Director: Sergio Martino
Screenplay: Gianfranco Couyoumdjian, Massimo Felisatti, Sergio Martino, Fabio Pittorru
Starring: Luc Merenda, Mel Ferrer, Delia Boccardo, Tomas Milian, Michele Gammino, Paola Tedesco
Running Time: 93 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
On the surface, the poliziottesco genre (otherwise known as, or at least part of, ‘Eurocrime’), which appeared in Italy during the 70s, seemed to be an attempt to jump on the crime movie bandwagon following the success of Hollywood films like Dirty Harry, The French Connection and The Godfather. However, the tough, cynical crime movies that became known as poliziotteschi are more likely to have been inspired by the political and social unrest Italy was entrenched in at the time. Known as the “years of lead”, which ran from the late 60s to the late 80s, the period saw clashes between far-left and far-right groups, resulting in notorious terrorist acts such as the death of policeman Antonio Annarumma in 1969, the Piazza Fontana bombing that same year and the subsequent death of leftist Giuseppe Pinelli while in police custody for a crime it was proven later he did not commit (I discussed these last two incidents briefly in my Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion review).
The political underpinnings and inspirations behind poliziotteschi are often forgotten though and many titles have been fobbed off as ‘trash cinema’, perhaps rightfully so in some cases. There’s no doubt a great deal of the films were simply churned out by studios, adapting spaghetti western stories, hiring a has-been Hollywood star and throwing together a few car chases and gunfights to sell tickets, but the genre remains an interesting document of a dark chapter in Italian history.
It’s a shame then that the poliziottesco genre has fallen by the wayside, in comparison to two of Italian cinema’s other genre movements, the spaghetti western and the giallo. Whilst these genres have been studied and discussed to death and numerous examples of them have received the boutique Blu-ray and even 4K treatment, poliziotteschi are less well-served, at least in the UK.
88 Films, in all fairness, have released a few poliziotteschi in their Italian Collection, but not a lot, particularly in recent years, and Arrow put probably the most famous poliziottesco on Blu-ray, Milano Calibro 9 (reviewed here) but haven’t yet followed it up with any more. Other than getting your hands on these discs, the only way to get a poliziottesco fix in the UK has previously been importing them or buying awful quality grey-market DVDs, often ripped from VHS.
So, fans of this under-appreciated genre rejoice, as Fractured Visions, a new boutique label, has entered the scene and is opening up shop with an HD-remastered and features-packed Blu-ray of Sergio Martino’s Silent Action (a.k.a. La polizia accusa: il servizio segreto uccide, which translates as ‘The Police Accuse… The Secret Service Kills’). With Free Hand For a Tough Cop already announced as their next release later in the year, it looks like Fractured Visions are going to finally be bringing poliziotteschi out of the shadows.
I’ve not seen many examples of the genre myself (not helped by their lack of availability), but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I have seen, so was excited to hear about this release and got my hands on a screener. My thoughts follow.
Silent Action opens with a montage of shocking murders made out to look like suicides or accidents. The victims are all military officials, causing suspicion in the press. Around the same time, Inspector Giorgio Solmi (Luc Merenda) is sent to investigate the murder of a wealthy electrician named Salvatore Chiarotti.
The prime suspect initially seems to be Giuliana Raimondi, a.k.a. “la Tunisina” (Paola Tedesco), the call-girl who was the last known person to have seen Chiarotti. When Solmi arrives to take her in for questioning, he finds her with her wrists slit. She’s taken to a hospital in time to survive and, in a frightened state under questioning, admits she killed Chiarotti.
However, Solmi doesn’t trust this confession and investigates further. He discovers she indeed didn’t do it and, after digging deeper and also speaking to his journalist girlfriend Maria (Delia Boccardo), begins to realise the murder is connected to the recent military suicides.
As Solmi fights ever harder to uncover the truth, his life is put in grave danger and it grows more difficult to know who to trust.
Silent Action provides further evidence that I must be a fan of the poliziottesco genre. Like the other couple of titles I’ve seen, I enjoyed this a lot.
The first half, at least after the attention-grabbing opening sequence, is more of a subdued mystery thriller that’s light on excitement but keeps you gripped by its story of murder and intrigue. It’s not the most original narrative in the world and there are some predictable elements (you just know one or two of Solmi’s superiors are going to turn out to be ‘bad guys’, for instance) but it’s well-paced, wasting little time as the plot develops.
The second half continues this strong sense of mystery and taut pace but then adds the explosive thrills you expect from a good Italian crime movie. Kicking things off in this portion of the film is a superb car chase. The Italians certainly knew how to stage these and this is no exception to the rule. There are some very dangerous stunts pulled off at high speeds and plenty of window, box and barrel smashing antics to add to the carnage.
The climactic action scene ups the ante even further, with helicopters descending on a terrorist camp, leading to many explosions, gunfire and another car-chase (with one of the helicopters doing the chasing).
