More Watching the Detectives: Khristine Shares her Favorite Italian Detective Series

Inspector Manara (Il Commissario Manara) Series One & Two 24 episodes 2009-2011

Unlike Commissario Montalbano, this is not a series of great depth or great seriousness. It is, on the other hand, terrifically entertaining, loaded with humor, replete with engaging mysteries, sexy (in a PG-13 sort of way), touchingly sentimental, and with an extremely likeable main character, the “dazzling” Luca Manara (it says so on the DVD cover!).

Inspector Manara is a spinoff of a detective series called Una Famiglia in Giallo (A Family in Yellow) which aired for one season of only six episodes on RAI (the national public broadcasting station of Italy). Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find any of those episodes with English subtitles. In the next to last episode of Giallo, actor Guido Caprino appears, and playing only a secondary role, steals the show. He must have “dazzled” the producers to such a degree that they decided to feature him in a new series, Inspector Manara, retaining most of the excellent supporting cast of Una Familglia in Giallo in their previous roles. And fortunately for us, the entire twenty-four episodes of Manara are available with English subtitles on DVD.

Luca Manara (Guido Caprino) is a Sicilian police detective who was recently stationed at his thrilling dream assignment in Milan, but has just been transferred to a small town in Southern Tuscany due to some troublesome behavior on the job (“I didn’t know she was the Chief’s wife!”). He rides a motorcycle, wears a bomber jacket, loves jazz and plays saxophone (though badly), and sports facial hair in the manner of his idol, Frank Zappa; the officers at the tiny police station are flabbergasted by his announcement that he’s their new chief.  But he wins them over immediately, introducing himself as “Luca”, and roaring off on his motorcycle to solve a murder case within the first few minutes of his arrival.

Though a bit goofy and clueless, Luca is irresistible to women; so his Achilles heel, not surprisingly, is women. They can’t keep away from him, and he doesn’t try very hard to keep away from them. If a baby (girl) is crying, all he has to do is pick her up and she’s smiling again. Old ladies tell him he’s so handsome, and ask if he’s an angel! Though he has lots of flings, it’s all pretty innocent. He’s basically a nice, unattached guy who doesn’t mean any harm. He has some adventures with the glamorous, redheaded, and always available coroner, Ginevra (Jane Alexander), among several others, but things get complicated with the arrival of Luca’s new Inspector Lara Rubino (Roberta Giarrusso). The two were classmates in their student days at the Police Academy, and though the attraction between them is immediately obvious to everyone, she has a low opinion of him thanks to some objectionable behavior while they were students. She hints at it, he can’t remember what he could have done, and since they have to work together so closely, their rocky and romantic relationship is threaded through all twenty-four episodes.

The supporting cast is wonderful. Since he’s always hoping to be called back to the excitement of Milan, Luca has taken up temporary residence in a rural guesthouse. The widowed owner Ada (Daniela Morozzi) becomes a friend and confidant, while providing a much-needed dose of mothering along with wake up calls and late night card games. Although she has tremendous affection for Luca, she feels free to give him a piece of her mind when she thinks he deserves it: “You know, you suck with women, you really do!” (Even so, without condescension, Luca shows great respect for the deep intelligence and intuition of his female colleagues.) Lara also gets plenty of mothering and sage advice from her Aunt Caterina (Valeria Valeri), a warm, kind woman, who knows everyone in the community and often provides key information which aids in solving the current mystery. At the station, Sardi (Lucia Ocone) and Toscani (Augusto Fornari) are married officers. He’s usually frantic because she wants to get pregnant and harasses him for pro-creational sex. Officers Quattroni, Barbagallo, and Buttafuoco keep us laughing. And Manara tries as much as possible to avoid annoying phone calls from his adoring mother and two older sisters in Sicily. Before hanging up, he sometimes adds sotto voce, “and don’t call me Bubù!”

Unlike most crime series, there is not a great deal of violence. Usually the murder victim is discovered in the first scene of each episode perhaps by a servant or family member; the victim has been hit on the head, or poisoned, or stabbed but in most of the episodes nothing too graphic or gory has happened. The rest of the show is about solving the mystery and about the relationships between the characters. It seems unusual, also, that the murderers are seldom hard-boiled killers. Frequently, they are victims of extenuating circumstances, and we see that Luca regards them with compassion. Surprisingly, he has very little ego. In one episode, when the solution to a crime finally strikes him, he says, “Montalbano would have caught that immediately!” Though he characteristically instructs his staff to “Look alive!” (“Occhio vivo!”), he’s mostly a laid back boss. He relies on his intuition, on the skill of his coworkers, and on his frequently unorthodox methods and unauthorized investigations which cause him continual trouble with his ridiculous and emotional superior, Superintendent Casadio. Luca is physically fearless, takes tremendous risks, often fails to have backup, and in a way seems to be an alter ego for actor Guido Caprino, who is extremely athletic and performs many of his own stunts. Series scriptwriter Daniele Falleri claims that “Manara is a hero in spite of himself!”

The word “beautiful” may appropriately be applied to the film locations of this series. The Museo Civico in the town of Trevignano Romano on Lago Bracciano near Rome does duty as the police station for the series. Otherwise, most of the locations are in the Maremma, a coastal region of Southern Tuscany which features Il Parco Regionale della Maremma, much like our own Cape Cod National Seashore. Unlike the Montalbano series’ imaginary town of Vigata, the fictional home of Inspector Manara, though also a patchwork of several real towns, is never named. But we can vicariously enjoy the beauty of Grosetto, Orbetello, and stunning Monte Argentario in the twelve episodes of Season One, and another twelve episodes of Series Two. 

Full disclosure: I have binge-watched this series (twice). You can order both series through clamsnet.org with your CLAMS library card.

To check out more of Khristine’s Italian movie recommendations, check out Un Progetto Speciale – Part 7!