Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Weapons of Death (1977) review


Leonard Mann (Commissioner Beady), Henry Silva (Santoro), Jeff Blynn (Guido), Evelyn Stewart (Luchia Perizi)

"They pay me to protect everyone...the honest people...and the pimps like you!"

***WARNING! This review contains one pic of nudity***

Commissioner Beady is after a known mobster named Santoro, but his efforts go to waste as the wild criminal has an alibi every time a bust is made. Considering the Mob have been trying to keep their operations on the quiet side, Santoro prefers pulling off daring robberies and acts of violence on a large scale even participating in the operations himself. Fearing his aggressive behavior will attract attention to the syndicate, some of the other mob leaders go to confer with Don Alfredo, an aging mafioso. He refuses to listen as Santoro had stayed by his side when his son was killed some years before. Some of those that despise Santoro make attempts on his life which in turn brings about retaliation from his followers. Commissioner Beady soon finds out some crucial information that may aid him in making an arrest of the vicious Santoro.

Mario Caiano directs this entertaining action flick belonging to the 'violent cop' style of Italian crime cinema. What with its patchwork storyline it appears the film was rushed through production as several plot points seem like an afterthought. One late addition being the use of Luchia Perizi played all too briefly by Evelyn Stewart. It's barely even worth her time appearing during the closing moments. It seems like her character was hurriedly created at the last minute to integrate one last point of interest before the big showdown between Santoro and the inspector. Nonetheless, Caiano delivers a lot of great set pieces and stunt work to keep the audience preoccupied.

Leonard Mann plays his role in the same mold laid down by Franco Nero in HIGH CRIME (1973) and played to perfection by Maurizio Merli in his series of cop films. Mann isn't all that memorable of a performer, but he is far more lively in his modern day action films than he was in his spaghetti westerns, but that may have been intentional. Mann plays Inspector Beady and aside from the crippled boy, Johnny, Beady refers to his 'predecessor' before taking the job in Naples, which links this film with the Merli vehicle, VIOLENT NAPLES (1976). At least in the dubbed edition, Merli's Commissioner Betti from Lenzi's movie is never mentioned by name.

One other aspect of the film that recalls the previous movie, and Merli in particular, is the participation of Jeff Blynn. He plays an undercover special squad agent masquerading as a cabbie. He looks very similar to Maurizio Merli and he is featured on the poster pointing a gun along with Leonard Mann and Silva. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it does bring Merli to mind.

Mann essays his role as most actors did in these movies. He screams, yells and gets in a good punch or knee to the stomach on the bad guys once they're caught. He's not as memorable as Merli or Nero, but he acquits himself well especially during some of the stunt sequences. One has Mann climbing atop a van in an attempt to pull over a gas truck by leaping from one vehicle to the other. I'm not sure if it's actually Mann doing the stunt across the big rig, but he clearly is the one atop the van. Leonard Mann was in a few Italian westerns before making the jump to the crime genre. He epitomized the wooden style of acting in the classy, dramatic western, THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (1969) and CHUCK MOOL (1970).

Henry Silva was a regular in these movies and starred in two early examples of the Italian crime pictures, ASSASSINATION (1967) and THE FALLING MAN (1968) both directed by Emilio Miraglia. Silva also had a wonderfully brutal lead role in Di Leo's THE BOSS (1973) where he played a seemingly unstoppable hitman. Silva appeared in over a dozen of these productions. He also had a scene chewing role in Carlo Lizzani's classic western, THE HILLS RUN RED (1966). Curiously, in this dubbed version, Silva doesn't dub his own voice despite doing so in most other foreign films he appeared in.

Caiano was adept at other genres including the peplum and western films deliver such adventures as the interesting sword & sandal movies TWO GLADIATORS and TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (both 1964), NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965), TRAIN FOR DURANGO (1968), FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE (1974) and crime movies like CALLING ALL POLICE CARS (1975) and THE BLOODY PAYROLL (1976) starring Claudio Cassinelli. As a movie, WEAPONS OF DEATH is just an average film, but as entertainment, it delivers oodles of mindless violence and a couple of gruesome moments. The car chases are fast and exciting aided and abetted by a varied score from Francesco De Masi.

