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.

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973) review


Fred Williamson (Nigger Charley), D'Urville Martin (Toby), Denise Nicholas (Elena), Pedro Armendariz Jr. (Sandoval), Kevin Hagen (Colonel Blanchard), Kirk Calloway (Marcellus), George Allen (Ode), Bob Minor (Fred)

Directed by Larry G. Spangler

The Short Version: An even bigger sequel to the controversial Fred Williamson western. The 'R' rating allows for bloodier shootouts, but this sequel is less offensive with the slant towards racial bigotry downplayed in favor of a more sprawling storyline. Williamson plays Nigger Charley as larger than life here, but does introduce pathos towards the end.

***NOTE: Brighter images taken from the movie trailer***

Charley and Toby happen upon a town massacre by the cruel Colonel Blanchard, a Southern madman attempting to jump start a reformation of the Confederacy. Charley amasses a small army of freed slaves living in a small village with Quakers in a bid to stop Blanchard from obtaining $100,000 in gold from a train to be split with his partner, General Marcus Hook. Charley plans to get to the train first to use the gold to buy back the slaves from Hook, but the General has no intentions of bartering with Nigger Charley.

Spangler took over the directing reigns for this more ambitious sequel in addition to encoring on scriptwriting and producing duties. The film is slightly less offensive than the previous one, but definitely more violent as provided by the 'R' rating. The sequel is also a far more cohesive affair at 110 minutes in length. The makers have essentially doubled the number of characters in this movie that has a noticeably bigger budget. The stunts are more prominent and the sets more expansive. No doubt Paramount was more generous with the funds considering the success of the first movie. The bigger scope allows for an increased sense of adventure than before.

Another aspect of this film that becomes strikingly apparent is that it veers more towards a traditional western than one of the blaxploitation variety. The soundtrack this time is more of a mainstream score, but fluctuates from time to time with a cue bearing those funky 70's beats. The character of Charley is glorified as something of a larger than life hero reinforcing the comic book nature of the Nigger Charley persona. Clearly Williamson is having a ball playing this near invincible protagonist who makes a mockery of the bad guys and acts as a magnetic sex object to any woman in his vicinity.

The villains aren't quite as comic book as before, nor are they particularly as fiersome. Colonel Blanchard is first seen as this vicious force to be reckoned with, but by the 30 minute mark he's cunningly outsmarted by Nigger Charley and continues to be ten steps behind the bulk of the film. But once the mission to free the slaves from General Hook's fortress is implemented, the film takes a somber turn akin to the violent opening massacre.

Williamson furthers the Nigger Charley character in this sequel elevating him to a much higher stature, but was far more natural the first time around. It's always a pleasure to see D'Urville Martin, a very good actor, by the way. Here, he encores as Toby, Charley's wise ass partner and friend. Pedro Armendariz Jr. probably puts in the best performance as Sandoval, the Mexican gunman who aids Charley in taking down Blanchard and the mysterious General Hook, whom we hear a lot about, but never really get to see.

The finale is well done even if Charley's band and the Mexican banditos run roughshod all over Hook and his army with little in the way of opposition. The theme used here is a rousing spaghetti cue that carries 'El Grande Battaglia' off in style. That doesn't stop the picture from ending on a sad note, though. The only major flaw is that you never seen General Hook save for a brief, but obscured glimpse of him during an ambush. He's not billed in the credits, either.

This big and loud western strives to work outside the blaxploitation parameters and is successful much of the time. The film is still hurt from weak villains (a nasty albino character is dispatched early on), but is a better constructed production from the previous picture. Blaxploitation fans may be indifferent towards it since it doesn't necessarily follow the guidelines popularly associated with the genre, but it's noteworthy for its scope and well done action scenes.

The DVD-R can be bought here at TRASH PALACE
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