Alberto Nardi (Alberto Sordi) is a Roman businessman who fancies himself a man of great capabilities, but whose factory (producing lifts and elevators) tethers perennially on the brink of catastrophe.
Alberto is mar...展开ried to a rich and successful businesswoman from Milan, Elvira Almiraghi (Franca Valeri) who has a no-nonsense attitude and barely tolerates the attempts of her husband to keep his factory afloat with her money.
Alberto tries to "keep up" with his wife and her rich and successful friends but he only manages to ridicule himself. Amused by his antics Elvira publicly treats her husband as a silly clown, confident that he'll never leave her in the hope of profiting from her fortune.
One day a train where Elvira was supposed to be traveling (to pay visit to her old mother) suffers a horrible accident falling off a bridge and no survivors are reported.
Alberto is overjoyed and in a veritable ecstatic rush plans to liquidate most of Elvira's assets, brings his mistress in her country villa and starts dreaming of a bright future only to be frustrated when Elvira appears alive and well: a last-minute phone call from his own accountant and handyman (Marquis Stucchi) prevented her from boarding the doomed train.
Frustration and anger throw Alberto in a nervous breakdown from which he emerges with a diabolic plan: sabotage the elevator in the attic where he lives with Elvira to have her killed and inherit her fortune for good.
The German engineer working in his factory agrees with Nardi's plan and with the help of unlikely accomplices like Marquis Stucchi and his own uncle (who acts as Alberto's chauffer) the murderous project is set in motion, with an unintended and tragicomical result. The movie is a splendid example of the commedia all'italiana which Risi directs on an unusually black register where Sordi depicts an outrageously sleazy character (arrogant to his subjects, megalomaniac, a bigoted unrepentant fascist who yet longs for recognition from the businessmen who envies). It is also interesting as a period piece, showing the contradictions and miseries lying behind Italy's postwar economic miracle.