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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hunted City (1979) review


Maurizio Merli (Commissioner Paolo Ferro), Mario Merola (Raffaele Acampora), Francisco Rabal (Don Alfonso), Nando Marineo (Arigo), Massimo Daporto (Stefano), Matilde C. Tisano (Eva Stefani)

Directed by Stelvio Massi

"The law is too slow...Our way, however, is much quicker."

A series of murders by assassins attracts Commissioner Paolo Ferro back to Milan to investigate. All traces lead to the Mafia and former Camorra member, Raffaele Acampora is targeted as the prime suspect. Now a restaurant owner, he is not only haggled by thugs for protection money, but Ferro believes he is linked to the death of a Mr. Atardi. Since the two were negotiating a business deal for some land which Atardi was reluctant to sell, Acampora proves his innocence by displaying the signed papers for the closed deal. Ferro continues to question Acampora's virtue, but eventually believes he is not involved. This comes to the fore when Acampora testifies at police headquarters only to have an attempt on his life by two masked killers brandishing machine guns.

The plot thickening, Ferro entrances a beautiful young woman named Eva Stefani whom he and his partner had seen at the villa belonging to Mr. Gavoni. Believing there is nothing to her association with one of the suspects, Ferro decides to make himself the next victim and he needs Don Alfonso's help in pulling it off. As Commissioner Ferro gets closer to the truth, initial suspects are found dead and shocking revelations are discovered blurring the line between crime and justice.

Stelvio Massi directs this deeply plotted crime thriller which may require multiple viewings to take in all the many twists, turns and multitude of characters. Massi had directed another film in 1976 entitled CROSS SHOT that bears some similarities to this production. Things start off with a bang when a financier named Guidi is gunned down in his office by an unknown gunman. Commissioner Ferro has just arrived in Milan meeting with his long time friend, Arigo, when he's tossed a bloody satchel from a speeding car. Containing the head of a wolf, a sign of the Mafia (according to Merli's character), Ferro nonchalantly carries on despite Arigo being curious of how they would know he had arrived so quickly.

Then, another man, Mr. Atardi, is gunned down in the street by masked assassins. The killers, if you pay close attention, carry satchels with the handles of tennis rackets hanging out so the other shooters will recognize their contacts. What's important is that the face of one of the assassins is seen just prior to the killing and he is seen later on in the film leaving a clue to the big reveal at the end. It is also revealed that Atardi was a member of the Mafia under Don Alfonso, a former adversary and friend of Commissioner Ferro. Upon arriving at headquarters, Ferro is told that all the victims are individuals of importance and that it seems it's Mafia related in that the killings reek of 'Murder On Commission'.

Another clue is seen during the first meeting between Ferro and Acampora when the Commissioner spies an unseen woman who catches his eye in a mirror by a dress she is wearing. The girl wearing the dress later turns out to be Eva Stefani, whom Ferro trails while following up on what is later learned to be a false lead. After gaining some intimate feelings for the beauty, a shocking encounter leads Ferro to Eva's apartment where he finds the dress and remembers where he had seen it before.

Another interesting scene that will clue you in to what's going on goes back to the opening murder of Professor Guidi, a member of Don Alfonso's clan. Afterwards, Acampora receives a "free gift" from a stranger; a box of wine. Not wanting it, the burly and crafty man decides to return it. He takes it back to the sender and leaves a note-- "I'm returning your gift. You won't get away because having read this note, the bottles will explode", followed by the expected explosion. Another allusion to Acampora's possible connection to the shootings comes when the same man that shot Guidi is chased by the cops. He runs into one of Acampora's eateries who calmly tells him to leave the patrons in peace and use his car outside to get away.

One of the best sequences that reveals just how clever Merli's character is has Ferro interrupt a meeting between French and Sicilian mobsters. When Ferro brilliantly uncovers an underhanded and potential means of traitorship on the part of the French racketeers, it sets up a meeting between Ferro and another long time acquaintance, a mobster named Don Alfonso. The two meet during a sporting event to reminisce about old times.

Both have a history together since Ferro was a boy. We learn that the amicable and highly intelligent Commissioner had previously arrested the gangster, yet treated him with a great deal of respect. After their reunion, the two even enjoy a dinner together. This scene also proves interesting in that the restaurant they patronize is also owned and ran by Raffaele Acampora. This also leads to another quizzical moment in the film.

When Ferro says "You're everywhere...this is the second time this week. I didn't realize that this restaurant, too...had passed into your hands." Acampora responds that he is soon to own his seventh establishment. As the two friends sit down and talk, both come to an agreement that the murders of the bankers and financiers is the work of an outside entity. Then Ferro suggests something just as interesting as the continuously twisting plot. Alfonso attempts to clarify the policeman's vague statement with, "If I am to understand you correctly, you seem to be suggesting an alliance between the honored family and the police." Then Ferro states, "No...between you...and me."

