Less than two weeks after bemoaning the lack of poliziotteschi Blu-ray releases in the UK in my review of Fractured Visions’ Silent Action, Arrow Video, seemingly answering my call, announced they’d be putting together a 5-film poliziotteschi box-set, entitled Years of Lead: five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977. Needless to say, I snapped up a copy to review.
‘Years of Lead’ refers to a turbulent period in Italian history between the late 60s and early 70s, which I briefly discussed in that previous review. It was a time that brought a spate of violent incidents across the country, instilling fear in its residents and distrust in the authorities. This atmosphere, on top of the success of American cop movies like The French Connection, Dirty Harry and Serpico, inspired the poliziottesco genre. Also known as ‘Eurocrime’ (as some other countries in Europe made similar films), poliziotteschi typically saw the police tackle excessively violent crimes, terrorism and internal corruption, often with plenty of car chases and gunfights to help sell popcorn, whilst frequently ending on a downbeat note to reflect the realism of the situations.
Arrow’s box set brings together a nicely varied range of poliziotteschi, including Savage Three (1975), Like Rabid Dogs (1976), Colt 38 Special Squad (1976), Highway Racer (1977) and No, the Case is Happily Resolved (1973). I strapped on my piece, jumped in my Fiat and hit the streets to see if the set met my expectations.
Director: Vittorio Salerno
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi, Giancarlo Balestrini, Vittorio Salerno, Lucile Laks
Starring: Joe Dallesandro, Martine Brochard, Enrico Maria Salerno, Gianfranco De Grassi, Guido De Carli
Running Time: 85 min
Savage Three sees a trio of young men, Ovidio (Joe Dallesandro), Giacomo (Gianfranco De Grassi) and Pepe (Guido De Carli) grow weary of their repetitive lives, be it through working for an ungrateful boss, being given no peace by their family or not getting enough action from their wife, who is sleeping with her boss to grease the wheels for a promotion. The three find escape through violent activities that soon escalate to a series of murders across the city.
With little motive behind the killings, the police struggle to find the culprits. Whilst most of the cops believe them to be caused by terrorist activity or the acts of delinquents, Commissario Santagà (Enrico Maria Salerno) has his suspicions about Ovidio, after meeting him at a computer training course.
Savage Three provides a solid start to the set, with plenty of the classic ingredients of the genre. You’ve got some bloody violence (including a brutal murder by forklift!), a thumping rock soundtrack, crazy driving and a dose of social commentary.
The scenes following the young men in their dead-end jobs and miserable home lives give a Falling Down angle to the film and some other instances of the public showing aggressive tendencies, as well as the final scene that turns things full circle, suggest there is inherent violence in all of us and the frustrations and tensions of modern civilisation can cause this to burst forth. This is an interesting thought that I can relate to, though I felt perhaps the central trio get up to some twisted things a little too soon so you never really get a chance to sympathise with them, which it appears the film is trying to do at times.
I thought Dallesandro was suitably cold and cruel as the ringleader of the trio. The scenes with him and his wife (played by Martine Brochard) are particularly good. Enrico Maria Salerno (the brother of the film’s writer-director Vittorio Salerno) is also very effective as the police commissario on his tail.
Overall then, Savage Three. Is a tough, ‘state-of-the-nation’ commentary with some nasty bursts of violence. The build-up could have been more effectively gradual, but the film is nonetheless a no-nonsense, gritty thriller with a clear statement to make.
* Please note – there’s some genuine animal cruelty in the film which, due to UK laws, cannot be shown on screen, so Arrow have decided to cut to black during these sequences whilst allowing the audio to continue, so you don’t lose track of what’s happening. The US release is uncut though and there’s a rumour that if you can change the region of your player, your UK disc can access the uncut version. I don’t have a multi-region player to test this, but did see that the uncut version was hiding on the disc, when I checked using a Blu-ray drive on my PC, which suggests the theory would work.
Like Rabid Dogs
Director: Mario Imperoli
Screenplay: Mario Imperoli, Piero Regnoli
Starring: Piero Santi, Annarita Grapputo, Paola Senatore, Cesare Barro, Luis La Torre
Running Time: 98 min
Like Rabid Dogs sees another trio of young people (this time two men and one woman) cause a reign of terror across Rome, holding up banks and other businesses as well as torturing and murdering several people. Leading the group is Tony (Cesare Barro), who is the son of a wealthy and influential figure, Enrico Ardenghi (Paolo Carlini).
Commissioner Paolo Muzi (Piero Santi) is assigned to the case after the pregnant wife of a murdered policeman commits suicide. He has strong suspicions about Tony but the authorities warn him to steer clear, due to his father’s reach and influence. Undeterred, Muzi keeps his eye on the young man and uses his close female police companion, Silvia (Annarita Grapputo) to pose as a prostitute to try to lure the killers in.
