Franco Citti gives a very convincing performance as a corrupted youth who wants to change his ways for the better in this film based on a novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Citti plays Tommaso, a member of gang of Roman street thugs. The film makes no attempt to portray these characters with any sympathy. They are vicious and uncaring, vivid examples of so-called "juvenile delinquents", but much more believable than most US film counterparts. Two exploits by the gang early in the film--the robbery and rape of a parked couple, and the assault on a gas station attendant--are so brutal that they are hard to watch. Tommaso is a low-life thug. No explanation for his personality is given apart from a suggestion that he feels cheated and beaten down by life. One day he encounters Irene (Serena Vergano) and sees in her a chance for redemption. Tommaso wants--or thinks he wants--a "normal" life. If he marries Irene and gets a job through connections, things should fall into place for him. But he never comes to an understanding that he must make more of an effort on his own behalf. He must become a responsible person. After an arrest for stabbing an opponent in a street brawl, Tommaso finds himself in prison and then in a sanatorium for recovery from a debilitating disease (likely tuberculosis). He leaves the institution, finds Irene again and attempts to piece together his imagined normal life. It never works out, because fate and Tommaso's own hopelessly corrupt nature intervene and win in the end.
This late example of Italian neo-realist cinema has a lot going for it. Besides Citti's fine contribution, there is dynamic cinematography and an impressive musical score by Piero Piccioni. The brooding sound of the main title under grim images of Rome's underbelly will be irresistible to fans of this kind of film.A grim, disturbing and engrossing film.