One scene has Santoro involved in a high speed chase with Inspector Beady. Upon using a trick to cause the police to wreck their car, Santoro points his gun at the downed Inspector. Instead of killing him, he repays the policeman saving him previously from mobsters that wanted him dead. "You go your way, and I go mine", he tells Beady. Later, Beady's superior lays a hint that he is corrupt thinking it odd that Santoro would allow him to live. Believing that this is what the mobster wanted was for his rival to have his reputation tarnished, Beady instructs his men to pull a robbery on the illegal gambling house where Santoro was attacked a few nights prior. This is all part of Inspector Beady's plan to get a case against Santoro by nailing his colleagues.

Caiano delivers the required violence inherent in the violent cop pictures and a good amount of exploitation value including a gratuitous full frontal nude scene as well as a scene where a family is run off the road by a gas truck. The camera, leaving the action on the road, instead settles on the car as it tumbles down an embankment with blood splashing on the windshield followed by an explosion. Then the film cuts back to the chase. As for the gore, there's a decapitation of a motorcyclist and a castration of a pedophile inside a prison, the act of violence enabling Santoro to make his escape. There's also a nasty death scene during the closing moments.

There's also a couple of pint sized thieves one of them being the crippled boy from VIOLENT NAPLES (1976). Here, he makes his living by selling old newspapers to couples making out in cars to give them a bit of privacy as well as stealing tires off of parked cars and making a profit. One scene has the limping little boy make off with a race car leading the police on a chase through busy streets. It all seems to add up to nothing other than padding till a bit later when Beady finds Santoro and arrests him. Upon exiting the building, Beady spies a group of unwholesome looking hooligans ready to pounce on him as they enter the street. Santoro advises the determined cop to leave while he still has his life. Suddenly, Johnny, the crippled boy drives up in another apparently stolen car giving Beady and his captive a ride back to headquarters.

WEAPONS OF DEATH (1977) has all the earmarks to be a fan favorite as well as the participation of popular screen heavy, Henry Silva. Caiano's movie delivers lots of excitement, even though it slows down just slightly during the last half, it benefits from some jarring scenes of violence. Those looking for a more cerebral crime film would do well to look elsewhere.

This DVD can be purchased at TRASH-ONLINE. The site is linked below...


Highway Racer (1977) review


Maurizio Merli (Marco Palma), Giancarlo Sbragia (Command Sgt. Taliaferri), Angelo Infanti (Jean Paul Dosena/The Insua Kid), Lilli Carati (Francesca)

Directed by Stelvio Massi

"Doing a bank job with you is...well...not work at all, but fun, like playin' a game! And besides, you're famous...a household name!"

Marco Palma is a high strung, fast driving cop. Butting heads with his superior, Command Sergeant Taliaferri, who was previously a specialist in high speed pursuits, Palma wishes to be the same. Recklessly trashing whatever car he's given, Palma is hellbent on arresting a gang that has been pulling off bank robberies in San Paolo, Rome. With the leader being a racing expert, Palma inadvertently kills his partner during a destructive high speed chase in which the crooks get away yet again. Feeling grief over the death of his partner, Palma plans to retire. His boss, Taliaferri, seeing potential in his hard driving methods decides to take him under his wing to bring in the daredevil crooks.

Maurizio Merli stars in one of two films he did with former cinematographer, Stelvio Massi in 1977. The other one was POLIZIOTTO SENZA PAURA (POLICEMAN WITHOUT FEAR; FEARLESS) with Joan Collins. HIGHWAY RACER is an immensely fun and highly entertaining movie that gives the publicly loved and inspiring actor to play a slightly different character than normal. His character Marco Palma is only interested in fast cars and the thrill of the chase. He's irresponsible and acts as though everyone were out to get him including his girlfriend. Palma bears a great deal of competition, enviousness and reverence for his superior because of his past service and road skills in successfully making arrests.

Merli has his trademark attitude, but here, it's channeled a bit differently. He's not the champion of the oppressed and terrorized public. It's more of an extension of those violent cop roles he made popular in the films of Girolami and Lenzi prior to his working relationship with Stelvio Massi. The world inhabited in HIGHWAY RACER (1977) is one filled with race car drivers that happen to be bank robbers and the police are seemingly powerless to stop them. Palma wants to make arrests, but his driving skills takes precedence over everything else. Unusually, the whole crime aspect takes a back seat to all the rough and tumble car chases, smash ups and stunt car driving...and that's not a bad thing.