I couldn’t help but compare Like Rabid Dogs to Savage Three. The two films have been put together on one disc for a reason (the following two films are also coupled together due to similar ideas) as they share a lot of similarities. I must admit, I preferred Savage Three, so my feelings for Like Rabid Dogs were dampened somewhat through constantly being reminded of the film I’d watched the previous day.
My main bugbear in comparing the two films, was that where Savage Three explored the idea of the killers being normal people that had snapped, Like Rabid Dogs centres around three young adults that are just psychopaths. Their actions are sick and twisted, abusing and humiliating people before they kill them. Reportedly it was based on a real case known as the ‘Cerceo massacre’, a random killing by a trio of young people in Italy around the time.
Due to all this, the film is genuinely unpleasant to watch. The murders are pretty frequent and get really nasty. There’s a huge amount of gratuitous nudity too. Many genre fans will see these statements as plus points but, personally, I found it all a bit grubby. The actions of our ‘hero’, Muzi, are pretty eye-opening by today’s standards too. It’s certainly not a film that would pass current ideas of taste and decency.
The film also feels a bit episodic, jumping from one grimy murder to another with little connective tissue between them. I guess this is inevitable with the largely random nature of the killings and robberies, but something didn’t quite gel for me. A surprising and slightly bizarre denouement throws a bit of a political statement into the mix too, on top of the elements with Tony’s important father, but it feels too slight and thrown in to make much of an impact.
Saying all that, I still found the film engaging and enjoyed it for what it was. It’s technically well made too. There are some decent set pieces, including a well-executed car chase, and the film is nicely shot throughout. I did find the music rather hit-and-miss though, veering from suitably funky to gleefully inappropriate when lighthearted cues underscore some pretty disturbing sequences.
It’s so sleazy and nasty throughout, Like Rabid Dogs will make you want a shower after watching it. It obviously wouldn’t go down well with today’s more enlightened audiences and it’s clumsily written at times. However, it’s well-lensed and delivers all the trashy goods fans of the seedier side of Italian cinema expect to see, so it’s not without merit.
Colt 38 Special Squad
Director: Massimo Dallamano
Screenplay: Franco Bottari, Massimo Dallamano, Marco Guglielmi, Ettore Sanzò
Starring: Marcel Bozzuffi, Carole André, Ivan Rassimov, Riccardo Salvino, Giancarlo Bonuglia
Running Time: 103 min
Colt 38 Special Squad opens in attention-grabbing fashion with Inspector Vanni (Marcel Bozzuffi) gunning down a criminal in a police raid before the criminal’s brother Marsigliese (Ivan Rassimov) kills Vanni’s wife in revenge, in front of his son.
Due to this, and the fact that his police-issue revolver failed him during the initial raid, Vanni asks permission from his superior to be able to set up a new special squad of crack police officers wielding the titular firearms. His request is granted and Vanni swiftly trains up a team of men to put an end to Marsigliese’s increasingly violent attacks around the city.
This is a more straightforward cops versus robbers tale and its training montages and badass heroes with big guns can feel a little cheesy at times, but I had a lot of fun with it. Plus, though it can seem a little corny in places, there are some genuinely shocking scenes, including the bombing of a train station that predated the actual Bologna massacre in 1980, where a public station was bombed by terrorists, killing 85 people and wounding over 200.
From a genre movie perspective, the film is also very effective. With the squad riding around mainly on motorbikes, there are plenty of road chases with some thrillingly dangerous stunts. The gunfights are pretty decent too, though one ends in a hilariously inept kung-fu fight (at least I think it was supposed to be kung-fu). I also appreciated the funky score.
Colt 38 Special Squad is hardly the most original or thought-provoking Eurocrime movie then, but it’s a solid piece of entertainment with some exciting stunts, plenty of action and a cool score. Fans of the genre will be more than satisfied.
Director: Stelvio Massi
Screenplay: Gino Capone
Starring: Maurizio Merli, Giancarlo Sbragia, Angelo Infanti, Lilli Carati
Running Time: 101 min
Highway Racer sees Eurocrime legend Maurizio Merli play Marco Palma, a car-obsessed cop who is desperate for a souped-up police vehicle so he can prove to his superior, Maresciallo Tagliaferri (Giancarlo Sbragia), that he’s every bit the wheelman that he was in his heyday. Palma doesn’t quite have the skills though and his reckless driving gets him grounded for a while, particularly after he gets his partner (Orazio Orlando) killed.
However, when Tagliaferri realises the man behind a spate of cleverly orchestrated bank job getaways is his old rival and fellow hot-shot driver Jean-Paul Dossena, a.k.a. il Nizzardo (Angelo Infanti), he decides to give Palma another shot.
