Related Posts with Thumbnails

Friday, February 12, 2010

Italian Crime Cinema: Blood In the Streets & A Decade of Violence Part 3

Intense actor, Mario Adorf is pushed to the limit in MANHUNT (1972)


The most famous of the Italian Mafia pictures would have to be Fernando Di Leo's fantastic trilogy that began with the superior and classy MILANO CALIBRO 9 (MILAN CALIBER 9 1972). This was followed by LA MALA ORDINA (MANHUNT 1972) and ended with IL BOSS (THE BOSS 1973). Di Leo's trilogy was steeped in Mob ethos and differentiated the old Mafia being supplanted by a newer, less civilized version of its former "respectable" self.

Lionel Stander, 'Il Americano' in MILAN CALIBER 9 (1972)

"There's no Mafia...bunch of hoodlums. Conmen...all in competition one with the other. And they like to invest all of their dough. They make it in drugs. As soon as they get a pile, it goes into markets. They're all gettin' smart. That's not the real Mafia. There's no Mafia anymore now."

Chino, Don Vincenzo and Ugo discuss the new breed of Mafia

This is especially prevalent in the first film, MILAN CALIBER 9. Di Leo infused most of his films with political messages (some more blatant than others) that sometimes riled prominent civic figures. Despite being about the Mob, Di Leo also manages to speak on the judicial system with both sides representing different methods (good cop and bad scenario which would become even more popular the following year) to obtain a solution. There's also several lengthy scenes between the Commissioner (played with emphatic glee by the underrated Frank Wolff) and Venseno (played by frequent spaghetti western villain Luigi Pistilli) where they joust with a lot of back and forth banter regarding the rich, the poor, left and right wing politics and the young political anarchists blamed for many of the terrorist acts in Italy of the time.

"There's no other civilized country in this world with a general pardon system that works the way it does here. Why, these hoods know how much time they're gonna do before they even pull a job! I say they encourage crime!"

One of several politically charged sequences involving the fine actor, Frank Wolff (left) and Luigi Pistilli (middle)

This was all a part of the 'Strategy of Tension' (mentioned in the first chapter) by the government to maintain control of the populace by terrorizing their own people. Anarchism is one of the problems in Italian society touched upon in Di Leo's masterpiece. Wolff yells many of his points and is often quite sarcastic in his arguments due to frustration by the inability of the police to maintain 'law and order'. Venseno, on the other hand, is reserved and controlled in his methods. He takes a stance that follows the people more closely in terms of living conditions and makes connections between the influx of Southern Italian peasants into the big cities being a key component in the rising numbers of gangs in Italian cities. These people are only offered menial work, paid and housed poorly. As a result, said individuals resort to criminal activities.

A frustrated Commissario (Frank Wolff) unable to comprehend the methods of his colleague, Venseno (an off camera Luigi Pistilli)

While Wolff's character believes the 'Americano' is the key to harnessing the criminal underbelly, Venseno believes the solution to the problem lies within civic responsibility to the community. Director Fernando Di Leo tackles so many topical themes of the time period in this movie while creating a somber and violent view of the old Mafia being supplanted by a new, greedier and more violent version of its former self.

Genre regular, Philippe Leroy begins his vengeance against 'The American'.

Fernando Di Leo began his movie career as a scriptwriter working on a number of spaghetti westerns including uncredited turns on Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965). Other Euroaters penned by Di Leo are the equally respectable RETURN OF RINGO (1965), SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS (1965), NAVAJO JOE (1966), HATE FOR HATE (1967), THE LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE (1967) and THE RUTHLESS FOUR (1968). During the late 60's, Di Leo was given the chance to direct, but it wasn't until the early 70's that his cinematic output would reach a level of controversy and popularity that resonates to this day. Even during his directorial career, Di Leo would often take time out to write scripts for other directors such as Romolo Guerrieri (YOUNG, VIOLENT & DANGEROUS) and Ruggero Deodato (LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN).

'Il Americano' (Lionel Stander) confronts Ugo Piazza about the mobsters continuously disappearing money

Di Leo's Mafia triumvirate is his DOLLARS trilogy as well as being three of the best movies to come out of the Italian crime boom of the 1970's. Considering so many of the Eurocrime pictures contained elements that were ripped straight from the actual violence occurring in the streets of Italian cities on a daily basis, there were many directors who approached the material seriously and then there were those who cared only for exploring the exploitation side of things. Di Leo belonged in the former camp. He was comparable to revered director, Damiano Damiani who directed some of the best of the political crime thrillers.

