Cafe Express (1980)

Cafe Express (1980)

“Coffee is the best friend a man ever had.”

A one-armed coffee vendor (Nino Manfredi) with a sick teenage son (Giovanni Piscopo) attempts to elude a trio of policemen while illicitly selling coffee on a train.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Comedy
  • Italian Films
  • Trains and Subways

Essentially an extended cat-and-mouse tale, Nanni Loy’s surprisingly touching and entertaining comedy takes place primarily within the confines of a moving train. The storyline is simple — and pretty much covered in the brief synopsis provided above — but remains compelling viewing throughout given our growing investment in the lead protagonist’s fate. Indeed, Nino Manfredi anchors the film, and provides it with its essential heart: he’s wily yet sympathetic, never afraid to call things as they are, and ultimately emerges as an unexpected folk hero of sorts. A minor quibble: one can’t help wondering why the railroad company isn’t allowing Manfredi to sell his coffee legitimately, given that it’s clearly desired by the passengers — but one must simply chalk this up to cultural idiosyncrasies. Not required viewing, but definitely worth seeking out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nino Manfredi as Michele Abbagnano
  • A clever, surprisingly hard-hitting comedic screenplay

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly recommended.


3 thoughts on “Cafe Express (1980)

  1. First viewing. Not a must, and I’m less captivated.

    The storyline is indeed simple – a bit too much so for my liking. What you see in the first ten minutes or so is pretty much what you continue seeing throughout. The one-note quality allows for very little variety – and, therefore, the story hasn’t much of anywhere to go. (Even the variety that exists becomes repetitive.)

    Manfredi (who kept reminding me of Keenan Wynn) does the best he can, all things considered. But with practically no surprises once the premise is in place, interest can wane.

    (As for the ‘illegal’ nature of selling coffee, all I can think is that Manfredi would be taking business away from the vendors at the various stations – where he himself refreshes his supplies, in order to sell them. Even so, the basket of thermos bottles, etc., that he carries around with him is so small…it’s a wonder he does such a brisk business.)

  2. An odd choice for this type of Italian film to be added to Peary’s book. It’s a very late addition to the Commedia all’italiana, bitter-sweet films about protagonists who are struggling to deal with society and need to adapt, often against their will, to survive. The heyday of this genre was from the late fifties until the mid-sixties with directors like Dino Risi, Mario Monicelli, Ettore Scola, etc and often the same actors including Nino Manfredi who plays the main role in Cafe Expres.

    Cafe Express still ticks many of the boxes of a Commedia all’italiana film but if you have seen the earlier and better examples it comes over a bit tired just like Manfredi’s character. It’s still well filmed and it looks like most scenes were shot on a moving train but as mentioned it does get repetitive after a while.

    This film still got a release in the USA and hence Peary picked it up but the Italian film industry would quickly decline in the 80s with some honourable exceptions so my overall feeling was of sadness when watching Cafe Express, an example of a genre that had seen better days.

  3. I would be curious to hear your recommendations about other possible must-see films in this genre that Peary missed.

    Now that I’m 72% through all his suggested titles, I’m starting to think more seriously about rounding out the list and filling in holes!

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