Tagliaferri agrees to give Palma the Ferrari he always wanted and trains him in driving like a real pro, before setting him on an undercover mission to bring down il Nizzardo.
Though sharing some similarities with Colt 38 Special Squad, Highway Racer does stand out a little from the previous, more traditional poliziotteschi in the set. Chiefly, it doesn’t have the dark edge or political undercurrent of those films. This is particularly notable in the way it presents its villain. There’s a sense of chivalry between Palma, Tagliaferri and il Nizzardo. They respect each other and the latter seems to be in the bank robbery game purely to exercise his skills in outwitting and outdriving the police, rather than to make money or cause harm.
In this sense, on top of the driving aspects, of course, the film has quite the feel of the Fast and Furious series (at least the first few films, before they went bonkers and started defying physics). Like that, Highway Racer can get a bit silly and can’t always be taken too seriously but it’s packed with enough high-speed set-pieces to keep your eyes glued to the screen.
The Italians do car chases like no one else and this has plenty. They’re perhaps not quite as well constructed as some of the chases elsewhere in this set, but they make up for it in terms of quantity. There are some wince-inducing stunts too and it’s nice to see the Ferrari put through its paces, instead of the usual Fiats and such.
Merli is hardly going to be winning any Oscars, being prone to histrionics and macho posturing, but he gets by through his good looks and piercing eyes. Sbragia is more effective as the suitably frazzled police chief.
Overall then, Highway Racer is a mix of cop movie cliches and daft concepts but petrol heads will have a blast. The car chases aren’t the best in the world but there are plenty of them and they’re still decent with some eye-opening smashes. So, just switch off your brain and enjoy the ride.
No, the Case is Happily Resolved
Director: Vittorio Salerno
Screenplay: Augusto Finocchi, Vittorio Salerno
Starring: Enzo Cerusico, Riccardo Cucciolla, Martine Brochard, Enrico Maria Salerno
Running Time: 98 min
No, the Case is Happily Resolved closes the set out with the story of Fabio Santamaria (Enzo Cerusico), a man who stumbles into the murder scene of a young woman at the hands of Professor Eduardo Ranieri (Riccardo Cucciolla). Fabio runs away and means to call the police but a series of incidents prevent this from happening and the fact that Ranieri appears to be following him makes him too afraid to speak out.
However, Fabio ends up in more trouble than he could ever have imagined when Ranieri goes to the police and tells them that he saw Fabio committing the murder. With the professor being an upstanding figure in society, the police of course believe him and a manhunt begins for the innocent Fabio.
With only his own word to go on, Fabio doesn’t know what to do, so goes into hiding, much to the despair of his wife (Martine Brochard) and young daughter (Sandra Locci), who have no knowledge of what happened. The only other person who distrusts Ranieri seems to be the news editor ‘Don Peppino’ (Enrico Maria Salerno), who conducts his own investigation into the murder.
No, the Case is Happily Resolved once again steps a little away from the conventions of the poliziottesco genre. I felt it had a flavour of Hitchcock in its ‘wrong man’ tale and splashes of black comedy among otherwise quite dark material. There are few of the typical Eurocrime thrills, though the opening murder is suitably brutal and there’s a low-key car chase snuck in to keep the punters happy.
Low-key is a good description of the film in general, as it doesn’t pile up the bodies and the plot is kept fairly simple. The music is even toned down here, with a fairly sombre minimalist score only building in a couple of key scenes.
The film is by no means dull or lacklustre though. The story is fairly gripping, holding your interest largely through some strong central characters. The performances keep these interesting with Cerusico suitably relatable as the everyman protagonist, even if his actions can seem a bit questionable. Cucciolla has a quiet, simmering, evil nature about him as the villain and Salerno has a lot of fun too, as the slightly eccentric Don Peppino.
The film does drop the ball a bit at the end though. The pacing seems a little off in the final act and there’s a rushed, tacked-on happy ending that feels woefully out of place. The disc contains the originally intended ending, which is much more effectively ambiguous. I also wasn’t a fan of the stream-of-consciousness voiceover that’s used a lot in the film. You can usually guess what Fabio is thinking so don’t need to hear it.
A little more subtle and subdued than the other films in the set, No, the Case is Happily Resolved is nonetheless a gripping ‘wrong man’ tale that riffs more on Hitchcock than Serpico. It falters a little in places but is largely a solid and entertaining thriller.
Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973–1977 will be released on 21st June in a Limited Edition 3-disc Blu-ray set from Arrow Video. All of the films look great, with rich, sharp details and natural colours and grain. Savage Three occasionally had moments where the colours looked a little oversaturated but, generally, it looked authentic. I’ve used screengrabs for all the images in this review to give you an idea of picture quality.