Mysogyny is a commonplace element in Italian crime pictures. Sometimes the violence towards women is to a far more extreme level.

Whereas Damiani often took a more mannered methodology towards the material, Di Leo went for a more in your face direction brazenly and daringly speaking out against a corrupt system bringing himself some notoriety in the process.

The deranged Rocco will stop at nothing to find his bosses missing $300,000

Following in the huge footsteps of two groundbreaking and spectacularly doom laden thrillers, CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN and EXECUTION SQUAD (both 1971), MILAN CALIBER 9 (1972) joins those two as one of the greatest Italian crime films of all time. If the overbearingly violent opening five minutes doesn't grab your attention, then nothing will. However, the remainder of the film abandons scenes of ultra violence (for the most part), concentrating instead on noir conventions and political connotations. While dealing mostly with the Mob and generally all around shady characters, Di Leo's movie somewhat foreshadows the Calabresi themed cop pictures to come.

There's the Mafia connections as well as the abrasive civic diatribes spouted by frustrated lawmen. This combination of both the political crime film with the rise of the new Mafia looks ahead to the lone and angry constabulary fighting against an institution far more powerful than the justice system. However, the emergence of the 'Violent Policeman' films would wait until 1973 before it would blaze a bullet trail across theater screens with Castellari's HIGH CRIME in 1973.

The brutal and explosive opening to MILAN CALIBER 9 (1972)

MILAN CALIBER 9 begins with a money exchange gone wrong followed by one of the most brutal opening five minutes ever seen in the genre. If this sequence doesn't grab you by the throat forcing you to keep your eyeballs glued to the screen, than maybe this isn't the genre for you. The pounding score of Luis Bacalov (DJANGO, THE GRAND DUEL) is at times soothing with its various instrumental beats and also thrashes the viewer with throbbing, omnipresent chords.

Two fine actors--Gastone Moschin (left) and Mario Adorf

Immediately after its ultraviolent opening, Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is picked up by the sadistic Rocco and two other lackey's. Having spent the last few years in San Vittori prison for robbery, Ugo is blamed for the stolen $300,000 in mob money and beaten for his troubles. Constantly harassed by Rocco, Ugo seeks out some of his old gangster friends who also are not totally convinced he didn't steal the money. Finally breaking down to see 'The Mikado' (referred to as 'Il Americano' in the Italian version and played with gruff enthusiasm by Lionel Stander), Ugo is ever so kindly persuaded to work for him in an effort to locate the stolen funds.

Gratuitous shot of the seductively alluring Barbara Bouchet

Piazza then hooks up with his old girlfriend, Nelly (the gorgeous Barbara Bouchet) all the while being closely watched by the Mikado's men. Several of the mobsters men get blown up while making exchanges which leads to Ugo's friend, Chino and Don Vincenzo being targeted. Eventually, things end badly for the Mikado leaving a large number of corpses. A double twist closes the film on a violent note akin to the way it began.

Rocco keeps tabs on Ugo

Another major point of interest in MILAN CALIBER 9 is the utterly out of control performance by Mario Adorf. His character of the maniacal Rocco is one of the major scene stealers in addition to the sex appeal showcased by the drop dead gorgeous allure of Barbara Bouchet. Both Adorf and lead, Gastone Moschin worked together in Sergio Corbucci's 1969 western film, THE SPECIALIST. In that film, Adorf plays a similar unhinged persona, but far less sadistic. Everyone in MILAN CALIBER 9 acquits themselves wonderfully in this gloomy, downbeat and depressing view of a country in disarray.

Frank Wolff (left) appeared in a few Roger Corman movies and even a TWILIGHT ZONE episode before setting in Italy for scores of genre pictures. Wolff killed himself in December of 1971. MILAN CALIBER 9 was released after his death.

