Friday, January 21, 2011

Manhunt In the City (1975) review


Henry Silva (David Vanucchi), Luciana Paluzzi (Vera Vanucchi), Silvano Tranquilli (Paolo Giordani, newspaper reporter), Claudio Gora (Ludovico Miele), Susanna Melandri (Clara Vanucchi), Raymond Pellegrin (Inspector Bertoni), Luciano Catenacci (Lt. Caspucci), Claudio Nicastro (Salvatore Mannino), Nello Pazzafini (arms dealer in salvage yard)

Directed by Umberto Lenzi

"...I just found the four murderers of my daughter. Now if you don't get here, I'm gonna kill them all."

The Short Version: Umberto Lenzi's third Italian crime thriller is just as different as his two previous movies in the genre. Here, Silva's distraught citizen grieving over his daughters death must decide whether to let the law handle things, or do his own dirty work. Lenzi's film juggles a lot of themes at once and delivers a surprisingly satisfying experience for serious fans of this genre.

During a jewel robbery, a construction surveyor's daughter is gunned down in cold blood as the criminals make their escape. Before dying, the little girl mentions having seen 'a scorpion'. Distressed over the authorities failure in capturing those responsible, David Vanucchi is approached by a private group of vigilantes wishing for him to join their secret brute corps. Declining, David does some investigating of his own to find the one called 'Scorpion', the killer of his daughter and anyone associated with her death.

Lenzi's third Italian crime picture is a decidedly different approach much like his two previous efforts GANG WAR IN MILAN (MILANO ROVENTE 1973) and ALMOST HUMAN (MILANO ODIA: LA POLIZIA NON PUO SPARARE 1974). In the latter, Silva was originally set to star as Giulio Sacchi, but Tomas Milian was adamant about taking the role for himself. Lenzi rectified this by giving Silva the lead here as the agitated citizen fed up with a weak judicial system and rampant crime. You'd probably think that Lenzi would give Silva the opportunity to turn into Bronson's Paul Kersey character and waste any punks he comes across.

The movie doesn't play out quite like you'd think, though. It's more STREET LAW (IL CITTADINO SI REBELLA 1973) than DEATH WISH (1974) with the bulk of the film focusing on the Vanucchi characters. There's a heavy dose of political pandering about the helpless citizens who are more or less sitting ducks while the police struggle to follow up leads and deal with corruption from "upstairs". There's also an interesting dichotomy at work here between the subject of revenge and justice and how both lines get blurred over the course of the film. Needless to say, this being a Lenzi film, the violence smacks you in the face from the start. During the credits, we see Vanucchi working on a construction site while elsewhere, a gang of crooks prep their guns for a jewelry heist moments before pulling off the job.

Hearing the police sirens, the gang make their escape after successfully grabbing all the jewels they can carry. For whatever reason, one of the disguised men decides to shoot this little girl, Vanucchi's daughter, three times on their way out. The police prove almost useless in offering David and his wife any satisfaction for their loss. Vanucchi quickly becomes frustrated with the way his case is being handled and for a good portion of the film, the forces of law and order are shown to be outnumbered by vicious robbers and street thugs. This rarely talked about Italian crime movie is vastly dissimilar from Lenzi actioners such as the more well known VIOLENT NAPLES (NAPOLI VIOLENTA 1976) and ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (ROMA A MANO ARMATA 1976).

Insp. Bertoni: "I have a young daughter, too."

David: "Yeah, but mine is dead."

The script by both Lenzi and Dardano Saccetti gets a bit heavy handed at times with its talk of a by-the-book police force useless in taking care of the people they are sworn to protect. Silva does the disgruntled citizen shtick well, even though he's better suited to playing hitmen and hard boiled cops. It's difficult watching him getting beaten up by low level street scum a good portion of the film. By the end, though, he's a cold killing machine. The stunning Luciana Paluzzi was blessed with being both a fine actress and a very beautiful woman. She's had a long and illustrious career in international cinema appearing in movies spanning all genres. There's lots of ideas bandied about in this obscure and thoroughly underrated gem. After this one, it was full bore brutality for Lenzi and his Merli brigade of crime pictures; those later films being his most talked about among fan circles.

In the middle of this political triangle--the people, the cops and the crooks--Vanucchi is visited by two men who want him to join their "movement for social defense". Basically it's an ever growing group of concerned citizens who take it upon themselves to do what the law cannot. This was the central plot of the earlier and classic, gripping political shocker EXECUTION SQUAD (LA POLIZIA RINGRAZIA 1971) and also formed the basis for VIOLENT ROME (ROMA VIOLENTA 1975), starring Maurizio Merli and released shortly after MANHUNT IN THE CITY. Vanucchi refuses their help and prefers to do things on his own much to his estranged wife's displeasure. Vanucchi pushes too far and finds out info regarding 'The Scorpion' with the help of a transvestite that puts both his life, and that of his wife in danger.

A little over an hour in, the film briefly veers off into STRAW DOGS (1971) territory as the bad guys lay siege to Vanucchi's home. He manages to hold them off. Giving chase, he ends up being badly beaten and his wife kidnapped. Meanwhile, the police are in a wild shootout with the jewel robbers aboard an old boat, one of the main locations of Lenzi's classic ALMOST HUMAN (1974). Finally having had enough, Vanucchi decides to join the privatized group of late night vigilantes who wear black hoods when torturing malicious thugs. Easily obtaining all the information they need, Vanucchi and the group make the gang pay while Vanucchi, with a double barreled shotgun in hand, sets off after the four remaining punks.

Ending on a cruel twist of irony vastly different from other Euro crime pictures, Silva and his wife make amends and the final scene shows Vanucchi ready to bust some more heads, but as his wife begs him to "let the police do their job", he relents and the two drive away. MANHUNT IN THE CITY seldom gets mentioned when discussing the crime pictures of Umberto Lenzi. His later films in the genre focus more on the violence and comic book heroics than the gritty seriousness of these few earlier productions. MANHUNT IN THE CITY is far from a bad movie, but those expecting something along the lines of Lenzi's more sadistic crime pictures may be disappointed. Apart from a few scenes, Lenzi is surprisingly restrained here. The last twenty minutes is where the bulk of the action takes place and it is this portion of the movie less patient fans will likely identify the most. A diamond in the rough, this "lost" Lenzi opus is well worth rediscovering.

This review is representative of the R2 01 Distribution Italian DVD. There are no English options.
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