Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fear In the City (1976) review


Maurizio Merli (Inspector Mario Murri), James Mason (Commissioner Questore), Raymond Pelligrin (Alberto Lettieri), Silvia Dionisio (Laura Masoni), Franco Ressel (Doctor Lo Cascio, assistant prosecutor), Cyril Cusack (Giacomo Masoni)

Directed by Giuseppe Rosati

"This is not the Far West Inspector, the police are representatives of the law!"

Crime boss, Alberto Lettieri is broken out of prison, but before he makes his escape, they nab another prisoner, the docile Giacomo Masoni, and take him along. Once out, Lettieri and his thugs snuff out a group of four unrelated individuals. Commissioner Questore learns that the four victims--Luigi Trentin, a transvestite; Maria Esposito, a hooker; Nestore Frangiapane a bar owner; Aldo Bettoia, a drug addict; all were informers instrumental in the capture of Alberto Lettieri. With such a dangerous and volatile criminal loose on the streets once more, the Commissioner is forced to reinstate Inspector Murri to the force. A hot tempered policeman, Murri has a personal connection to Lettieri and uses his excessive and violent methods to instill his brand of justice on the criminal element causing Fear In the City.

Giuseppe Rosati directs a quasi-sequel to his own LEFT HAND OF THE LAW (1975). Maurizio Merli takes over for the Inspector Murri role previously played by Leonard Mann. Rosati shows a lot of flair in this film and it resonates a style found in the best of the American cop thrillers such as the DIRTY HARRY series. Rosati pays a lot of attention to detail for his violent cop thriller. In addition to sporadic and explosive scenes of brutality, Rosati takes the time to add some depth to the storyline and builds his characters to a greater extent than in some other films in this genre.

During this time in Italy, the Republic was swarming with rampant crime on a regular basis and films like this were a great way for the terrorized public to root for a hero that stood for justice. This type of integrity may have been perceived as frontier style retribution, or outside the law, it nonetheless gave the criminal element a taste of their own medicine for 90+ minutes. The title of this film must have echoed the feelings of the Italian populace during this time period.

Maurizio Merli perfectly encapsulates the macho persona fighting for the good of society utilizing methods of vigilante justice to deliver final reckoning to the bad guys. Here, a lot of the film plays out just as it would in the Italian westerns that preceded the crime pictures. Violent shootouts take place in broad daylight with the streets and other modern locations replacing the dusty battleground of the old west. Merli's stance in this movie is pretty much interchangeable to most all his other action thrillers.

His bitter views on the judicial system that seemingly protects the criminals and chastises those that are defenders of society is summed up in this dialog exchange with the 'by-the-book' prosecutor, "He would have killed me if he could. What am I, a target? No one's getting paid to turn the other cheek. He was a convicted murderer and you want him treated like he was a victim of police brutality. With guys like him on the loose, it's society that has to pay the price!"

The film, much like some of the best entries in the genre, details and represents both sides of the law; on one side, you have the legal representation of the ruling directive. This side, which uses legitimate means to establish a "stable" environment for the public at large, can also be unbalanced by "legal" loopholes, or even greedy, or bribed civil servants and arbitrators of the law that allows criminals to be let loose on the streets once again.

On the other side, you have the one true solution to eradicating the illicit components that threaten the safety of the city; a raw, untamed justice. To combat barbarism and violence, one must use the same methods to successfully stamp it out. The Assistant Prosecutor, doctor Lo Cascio signifies the former, while Inspector Murri embodies the latter. Both sides are constantly at each others throats, and both disapprove of the others methods. But in the end, it's Murri's 'modus operandi' that ultimately gets the job done, yet also gets him removed from the force.

Some artistic touches are present in the script in scenes that show Murri cornering some unlucky punk. Inserted are slow motion shots revealing a young woman and a little girl approaching a car. It isn't too hard to figure out who they are in relation to Murri, but these bits lend an added layer to Murri's vendetta against Lettieri. The fateful reveal of these two unfortunates is saved for the last moments and these bits and pieces are all very reminiscent of a similar plot device seen in Sergio Leone's classic, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). In that film, the character played by Charles Bronson has brief fragments of flashbacks which we, the audience, do not see in full till the 'settling of accounts' at the finale.

Rosati also excels in the final stand off between Murri and Lettieri. Once cornered, Lettieri figuring the police cannot shoot an unarmed man, tosses away his gun. We then see the fate of Murri's wife and daughter via flashback. A close up of Murri's face follows. Suddenly, the sound of four gunshots are heard. We never see the gun fired, nor the bullets hit, much as there is no one around to tell that Murri has yet again shot down a despicable, yet unarmed man. It's a powerful moment which then leads to the final sequence wherein Murri is again off the force returning to the solace he was enjoying at the beginning fishing for trout; only this time, he has the companionship of Laura by his side.