There's also a lighter tone inherent in the script. Both Palma and his partner have some choice comedic moments together during the first 30 minutes just before his partner is killed in a crash. Deaths are also limited here and I think only two people are killed throughout.

The main villain, Dosena, alias 'The Insua Kid', isn't the typical antagonist found in these movies. He's more concerned with the exhilaration of eluding capture than anything else, as well as viewing the robberies as a game. Dosena even refers to the cops as his opponents and derives no pleasure from using guns to kill, only as a means to hold his captives at bay while he and his men make off with the loot.

Dosena's cavalier attitude towards the law is brought to the fore when he goes to visit his old adversary, Command Sergeant Taliaferri. It is here where you learn more about both characters and their past rivalry. This scene also gives more weight to the father/son relationship between Palma and his boss. Palma wants to be the same great 'Flying Squad' member his superior was in his younger days. Taliaferri sees it in him and takes Palma under his wing to hone his skills so he can finally bring in the 'Insua Kid'. Having previously spent six years in prison, Taliaferri can't make an arrest on Dosena as no one has made an accurate description since he and his accomplices all wear helmets during the holdups.

Later on, once Palma has been recruited as the test subject to infiltrate Dosena's gang, he's given a new name (Moreno) and background. He soon manages to ingratiate himself on the speed demon clique becoming fast friends with Insua. However, a kink is quickly thrown into the mix once a bank job is set into place. Palma's girlfriend, Francesca sees him out one afternoon and unwittingly gives his true identity away to Dosena! Here is where the film disappointed me slightly. I was expecting the bad guys to take Fran hostage leading to a high speed chase driving the suspense level up a bit since Palma's woman has been put in danger. She is quickly shoved away and the whole set up of getting into the gang via a secret identity is discarded almost as fast as one of the many car chases.

Even still, the whole movie is an enjoyably rousing affair and damn good entertainment. Although I wouldn't call it one of the greatest ever made, it's a helluva good time and the best Massi movie I've seen in terms of entertainment value. HIGHWAY RACER (1977) definitely holds a lot of rewatch value and if you can get over Merli in a different role than normal, you should have no problem enjoying this one. Merli even shaves off his familiar mustache. The much loved actor would seemingly be trying to break free of the tough cop mold as he was rather unjustly pigeonholed as a Franco Nero clone. No doubt he's much better in this role than Nero, but it would seem this type of character was inescapable for Merli. The same year he would also headline a spaghetti western, MANNAJA (1977) directed by the fine director of many genres, Sergio Martino.

After his valiant efforts to experiment (but not straying too far away from his formula characters), Merli was back in the fold as the tough cop in THE CYNIC, THE RAT & THE FIST (1977). Merli was too good at these types of cop roles and he was forever stereotyped. In March of 1989, Merli would die during a tennis match after overexerting himself. He was 49 years old. Who knows just where his career would have taken him had he lived. HIGHWAY RACER may not appeal to those expecting a typical violent cop role from Merli, but those open to change will definitely get a super charged dose of entertainment from this stunt filled actioner from one of the Italian crime genres most prolific directors, Stelvio Massi.

This DVD is available at TRASH-ONLINE. The site is linked below...


Monday, March 23, 2009

Italian Peplums & Fusto Films: Muscleman Adventure/Fantasy Overview Part 5

The great Gordon Scott from ROMULUS & REMUS (1961)


Steve Reeves & Sylvia Koscina from HERCULES (1958)

Continuing from the fourth chapter, this is the fifth and final installment in the Peplum and Fusto film overview. This last article pays more attention to the gorgeous ladies of this unfairly neglected genre. Whether it was larger than life heroes and adventure, or elaborate sets and sumptuous costumes, this genre provided lots of allure for movie buffs; and these beautiful women were a large part of that. Whereas the musclemen garnered the bulk of the attention, we now continue our tribute to these bountiful beauties and the "muscles" they had to showcase.

Moira Orfei as the evil sorceress in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)

Moira Orfei was yet another exotic Italian beauty who made some money portraying several roles in films like THE LOVES OF HERCULES (1960), THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) and TWO GLADIATORS (1964). Growing up in a circus family, she was one of the most well proportioned and athletically built of all the torch and toga lovelies. Orfei had a sensual presence and often played strong female characters both good and bad. Whether it was an evil sorceress, or the ruler of the Mole Men in MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961), she could bring life to lesser films in the genre. Her cousin, Liana Orfei, also appeared in some peplum and fusto films such as HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES (1963) among several others.