Audio is solid on all titles too. You only get Italian options for most of the films, but Colt 38 Special Squad and Highway Racer also have optional English tracks.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
– High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentations of all five films, restored from the original camera negatives, including a brand new 2K restoration of Colt 38 Special Squad exclusive to this release
– Original lossless mono Italian audio on all five films
– Original lossless mono English audio on Colt 38 Special Squad and Highway Racer
– English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack on Colt 38 Special Squad
– Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead, a new visual essay by critic Will Webb exploring the recurring traits and themes of the genre
– Rat Eat Rat, an interview with writer/director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard on Savage Three
– The Savage One, an interview with actor Joe Dallesandro on Savage Three
– When a Murderer Dies, an interview with cinematographer Romano Albani and film historian Fabio Melelli on Like Rabid Dogs
– It’s Not a Time for Tears, an interview with assistant director Claudio Bernabei on Like Rabid Dogs
– Music sampler for Like Rabid Dogs
– Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes, an interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani on Colt 38 Special Squad
– A Tough Guy, an interview with editor Antonio Siciliano on Colt 38 Special Squad
– Archival introduction to Colt 38 Special Squad by Stelvio Cipriani
– Faster Than a Bullet, an interview with film historian Roberto Curti on Highway Racer
– Mother Justice, an interview with writer/director Vittorio Salerno on No, the Case is Happily Resolved
– Alternate ending to No, the Case is Happily Resolved
– Original trailers for Like Rabid Dogs, Colt 38 Special Squad and No, the Case is Happily Resolved
– Poster galleries
– Reversible sleeves featuring original artwork for all five films
– Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Troy Howarth, Michael Mackenzie, Rachael Nisbet, Kat Ellinger and James Oliver
For a 5-film set, it might look slightly light on special features by Arrow standards, most notably in the lack of commentaries. However, most of the interviews here are pretty lengthy with a number around the 40 minutes to an hour mark, so there’s actually a lot of content on here. It’s all solid too. Here’s a quick run-through of what’s on the discs.
On Savage Three, the Vittorio Salerno and Martine Brochard interview is a strong addition, running long enough to give a decent account of the production. I really enjoyed the Joe Dallesandro interview too. He’s had an interesting life and his gruff, no-nonsense account of it is refreshing.
On Like Rabid Dogs you get an interview with Claudio Bernabei. He details how a number of the scenes were put together, which is interesting to hear. He’s honest about the film’s flaws and it simply being a commercial venture, rather than trying to say anything. It was influenced by a true life case though. He gives the details of this which are particularly disturbing as well as his thoughts of the ‘years of lead’ in general.
On the same disc, Romano Albani provides his last interview before he died. He was already sick at the time but wanted to do this interview. He was very fond of the director and believed he owed his career to him. As such, it’s quite a moving portrait of a man and his work. It’s surprising for him to say how much everyone loved the director and how nice a man he was though, from how sleazy the film is! Fabio Melelli, who also contributes to this piece, provides plenty of fascinating facts about the production and those involved in it.
The music excerpt from Like Rabid Dogs is only short but it’s a welcome addition to the set. The music works better standalone than in the film as some of the more light-hearted tunes crop up in some disturbing places.
On Colt 38 Special Squad, the introduction by Stelvio Cipriani is very short but it’s nice to see him playing the theme on the piano and confirming the Grace Jones appearance I thought I spotted. This is followed up by a full, much more extensive interview, thankfully. It also sees him tinkle the ivories again. He’s honest about the film being rather derivative and spends a lot of time speaking about his career and approach in general. It’s an interesting and enjoyable piece.
The Antonio Siciliano interview on that disc is a bit shorter than the rest of the features at just under 10 mins. He spends a little too much time praising the director and his work but it’s worth a look.
The Roberto Curti piece on Highway Racer is informative, discussing the production and in what ways the film differs from many of the other Eurocrime films of the era.
On No, the Case is Happily Resolved, Vittorio Salerno, the writer-director, has a great memory of the production so has a lot to share. Martine Brochard has less to add but she still provides some enjoyable nuggets.
The overview visual essay by Will Webb on the films in the set and the genre, in general, is interesting, though it only briefly touches on the actual political turmoil of Italy at the time. The extras on Fractured Visions’ Silent Action delve much deeper into this, in case you want to explore further.
I didn’t get a copy of the booklet to comment on that, unfortunately.
So, despite none of the films perhaps being cast-iron classics, Years of Lead is still a fantastic set that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Every title is enjoyable in its own way and each is fairly unique from the other so you can chain watch them without getting bored. The special features add a lot of illuminating stories of their productions too, as well as providing some context and a little analysis. It’s definitely worth a purchase and hopefully Arrow will release some more related titles in the future.