This sets up a thought provoking dichotomy as two sides diametrically opposed to one another come together to solve a mystifying case of killings. It's a triangle of events that makes up Commissioner Ferro, Don Alfonso and the surreptitious Raffaele Acampora. Another shooting takes place this time with the death of a Mr. Morelli, a lawyer. Morelli was involved with the bankruptcy of a Mr. Gavoni. Ferro believes that Gavoni was connected to the killing since Morelli had learned that funds had been illegally displaced. The shooters also stole Morelli's briefcase containing Gavoni's dossier which may contain some incriminating evidence. But Gavoni is later found to be a false lead when Ferro's partner, Arigo, finds him dead with a bullet in his head.

The final conversation between both the Commissioner and Acampora leads to an eerie meeting between Ferro and Don Alfonso during the closing moments of the movie that contains a line recalling the Italian title of the film. This is their conversation below:

Ferro: So everything went wrong for me...except in your friendship. I owe you my life, Don Alfonso. I'll never forget that.

Don Alfonso: Did you really think I would let you get hurt? Four eyes always see better than two I say to myself. And as you can see, I was right.

Ferro: It's been the worst defeat in my life. Not being able to help Stefano, but Acampora won't get away with it. Even if I have to fake the proof with my own hands! He's gonna pay!

DA: Yes, but when? You could devote the rest of your life and still not indict him. The law is too slow...facts, proof, judges, witnesses, everything...sometimes justice isn't done. Our way, however, is much quicker. For us, he who fails, pays. And Acampora in this case has failed twice. First of all because he hurt you...and then he's getting too big for his briefs.

Ferro: What do you mean by that?

DA: Nothing...but buy a paper tomorrow...hope to see you again, Paolo.

The final shot is Commissioner Ferro holding the following days newspaper with the headline that Raffaele Acampora has been assassinated. Having learned the truth behind the murderous organization, Ferro has lost so much over the course of the film-- his nephew, his love interest and to an extent, his integrity, he nonetheless has a look of solace on his face as the screen fades to black and the credits roll.

I enjoyed this movie quite a lot and it took two times to get most of the many intricacies of the plot. It's well crafted and the screenplay was co-written by Marino Girolami who directed Merli in his cop debut, VIOLENT ROME (1975) and its followup, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976). Girolami sometimes masqueraded under the pseudonym Franco Martinelli. He was the father to action master, Enzo G. Castellari.

The script offers up a slightly less hyper Merli cop character as opposed to most of his other movies. He still gets to engage in a few fist fights and gun battles, but he's more of a macho Sherlock Holmes this time out than a raving 'Dirty Harry'. I thought this was a surprisingly well made thriller that, despite not having a lot of action, didn't need it to tell its story. Speaking of action, there's really only one scene that seems a bit out of place amidst all the various subterfuge and betrayals. It's an action scene wherein Ferro intercepts some robbers. Stopping them from making a getaway in their vehicle, one makes a run for it with Ferro in pursuit. This then leads to the 'Merli Beatdown' before hauling the perp away.

Merli is subdued most of the time when he isn't shooting his gun, or throwing a punch. It's quite contradictory to his more popular roles of a cop that uses excessive force to get the job done. Fans that expect a similar take on the violent cop role in such Merli movies as ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH, FEAR IN THE CITY, VIOLENT NAPLES (all 1976) and THE CYNIC, THE RAT & THE FIST (1977) might be slightly disappointed by this picture. The man dubbing Merli here does the film no favors lazily reading the lines without any conviction at all.

Aside from the dubbing issue, Massi holds it all together although some repetitive zooms clash with nice tracking shots. One nice photographic shot has Ferro assaulted in a building by the killers only for the camera to unveil to the audience (and the Commissioner) the attacker is an unlikely opponent. Massi also displays his frequent preoccupation with shots emanating from mirrors, visors and helmets creating some inventive camera placement. For example, a mirror is used to lay a clue that later reveals a major plot point.

An intriguing entry in the Italian crime genre, HUNTED CITY (1979) is an obscure and seemingly unavailable film on DVD. Fans that can enjoy a story with some depth and numerous twists will find a lot to sink their teeth into here. Sadly, those looking for lots of violent action will likely not find what they're looking for here. There are several shootouts and some minor car sequences, but the plot rules the day here. Melding the police procedural suspense thriller with the violent cop actioner, HUNTED CITY (1979) is an underrated gem that deserves more attention...and a better dub; or preferably, a subtitled release.

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

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