Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Screenplay: Tito Carpi, Gianfranco Clerici, Enzo G. Castellari, Leonardo Martín
Based on a Story by: Maurizio Amati
Starring: Franco Nero, Fernando Rey, James Whitmore, Delia Boccardo, Duilio Del Prete, Silvano Tranquilli
Country: Italy, Spain, France
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15

High Crime (a.k.a. La polizia incrimina la legge assolve) is a notable title in Italian genre cinema as it was director Enzo G. Castellari’s first poliziotteschi and his first film starring Franco Nero. The pair would make seven films together in total and develop a close bond. Castellari once commented, “I think that to have an actor like Franco Nero is one of the best things that can happen to a director…if it had been possible, I would have made all my films with him”.

It was one of the earlier poliziotteschi too. It certainly wasn’t the first, but was an early big success, bringing in 1,825,825,000 lire at the Italian box office, helping lead to the genre’s boom in Italy.

This Blu-ray is also somewhat of a notable release as, alongside Extreme Prejudice and Castellari’s Kill Them All and Come Back Alone it sees Studiocanal launch their new Cult Classics series. I enjoy a good poliziotteschi, so thought I’d see how this new disc held up.

High Crime sees Nero play Belli, Vice Police Commissioner to James Whitmore’s Commissioner Aldo Scavino. Belli manages to catch a Lebanese drug dealer in a foot chase but, on the way to the police station, the police car is bombed, killing the suspect and four policemen.

With no leads as to who would be bold enough to make such a move, Belli calls upon known crimelord Cafiero (Fernando Rey) for assistance, as the Vice-Commissioner knows he wouldn’t be happy about a new gang throwing their weight around on his turf.

Indeed he doesn’t, as Cafiero attempts to stop the gang before the police get to them. This proves more difficult than he hoped though, as his own right-hand-man Rico (Daniel Martín) has been working as a mole for this new organisation.

Meanwhile, Belli discovers Scavino has been slowly building a portfolio on all of the city’s mafia connections, so begs him to use it to bring the organisations down but the Commissioner worries it won’t be hard enough evidence. Matters are made worse when Scavino is murdered and the portfolio is stolen, leaving Belli starting at square one with the violent gang breathing down his neck.

High Crime opens in breathtaking fashion with an exciting foot chase swiftly leading into an epic car chase co-ordinated by the great Rémy Julienne, who went on to work on many of the Bond films, among countless other credits. The sequence is thrillingly shot, with some hair-raising driving, reportedly among real traffic in places.

Castellari was openly influenced by Bullitt and The French Connection in this opening car chase, as well as in the appearance of Fernando Rey as a debonair crime boss. As with most poliziotteschi, it shares their tough, cynical outlook too, albeit with a distinctly Italian twist.

Unfortunately, for me, High Crime never quite lives up to the promise of this fantastic opening act though. It’s all stylishly shot and there are still some decent set pieces throughout, often featuring grisly violence, including several graphic (if not entirely realistic) scenes featuring people getting run over by cars or bikes. However, these don’t match the astonishing stunts of that initial chase.

I also found the film a little hard to follow. It’s difficult to keep on top of who’s working for who and why so and so is attacking so and so. That’s maybe part of the film’s concept of the police and criminals both trying to crack down on a mysterious new gang, but it all felt a little messy to me.

I found the ending particularly clumsy. There’s a shocking incident in the final act that has immense power, but the denouement that follows is rushed and confusing, causing the curtain to come down on a bit of a sour note.

It’s not all bad though, and I still enjoyed the film quite a bit. It has a great cast too. Nero is playing slightly out of type, being a devoted father who wears glasses and incessantly uses a nasal spray, giving him a bookish quality. He’s still his steely-eyed tough-guy self though really, outside of these touches. As well as Nero, you’ve got Fernando Rey unofficially reprising his suave druglord from The French Connection and the underrated character actor James Whitmore playing the chief of police. The pair help elevate their potentially generic, throwaway characters.

I liked the score too. It doesn’t have a particularly catchy theme, like some Italian soundtracks, but the music is suitably propulsive and funky. In an interview on this disc, Castellari describes how he and his editor would initially cut the film to commercial tracks they’d ideally like to use, then get the De Angelis brothers to try and replicate these. Castellari says he used a lot of Emerson, Lake and Palmer songs on this film.

So, overall, High Crime is a solid poliziottesco that starts very promisingly but tails off a bit as it goes on. A solid sense of style, a decent cast and some shocking moments hold it up but I couldn’t help but feel there were better examples of the genre out there. That opening chase is something special though.

Film:

High Crime is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from 6th June, released by Studiocanal as part of their new Cult Classics range. I watched the Blu-ray version and the picture is impressively sharp and clean. The colours are slightly unnatural in places but, overall, this has a nice image.

You get both Italian and English audio options. I opted for the former and found the ‘S’ sounds suffered from distortion, but this is a common problem with Italian films of the era. What I wasn’t happy about though, was the fact the subtitles appeared to be what some call ‘dub-titles’. This means the subtitles are taken from the dub, rather than directly translating the Italian language track. You might think this isn’t a big deal, but what is distracting is that quite often the subtitles don’t match the timing of the Italian dialogue, so you get translations of lines that aren’t there.

There are a few special features included on the disc:

– A Criminal Conversation – Enzo G. Castellari Remembers High Crime
– The Scene of the Crime – An Interview with Roberto Girometti
– High and Dry – The Stuntwork of Massimo Vanni

Enzo G. Castellari gives a lively interview. He describes how the film came about and how he acted out story ideas to producers and writers. He also tells of how he first managed to get Nero on board too and speaks very highly of the actor.

Roberto Girometti was a camera operator in the film (as well as having a cameo appearance). In his interview, he sings the praises of the legendary stunt driver Rémy Julienne, who worked on the film.

Massimo Vanni also has a lot of praise for Julienne and Castellari in his interview and talks about his work as a stuntman on the film. Among other things, he also discusses the differences between making action films then and now. He claims that, whilst modern stunts and stunt people are often amazing, the risk is now lower as safety standards and equipment quality are much higher.

With these three interviews each running roughly around the 15-18 minute mark, it’s not the most extras-packed release I’ve seen, but it’s a solid effort and what’s there is all well worth watching. As such, fans of the film and genre should pick up this disc. It bodes well for the rest of the new Cult Classics collection too, particularly as the other two inaugural releases have more extensive collections of special features.

Disc/package:

High Crime - Studiocanal
Film
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