Mylene Demongeot in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959)

French actress, Mylene Demongeot, did relatively few Italian costume epics, but she lit up the screen with lots of sex appeal opposite Steve Reeves in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) and also played Roger Moore's(!) love interest in the odd, ROMULUS & THE SABINES (1961) wherein the future James Bond played Romulus, the founder of Rome. Demongeot's curves are clearly apparent in her slinky white apparel in the more widely known Reeves movie.

Helene Chanel from THE WITCH'S CURSE (1963)

Another amatory actress from France with a body to die for was Helene Chanel. Possessing a hypnotic pair of eyes and magnificent curves, this hypnotically sexy siren played in some of the more obscure entries in the genre such as THE INVINCIBLE MASKED RIDER (1963) and HERCULES OF THE DESERT (1964). Chanel shows off her frame in SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1962) and also appeared in two of the more peculiar strongman hybrid movies, THE WITCH'S CURSE (1963) and THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965) both starring Kirk Morris.

Helene Chanel in SAMSON & THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1962)

Chanel would go on to appear in a lot of action films sometimes playing tough characters or a devious or scheming character. Examples of these two character types where Chanel's mesmerizing beauty can be seen are TWO R-RINGO'S FROM TEXAS and .32 CALIBER KILLER (both 1967) respectively.


The luscious allure of German actress, Helga Line showed some spunk in several fusto and gladiator movies such as the last two of the TEN GLADIATORS trilogy as well as HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (all 1964). Outside of Rosalba Neri, Line quite possibly had the longest acting career of any other female actress working in the Italian film industry.

Helga Line as the fighting Queen in TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964)

She crossed over into every other European genre style that became popular whether it was westerns, spy pictures or horror films. Helga Line lent her talents when they were needed. Thankfully, it was quite often. One of her most memorable roles was a supporting role in the wonderfully bizarre horror sci fi monster flick, HORROR EXPRESS (1972) wherein the German lovely shared the screen with heavyweights, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Rosalba Neri as the distressed damsel in HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964)

Rosalba Neri was a sexy actress who often shedded her clothes on many occasions in later Italian horror pictures. Earlier in her career, she played numerous damsels in distress in the muscleman films and also in a lot of spaghetti westerns. Curiously, a lot of the western pictures in which she featured, Neri often was only in the movie briefly before being killed by one of the villains. She also played both good and bad characters in her peplum/fusto films as well as playing the oft used bad-girl-turns-good plot device.

Marilu Tolo (left) & Moira Orfei (right) death struggle in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)

As already mentioned, many of these actresses went on to appear in similar roles in Italian westerns once the costume adventures had run their course. A handful of supporting actors went on to prosperous careers as leading men, or bountiful roles as bad guys in the Euroaters that followed. Below is a handful of the more familiar actors that populated the peplums, or had successful careers in both sword & sandal adventures and the European westerns that usurped them.

Palmara & Guiliano Gemma (right) in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963)

The most famous and popular of the peplum co-stars would have to be Guiliano Gemma. Making an impression in SONS OF THUNDER (1961) directed by his future western director, Duccio Tessari, Gemma would appear in a few other movies with one of his biggest roles being in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963). He would also feature in lesser entries like HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN and TWO GLADIATORS (both 1964) in support of leads Mark Forest and Richard Harrison respectively. Gemma found major stardom in Italian westerns with the release of A PISTOL FOR RINGO in 1965. From there, he was a top draw and possibly the biggest and most popular Italian actor of the genre till the release of THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970) starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, a duo who took the waning genre to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view).

Richard Harrison & Guiliano Gemma (right) from TWO GLADIATORS (1964)

Another actor would also star in TWO GLADIATORS who would be one of the most recognized and prolific performer associated with the muscleman epics. This actor would be synonymous with the genre and appear in more sword & sandal pictures than the many leads in the films.

