaire and suggesting "decimation" as the answer — that is, the killing of one in ten of those who disagree with a political party... something the Nazis did during WWII.

The film was quite controversial when it came out, yet received the David di Donatello Award for Best Picture (Italy's Oscar), and Rosi won Best Director.

The special features include a trailer and an audio commentary by director Alex Cox ("Sid and Nancy"), who helps to put the Italian political situation in context and speaks about Rosi's career.

"Illustrious Corpses" might be mistaken for a horror film because of its title. It's certainly a different kind of horror film, a very real one that is still going on all over the world.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Alex Cox
  • Theatrical Trailer

    "Illustrious Corpses (Cadaveri eccellenti)" is available on Blu-ray on September 28.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide ( and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.