This setpiece is followed by a bleak, cynical finale that feels like a bit of a kick to the balls at the end of the film, but certainly gives more impact than any cheesy ‘heroes saving the day’ nonsense ever would.
Poliziotteschi were not known for their visual style, like the otherwise closely-related gialli, but Martino and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando produce quite a handsome, albeit gritty, film. There are a few nice camera movements used and the framing is often well-conceived.
Also adding an air of quality is Luciano Michelini’s score. It’s clearly influenced by Ennio Morricone, reminiscent of his soundtrack for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion in places, but still has its own character. The theme is particularly strong, with a tense but catchy sequence of string and piano stabs. The score is included as a CD in the limited edition release of Silent Action, so those keen to own it should pick up the film as soon as possible, before this initial run goes out of print.
Poliziottesco fans should pick it up anyway, as Silent Action is a fine example of the genre. It hardly breaks any new ground but with a healthy mix of intrigue, thrills and action it’s compulsive viewing from start to finish. Fast-paced, nicely shot and occasionally quite brutal (the shot of a man getting run over by a train at the start will knock you for six), it’s well worth a watch. Here’s hoping there are plenty more like this to follow from Fractured Visions.
Silent Action is out on 12th April on Limited Edition Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Fractured Visions. You can order it directly here: https://www.fracvis.co.uk/
The picture quality is a little disappointing, to be honest. There’s very little damage, other than a faint line that appears on the screen for a short while. However, the image is a tad soft and the colours don’t seem very natural. It looks like the saturation and contrast have been boosted, which conflicts with the print’s murky hue. It’s still a huge step up from the ropey old VHS transfers which have long been the only way to see films like these though and it’s great to have it in HD and the correct aspect ratio. I’ve used screengrabs from the Blu-ray throughout this review to give an idea of the picture quality, though these have been compressed slightly.
Audio is solid too and you get a choice between Italian and English tracks.
There are some wonderful extras included:
• 2K Restoration from the Original Camera Negative
• Original Italian Mono Audio with newly translated English subtitles
• Newly Remastered English Mono Audio
• Audio Commentary on Eurocrime fandom by Filmmaker Mike Malloy
• The Age of Lead: 1970s Italy
• Directing the Strategy: An interview with Director Sergio Martino
• Luc Unleashed: An interview with Actor Luc Merenda
• Sergio and I: An interview with Composer Luciano Michelini
• Archival interview with Luc Merenda
• Archival featurette: The Milian Connection
Limited Edition Contents (3,000 units)
• Collector’s edition slipcase
• Original Soundtrack CD
• Special Collector’s Booklet with new essays by Eugenio Ercolani and Francesco
Mike Malloy’s commentary doesn’t go into too much detail about the film itself but looks at the genre as a whole and the emergence of its fandom over the years. This focus worked a treat for me, as I’m not particularly knowledgeable about Eurocrime but have enjoyed what I’ve seen so would love to dig deeper into it. Malloy does spend a lot of time plugging his books and film projects but I didn’t mind as he’s a passionate, fun and engaging speaker.
Martino’s interview isn’t as long as some of the others but he’s fast-talking, honest and full of illuminating anecdotes. He also responds to critics who considered his films reactionary.
Merenda’s interview is similarly open and entertaining. He talks a lot about Martino and Milian, the latter of which he admits to having a turbulent relationship with. He goes off on a tangent about Donald Trump at the end, which is maybe not needed but I can’t say I disagree with his comments. The archive interview with him is fun too.
The Luciano Michelini interview is also very interesting, running through his life, career and inspirations. He speaks fondly of Morricone in particular.
‘The Milian Connection’ is fairly light on insight but full of passion and works largely as a call to resurrect Italian genre cinema. It’s a loose but enjoyable piece.
The ‘The Age of Lead’ piece is fantastic. It provides a thorough insight into Italian politics at the time and how they influenced the cinematic output of the country. It’s vital viewing to get a better understanding of how the poliziesco genre came to be.
The soundtrack CD is a wonderful addition too. Being a CD collector and soundtrack fan, I wish more labels would do the same, particularly for obscure soundtracks like this. It’s a good one too. With more than a hint of Morricone, it makes for an intense, exciting and occasionally funky listen. It’s sure to get plenty of playtime on my system. I should be careful listening in the car though, or I might start replicating some dangerous Italian genre movie driving!
The booklet is also excellent. It contains two fairly lengthy and illuminating essays, one on the birth of the poliziesco genre and Silent Action’s place within it, the other on Mel Ferrer. It also contains some archive press materials.
So, though the picture isn’t quite up to the standards of some of the big boutique labels, it’s still likely the best the film has looked for a long while and the superb extra features and limited edition bonuses make this an easy recommendation. Here’s hoping it sells well and Fractured Visions continue to bring more of these fine poliziesco titles out of the shadows.