The characters are, for the most part, well drawn and are given sufficient screen time for audience interest. About the only one that isn't really explored more is the main villain, Lettieri. You learn just enough about him to know he's a sadistic bastard, but his cronies do most of the dirty work. The finale does exhibit the nastier side of him, when he cold-heartedly strangles Giacomo Masoni, the man he uses to snatch ahold of the soon to be discarded bank notes. Lettieri also kills a helpless, bound and gagged man by smashing him in the face with a shovel.

The character of Masoni is possibly the most tragic character in the movie aside from Murri, who quietly mourns the death of his family at the hands of Lettieri. After learning he was to be released in 40 days, Murri thinks Masoni was forced out of prison during the break. His reasons for imprisonment are revealed over the course of the film.

Digging deeper to find out why Lettieri broke Masoni out with him, Murri learns that Masoni worked on what is called, 'The Third Sector'. The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications utilized the railways for purposes of transporting internal shipments and also money in and around Italy. Masoni handled all the deliveries for over 20 years. The Bank of Italy deals with the collection and destruction of bills unfit for continued circulation; the value being in the millions. It is here that Murri discovers Masoni's usage in Lettieri's scheme.

Silvia Dionisio also plays a tragic character of sorts. As the niece of the likewise beleaguered Giacomo Masoni, she is a top drawer prostitute with a heart of gold, whom eventually falls for Mario Murri over the course of his investigation. It is during the sequences involving her character that the film alternates between a police procedural and a chance to give Murri a little romance. She ultimately leaves her life of debauchery behind to exit with Murri as the credits roll.

The plot device of having the love interest placed in danger is never explored here, even during an altercation aboard a bus. A group of cretins get on and harass a passenger and the driver before Murri has had enough and beats the hell out of the punks, inspiring the ticket taker to help out in the scuffle. There is ample opportunity to add the 'damsel in peril' motif, but there's still enough action for viewers to overlook this typical genre mainstay.

In countless numbers of these films, the action scenes follow the same recipe. One of the prerequisites is the bank robbery. Here, though, the bank robbery has a bit more significance than in other movies in the genre. The robbery here takes up over 11 minutes of screen time following the robbers from the scene of the crime to their eventual "escape", which leads to one of the best sequences in the film. Murri has stashed away in the trunk of the car carrying the crooks and a priest they've taken hostage.

Upon reaching their destination, Murri erupts from the trunk and blasts away at the crooks with a machine gun. After taking out all but one of the villains in a blazing fire fight, Murri corners the man, his gun having jammed. Murri shoots him down without blinking an eye. The priest having seen the whole incident, responds to the Inspectors act of justice with, "May God forgive you my son, and may you live in peace with your conscious." Mario Murri then coldy replies, "I'm at peace with myself. Not so sure about these corpses. They're the ones who need to be forgiven. Go hit'em with a couple of 'hail mary's'."

Murri again kills in cold blood during the attack on him by Lettieri's goons while visiting his family's graves. Defending himself, he successfully kills all the assailants. One of them attempts to escape via a wall. Murri then shoots the unarmed killer in the back several times. The aforementioned ending is the third time the Inspector dispenses revenge on those that have wronged him. Incidentally, the death of his family is never mentioned by Murri, nor his superiors, but is understood by the audience to be the reason for Murri's relentless and definitive actions in dealing with the bad guys. Incidentally, the final shoot out is one of the most exciting and adrenaline-charged gun battles of any modern day action thriller.

James Mason plays the Commissioner who is against reinstating Inspector Murri for fear of dealing with his unorthodox antics yet again. The scene where Questore and his fellow staff members discuss the Lettieri situation is humorous when the thought of bringing in Mario Murri to deal with the violent criminal is brought up. Questore states, "No, Caputo, no, no, never, never, you can talk about anyone, suggest anybody you like, but with the exception that crackpot! Even if the Minister of the Interior ordered me, I would refuse to do it!" Almost immediately, Commissioner Questore gets a call from his boss to reinstate Inspector Murri.

Franco Ressel will be recognizable to spaghetti western fans as he appeared in many Italian oaters notably as the main villain, Stengal, from the Lee Van Cleef gadget western, SABATA (1969). Here, he plays the Assistant Prosecutor, Lo Cascio, who is wholeheartedly against Murri's methods of disposing of the criminal element running rampant on the streets of Italian cities.

FEAR IN THE CITY (1976) is a highly enjoyable entry in the Italian Crime genre. However, it isn't quite as sadistically violent as many other entries (such as the Merli vehicles, ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH and VIOLENT NAPLES), it has its moments of brutality a lot of fans of the genre look for. There's also a good amount of characterization and the film speaks a lot of the justice system as so many of the best of these movies do. Fans of Maurizio Merli will no doubt want this in their collections. Giuseppe Rosati was a competent and capable director whose career wasn't long enough, yet he's left behind some quality entertainment, with FEAR IN THE CITY being one of them.

This review is representative of the Alan Young Pictures Italian region 0 DVD. It has both English and Italian audio tracks. Italian subs are forced during the English dub track. There is also a bootleg release from Alfa Digital which offers up the English dubbed version. The picture quality on the Italian release is immaculate and much better than the Alfa Digital disc.
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