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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Corleone To Brooklyn (1979) review


Maurizio Merli (Lieutenant Giorgio Berni), Van Johnson (Lt. Sturges), Mario Merola (Michele Barresi), Biagio Pelligra (Salvatore Scalia), Venantino Venantini (Commissioner Danova)

Directed by Umberto Lenzi

The Short Version: Lenzi bids farewell to the poliziesco with this last crime movie, one of the best of his career, and with the genres patron policeman saint, Maurizio Merli. Trading in mindless violence for a suspenseful mood, this works greatly in Lenzi's favor. Essentially a chase movie where Merli must keep a witness alive to testify at a trial, Lenzi tones down the excessive brutality of his earlier hits. Still, fans expecting Lenzi style violence won't be disappointed; and it comes complete with a nifty, if downbeat ending. Merli plays his 'violent cop' as a by-the-book officer seeking justice through less forceful means. It's a surprisingly well made little action thriller and a high-point of the genre during its last, dying days.

Italian mobster, Michele Barresi heads for the safer climate of Brooklyn after his chief rival is gunned down in the small Sicilian town of Corleone. Commissioner Berni learns of his involvement so Barresi takes out a contract on the only two people alive who can put him away. One is Barresi's hired assassin and the other is his girlfriend. Unable to save the girl, Berni manages to arrest the assassin, Salvatore Scalia. The plan is to get Scalia from Palermo to New York to testify against Barresi in court. But the mafia has no intentions of allowing either Berni, or Scalia, to make it to New York alive.

Umberto Lenzi take his bow in the Italo crime genre directing his last violent, yet surprisingly subtle entry before moving on to literal greener pastures with gory jungle adventures and bloody horror movies that would, sadly, become the staples of his long career. Lenzi is/was seemingly in love with New York City. So many of his movies have scenes shot there and this time, a good portion of this Italian made potboiler is set on the streets of Manhattan and Times Square. This adds a great deal to the exploitation appeal of the picture; and with Lenzi's name attached, it's an instant sale.

You might think that with this being the outspoken directors last cinematic hurrah of gunblazing cop thrillers, that it's a wildly violent actioner; well, you would be wrong. Surprisingly taut and suspenseful, Lenzi dispenses with nasty scenes of shock value opting instead for a tight little chase movie that ends on a somber note surmising far more trouble ahead for our determined Lt. Berni. Possibly Lenzi's most polished crime picture, it resembles an American style action film with its 'point A to point B' approach and myriad number of set pieces. Also, the film jumping back and forth from Italy to America adds a bigger scope to the proceedings.

As with his other cop films from this time, Merli plays Berni much differently when compared with his earlier, interchangeable incarnations of Leonardo Tanzi, Commissioner Betti and one or two other similar 'killer cop' roles. Berni plays things by the book as opposed to letting his fists do the talking. That's not to say Berni isn't a man of action, just not the short-tempered, ball busting, bitch-slapping hero of past films. By this point in his career, Merli was trying new approaches to these cop roles he had become famously associated with. There had been comedic touches (FEARLESS FUZZ), a new look without his fabled mustache (HIGHWAY RACER) and even a more serious, dramatic portrayal (THE REBEL) among others.

The uneasy alliance between Berni and Scalia as they attempt to get to New York alive is a fun script idea attributed to Lenzi's original story. Biagio Pelligra played many small roles as crooks in these movies, so it's refreshing to see him graduate to a co-starring role alongside Merli in a more complex role. Mario Merola (see below) was good at playing rotund mafiosos although he's less mysterious here than he was in HUNTED CITY, another Merli vehicle from 1979. 

Franco Micalizzi's score also deserves mentioning as it lends an immeasurable amount of weight to this movie.

On his impressive resume, Lenzi has worked with the likes of John Huston, Henry Fonda, Henry Silva, George Peppard and Jack Palance to name a handful of great actors that have appeared in his movies. His films with Maurizio Merli were distinguished by his lead stars charisma and verisimilitude. Often brutally violent, the crime films were some of the directors best work. Lenzi excelled in crime, adventure and war pictures. With the ambitious FROM CORLEONE TO BROOKLYN, Lenzi said 'arrivederci' to the Italian crime genre, and went out with an exciting, oftentimes tense, and occasionally despondent and gloomy bang.


Fazeo said...

As a fan of both Merli and Lenzi I really need to make an effort and see this film, sounds like a solid poliziesco(my favorite genre of Italian cinema)film.

venoms5 said...

It is, Fazeo. Just don't expect the level of violence from other Lenzi crime flicks like ALMOST HUMAN and ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH. If you can appreciate Merli's noticeable changes to his cop characters in his later movies, you'll do fine here.

Fazeo said...

I could tell by your review that this wasn't exactly an action packed film, so I won't go in expecting one.

venoms5 said...

It's got lots of action, just not in the same vein as other crime pictures. It's unusual in that it has a lot of set pieces. Everywhere Merli and company go, they encounter people trying to kill them. It reminded me more of an American action film than an Italian one. It's well worth tracking down if you're a fan of both Lenzi and Merli.

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