Di Leo's world seen here is one filled with violence and double crosses. No one is to be trusted. The Mafia old guard is viewed as honorable and outdated while the new rulers who have taken over are only interested in money by any means necessary. The "rules" have been thrown out the window and it's every man for himself. The law as represented by Frank Wolff is also stated as being outmoded during one of the oral battles between his character and that of Venseno. Ugo Piazza is seen as a pitiable character constantly harassed and ridiculed by both the mob and the police. He is redeemed somewhat towards the end when everything is revealed to be not quite as it would seem.

Adorf's unhinged performance is a highlight of MILAN CALIBER 9

"I want to know why you killed my kid! WHY?!?! Why you've hunted me down like an animal!?!? Why you make me kill so many people!! I wanna know why those Americans came 4,000 miles with their big guns to wipe out an insect like me! Tell me, Don Vito, WHY, for Christ's sake!!!"

Adorf again burns up the screen as small time criminal, but dedicated family man, Luca Canali in Di Leo's MANHUNT (1972).

Di Leo followed up his masterwork of mafia malevolence with another high quality gangster movie entitled MANHUNT aka LA MALA ORDINA. Mario Adorf returns, but in a decidedly less savage role. Here, Adorf plays a congenial, yet robust pimp, Luca Canali.

Two major screen heavyweights: Henry Silva (left) and Woody Strode (right)

When the film opens, a Mob leader has entrusted two American hitmen, Dave Catania (Henry Silva) and Frank Weston (Woody Strode) with the task of assassinating Canali who has supposedly made off with a heroin shipment from Milan to New York.

Mobsters finally corner Canali during the MANHUNT

When he learns that two dangerous American hitmen are after him, Canali changes from a jovial small time hood running a prostitute ring to a resourceful survivalist who takes matters into his own hands late in the film. Adorf is nothing short of amazing here and the film is highly recommended for his performance alone.

The violent junkyard showdown finale to MANHUNT

Di Leo's second picture in his first crime trilogy never achieves the same level of excellence attained by MILAN CALIBER 9 (1972), but it's still a heavily violent action picture that starts off by slowly building the three main characters. But by the midway point, it picks up a lot of steam once Canali realizes he's a marked man, yet doesn't know why. He soon learns that he's the fall guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. His character is easily the most fascinating and well drawn of them all.

The stunning Luciana Paluzzi appears to be wearing a see through shirt with nothing underneath

Henry Silva and Woody Strode are also of interest as the two hitmen. At first, Di Leo's movie is built around them and their search for Canali. Silva is a swaggering womanizer while Strode plays a more reserved, silent, yet no less dangerous killer. The finale inside a junkyard is another highlight. Di Leo also includes a high quotient of nudity to fill out the proceedings. The stunning beauty of Luciana Paluzzi is also on hand in a small role as a tour guide for the two American killers. Bond villain, Adolfo Celi and HERCULES (1957) actress, Sylvia Koschina are also on hand for this early 70's Italian crime thriller.

The formidable assassin, Nick Lanzetta in THE BOSS (1973)

Di Leo's third entry in his initial crime trilogy is completed with the ultra violent thriller, THE BOSS (1973). This time, Henry Silva is the hold over from the previous movie. Here, Silva plays Nick Lanzetta, a most resourceful and cunning hitman. Like MILAN CALIBER 9 (1972), THE BOSS begins with an incredible scene of death and destruction. In it, Lanzetta totally annihilates a theater full of mobsters enjoying a porn film in a private theater by firing off a series of grenades with a rocket launcher.

And like Di Leo's earlier movie, Luis Bacalov delivers a loud and abrasive score that draws the viewer into the on screen action. Like his previous movies, there's nary a decent or honorable character in sight. Even the law is presented as being ignominious.

For this entry, this even more in depth look into the seedy underworld of the Sicilian Mafia (the first two films dealt with the Milanese Mafia) showcases struggles between two different Family's. Don Corrasco (Richard Conte) is a stringent Sicilian mobster that believes in tradition and plans to stay true to his ideals. However, an ambitious gangster named Cocchi wants to get into the Sicilian Family. Soon the daughter of Don Giuseppe, a friend of Corrasco, is kidnapped.