Mimmo Palmara challenges HERCULES (1958)

Mimmo Palmara is probably the most recognizable face in all sword & sandal cinema. He often played the main villain, or the chief underling to the main bad guy. He also sometimes played heroes in supporting roles and later went on to feature in some lesser known Italian westerns. He did manage to co-star alongside Steve Reeves yet again in the western, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968) also written by Reeves. Palmara, though, has co-starred in some of the most memorable sword and sandal movies that ever came out of the Italian film industry.

Palmara in a duel to the death from HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959)

He had villain roles in the first two Hercules films starring Steve Reeves, another quirky lead bad guy in the hybrid fusto film, KINDAR, THE INVINCIBLE (1964) where Palmara was the most interesting thing about the film. He had a big supporting role alongside Mark Forest and Guiliano Gemma in the epic, GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), one of the genres best outings.

Palmara in a rare lead hero role in HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964)

Other films include the classy and majestic THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) starring Steve Reeves. Here, Palmara plays the Trojan hero, Ajax. He also headlined one of the more bizarre muscleman hybrid movies, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964) where he played the lead, a Zorro type hero. Mimmo Palmara was one of the most unique stars in the genre and one of the most welcome faces. If the movie was bad, Palmara could generally be counted on to deliver a fun and interesting performance.

The venomous Arturo Dominici in HERCULES (1958)

Arturo Dominici will most likely forever be remembered for the role of Juvutich in Mario Bava's seminal horror classic, THE MASK OF SATAN (1960). Dominici had a devilish visage that advertised him as an easy candidate for evildoers. He was likewise a villain in Pietro Fransisci's HERCULES (1958). He effectively played the second in command, Seyvo, to Livio Lorenzon's Igor, the leader of the barbarian hordes in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959).

Leo Anchoriz (left) & Arturo Dominici (right) from PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1963)

Dominici also essayed the lead heavy in the lively fantasy romp, MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (PERSEUS, THE INVINCIBLE; 1963). Dominici again played the villainous Captain Blasco in the lively swashbuckling adventure, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964).

Leo Anchoriz (left) is brought to justice in SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963)

Leo Anchoriz was a more familiar face in the numerous spaghetti westerns in which he appeared. Prior to that, Anchoriz played supporting bad guy roles in sword and sandal adventures such as HERO OF ROME (1962) and MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963). He later had a decently prosperous career as a lead heavy, or sometimes as a supporting player in a number of westerns. Anchoriz was also memorable as the lead antagonist in the pulpy Steve Reeves pirate adventures, SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963) and its first action packed sequel, SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964).

Piero Lulli in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)

Piero Lulli, mentioned briefly earlier in this article, is probably the most prolific actor in terms of how many genres he appeared in. Rivaling Nello Pazzafini, Lulli surpasses him in that he played bigger roles. Pazzifini often played minor, or background characters while Lulli played either one of the main antagonists, or a benevolent figure who met his end in battle, or in some other tragic way.

Piero Lulli as an insidious bad guy in TWO GLADIATORS (1964)

He's played the typical peplum villain in such films as GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), TWO GLADIATORS (also with Mimmo Palmara as a villain; 1964) and HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (1964). He was an incredibly memorable villain in the outrageous science fiction Fusto movie, THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965) starring Kirk Morris. Here, Lulli plays an evil wizard named Ramir. Lulli's dress and look recalls the character of Ming the Merciless from the famed FLASH GORDON serials and feature film from 1980.

Lulli as the outrageous Ming-like villain from THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965)

Piero Lulli appeared as a good guy in such films as the classic, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) and the lesser, but fun film, THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964). A fine actor, his turn as the cruel Don Rodrigo in HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964) is a highlight and one more testament to his ability to imbue a lot of charismatic evil in a performance regardless of the fact it's dubbed, or post synced.

Steve Reeves in chains from HERCULES (1958)

After the sword & sandal and costume adventures in Italy ended in 1965, the genre left behind some 200 movies of varying style and quality. Many of them were forgettable and yet many of them deserve to be rediscovered, or are rife for newfound critical appraisal. They epitomised the comic book/fantasy adventures by featuring larger than life heroes, sadistic and evil villains, duplicitous women and the ubiquitous damsel in distress who would nearly always be seen riding off into the sunset with the musclebound hero. Hopefully, the Italian Fusto and Gladiator movies will garner some new fans in order to keep the genre alive and not just a distant memory of Saturday Morning entertainment remembered by a select few who have all but forgotten them.

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