Monday, November 9, 2009

The Rebel (1980) review


Maurizio Merli (Nick Rossi), Francisco Rabal (Tony), Jutta Speidel (Vivian), Reinherd Kolldehoff (Heminshtoller), Arthur Brauss (Klause Veidt), Bobby Rhodes (Jamaica)

Directed by Stelvio Massi

Retired cop, Nick Rossi is payed a visit from his former partner, Tony about joining him as a bodyguard for established clientele. At first declining the offer, Nick quickly accepts and joins his friend for the job of protecting a visiting German banker. Touring a Venice glass making facility, the wealthy businessman is assassinated anyway and Tony is mortally wounded in the violent skirmish. Vowing to avenge his friend, Rossi goes to great lengths to learn the truth behind the spate of assassinations of wealthy entrepreneurs. In aiding the police, his journey takes him to Berlin where Rossi cunningly assumes the identity of one of the hitmen. While there, he meets a beautiful woman who initiates him into the secret society of international killers. Some time after, Rossi's cover is blown and he himself becomes a target of the powerful criminal organization.

THE REBEL (1980) is one of the last great movies to emerge from the dying European crime genre that flourished in Italy throughout the 1970's. Of the various movies I've seen from Stelvio Massi, this ranks up there with the best. The first few films of his I had viewed were mediocre, but then something like THE REBEL comes along and changes that perspective. The man has definitely directed some top tier entries amidst some lower level actioners. This production stands out as one of his best.

With Massi's notable career as an accomplished cinematographer, his penchant for innovative ways to shoot a scene is in evidence here through the lens of cameraman, Pier Luigi Santi. To Santi's credit, there are a number of unusual lighting effects in certain scenes with Merli. His face is illuminated while around him is more dimly lit. There's also some nice panning and dolly shots that add some extra emotional impact to certain sequences.

More suspense thriller than action film, THE REBEL (1980) also marks popular actor, Maurizio Merli's final bow in the genre. Like a few of his previous outings, this picture is vastly different from his more well known and kinetic cop films such as VIOLENT ROME (1975) and SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976). While there are the requisite shootouts and chases, the bulk of the movie revolves around the intrigue and assassination aspects of the storyline. Also, the characterizations are more deep than usual. Merli as Nick Rossi is a tortured soul who resigned from the force after his family was killed in what is presumed to have been in response to his then career of choice.

"You're too cunning, my friend, much too cunning for a simple crook."

Rossi is very similar to Paul Kersey, the character essayed by Charles Bronson in the seminal DEATH WISH (1974). Everyone he cares about, anyone he gets close to ends up dead. His relationship with anguish and loss only adds to the already somber atmosphere that permeates the snow bound German locations. Constantly watched and distrusted by the organization that hired him, Rossi barely manages to stay one step ahead of his employers. Merli's hitman is crafty and guileful, much different from his more popular roles as an impetuous and recalcitrant policeman.

"I believe a moment of true love is worth a life."

The character of Vivian is also well drawn and played with increasing trepidation by Jutta Speidel. Her character prefers to not ever get too close to one of her lovers, but she fails at this when she meets Nick Rossi. The two become involved in a relationship and you're not quite sure at first if Rossi is simply using her to get close to the killers, or if he genuinely has feelings for her. Not long after, she learns that Nick is actually a cop, but because she loves him, she ultimately puts her life at risk. The love story angle is quite different for this type of picture especially when so much time is devoted to it as it is here over the course of the films 104 minute running time.

Considering so many people (in Italy and abroad) say that Merli owed his popularity to his likeness to Franco Nero, the man obviously wished to alter his persona in ways to detach himself from this stigma. Not only that, but the proliferation of violent cop movies had pretty much ran there course at this point and change was inevitable. Merli delivers one of his most varied policeman roles made most notable by the relationship with the likewise tortured character of Vivian. Merli had been given love interests in past movies, but not quite to the extent seen here. The sad and heartbreaking piano backed love song that pops up infrequently as both an instrumental piece and vocally over the end credits perfectly sums up their relationship.

The amount of time afforded the characters does indeed pay off, though, as it greatly accentuates the action scenes and THE REBEL has merely a few, but they're all ably choreographed and very exciting. The Venice glass shop shootout/boat chase is a highlight as is the emotionally impactful conclusion in and around a railway station. Sprinkled in between these two are some mini action scenes ranging from some minor fisticuffs and gun battles. The Italians propensity for slow motion scenes are also seen here although it's used sparingly to emphasize action and not just for the sake of it. Overall THE REBEL (1980) is a very well made movie that I enjoyed very much mainly because it was so different and transcended the need for exploitation and excessive violence to bolster its marquee value.

While fans who watch these pictures just for that reason will likely be disappointed, I recommend this movie most highly. However, if you are new to the genre, I would say start with one of Merli's more fashionable action films such as VIOLENT NAPLES, or the sleazy delights of fan fave ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (both 1976) before investigating more "mature" works such as this one. Just the same, POLIZIOTTO, SOLITUDINE E RABBIA (aka THE REBEL) is one of the best films from both Maurizio Merli and director, Stelvio Massi and is long overdue some praise from more fans of the Italo crime genre.

This film can be purchased at the link below....
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