Violent mobster, Cocchi (second from right) plans an ambush on Lanzetta

A deal is made that culminates in a string of bloodshed that results in an emissary being sent to Corrasco recommending that Lanzetta be eliminated. The surprise is that Lanzetta is one step ahead of everyone else. What's particularly depressing about THE BOSS is that it paints a society of people who cannot be trusted. One must trust in one's self if they are to survive. True family is unimportant when it comes to Mafia rules. Also, when one shows too much ambition, or astute cleverness, fear calls for their elimination.

THE BOSS, Don Corrasco (Richard Conte, left) discusses politics with the crooked Commissario Torri (right) played by peplum and spaghetti western actor, Gianni Garko

Duplicitous characters and double crosses abound in this third production. Silva delivers one of his best and most memorable performances here as the cold and calculating assassin, Nick Lanzetta. Silva gets some choice lines in his role. One example comes when after Lanzetta has rescued the nymphomaniacal daughter of Don Giuseppe, the war between the two mob Family's has gotten out of control while he has been enjoying an extended tryst with the girl.

More mysogyny this time directed at Rina (Antonia Santilli) by vicious mobster, Cocchi and his men...only Rina happens to like it.

"Look, bitch! You're getting me down! It's time I kicked your ass outa' here. You want me to tell you something? I've been between your legs for a whole week...morning, noon and night! I must be getting soft...banging a hopped up nympho while all hell's breaking loose out there!!"

After Lanzetta rescues Rina, she becomes his sex slave and causes him to lose his focus

If you've never seen Henry Silva, you're assured to be a fan after witnessing his formidable performance here. Di Leo's penchant for controversy is pushed to a new level when he clearly and provocatively makes the connection between several Christian Democrats and the Mafia even going so far as to reference the names of said individuals.

Lanzetta, as usual, is one step ahead of the menagerie of shady characters

Di Leo continued his scornful style of moviemaking for one more round with SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER in 1974. After that film brought him much trouble, he settled down for a far more lightweight second trilogy of films (Discussed later). But prior to that, the Eurocrime genre was about to change once more. This time, this third and final style would be the most violent and most action packed. Rampant scenes of brutality and pugnacity were the order of the day. Stories were often less focused on plot, concentrating more on bank robberies, shootouts, car chases and citizens in peril. The 'Violent Cop' action pictures were born in 1973. They were the cinematic embodiment of real life police Sergeant, Luigi Calabresi. He was known for using excessive means to "solve" cases. He was also the progenitor of dozens of aggressive and often times extremely vicious crime thrillers.



Samuel Wilson said...

This is a great commentary on a great trilogy. Since you've seen them more recently, do I recall correctly that the cross you show on the Americano's desk is the one thing that shows up in all three films? Speaking of Stander's character, I thought it funny that the American dub of Caliber 9 that I heard turns him into "the Mikado." I suppose it's not an inapprorpiate title for someone in his line of work.

venoms5 said...

About the cross, Sam, I'm honestly not sure. I had written this some time back, but needed to see the films again to re-familiarize myself with them as well as do the screen caps and add some things here and there. I don't recall seeing the cross again aside from the first film.

It's a damn shame disc 2 for MILAN CALIBER 9 has no English subs at all.

I'm going to make a guess that the use of the word 'Mikado' was used because it more closely matched lip movement and like you said, it is pretty appropriate given the characters stature.

His second trilogy I didn't care much for at all. SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER is pretty grim, though, and a return to the directors controversial ways. Di Leo's KIDNAP SYNDICATE is also good. I also have BLOOD & DIAMONDS but haven't watched it yet.

Sean M said...

Yes more well seasoned commentary and the most informed appraisal i've seen of Di Leo's mafia trilogy.

Very much looking forward to part 4 of your article where it sounds like you'll be tackling the out and out actioners!

venoms5 said...

Hey, Sean. Glad you liked it. Yes, part 4 will finally get around to a lot of the 'Violent Cop' movies that seem to be the most popular.

Samuel Wilson who runs Mondo 70 also covered Di Leo's trilogy in depth, Sean. His link for several Di Leo movies can be found here....

I Like Horror Movies said...

I went from not even knowing the names of any of these three films to suddenly feeling like an expert, excellent information as always V!

venoms5 said...

You're too kind, Carl. Those three are available here now, I believe, but not legitimately. Still, the extras packed Italian discs are not easily accessible now. Di Leo's first crime trilogy is a great place to start.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.