Director: Umberto Lenzi
Screenplay: Franco Enna and Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Antonio Sabato, Philippe Leroy, Antonio Casagrande, Carla Romanelli, Allesandro Sperli, Franco Fantasia, Tano Cimarosa, Marisa Mell
Running time: 100 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Italian director Umberto Lenzi plied his trade across a range of genres during his prolific career: spy films, action movies, giallo, erotic thrillers and cannibal movies (notably he made the first Italian cannibal film, The Man From Deep River amongst others).
His extensive filmography also included a series of crime films, known as poliziotteschi. Lenzi mostly dabbled in this genre in the late 1970s, directing such cult curiosities as Almost Human, Syndicate Sadists, and Free Hand For A Tough Cop. He also directed Gang War in Milan (Milano Rovente), which is the subject of this review.
The 1973 release, Lenzi’s first in the genre, opens with some excellent on location cinematography to set the scene and establish the location. A woman is then found dead in a swimming pool, strangled. This could signify the start of a giallo, those gruesome murder mysteries, but what then ensues is the titular gang war, as two criminals lock horns: one an Italian pimp who seems to run the whole city’s prostitution racket, and the other a French gangster, selling hard drugs.
The war frequently turns to violence: shootouts, kidnappings, car bombings, assassinations: these set pieces are frequent, varied and well choreographed. Problematic, though, is the treatment of women. There’s a real air of misogyny throughout, which is something that could be levelled at a number of Lenzi’s output. The violence is brutal, at times very nasty, particularly against female characters (although there’s also an eyewatering torture scene against a male character). This makes it a tough film to watch at times.
That’s a shame, because the rest of the film is very entertaining and gripping and, thankfully, the misogynistic elements are largely forgotten for the final 45 minutes or so, which contains some particularly effective scenes.
The script by Lenzi and Franco Enna features some memorable dialogue, the verbal sparring between the two gang leaders Salvatore Cangemi (Sabato) and Roger Daverty (Leroy) a particular highlight. Carlo Rustichelli’s jazz score is cool as ice and very hummable. At times it evokes Nino Rota’s score for The Godfather, mixed with a spaghetti western score.
In closing, Gang War in Milan is a mixed bag: the problematic elements are difficult to shy away from, but the story, location shooting and set pieces mean there’s also plenty to recommend in a strong entry in the poliziotteschi subgenre of crime and action films.
Gang War in Milan is out on 27th November on limited edition region free Blu-ray on the Raro Video label, released by Radiance Films (order it on the Radiance Films website here). The transfer looks good overall, strong colours, rich details and natural grain. There’s a choice of two audio options, English and Italian, and I had no issues with either.
LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
High Definition digital transfer from the original camera negative presented with Italian and English audio options
Uncompressed mono PCM audio
Audio commentary by Andrew Nette
Introduction by Mike Malloy
A new visual essay on Lenzi’s poliziotteschi by Troy Howarth, author of Make Them Die Slowly: The Kinetic Cinema of Umberto Lenzi
Reversible sleeve featuring artwork based on original posters
New and improved English subtitle translation for Italian audio and English SDH for English audio
Limited edition booklet with new writing by Roberto Curti and an archival essay by Mike Malloy
Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with limited edition booklet and reversible sleeve
The commentary by Andrew Nette bounces between the plot and other areas of interest, starting with the different titles the film is known by and the choice to have a pimp as a main character and how rare that is in cinema. He then takes a look at the main actors, outlining other films they featured in (including roles in other Lenzi features) and looks at the cinematic influences that inspired the Eurocrime genre and Gang War in Milan itself. Nette also focusses on how the film both conforms to and subverts the genre. On the influences front, there’s a nice focus on The Godfather, as well as a brief but solid overview of the real life landscape the films were made against. Plenty of facts and insights to take in. A pleasure to listen to.
The Mike Malloy introduction is six minutes long and gives a great brief overview of the film, highlighting how the opening scene which follows the titles, suggests this will be a giallo rather than the crime film it actually is. Malloy, who made the excellent 2012 documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s, also mentions the misogynistic acts in the film, as well as the other Eurocrime elements that are featured in the film. He also highlights how the finale is a “one man against the world” scenario, which he describes as his favourite kind of Eurocrime movie. There’s also a brief overview of the director Lenzi. Although it’s very brief, there’s so much packed in by an expert who knows the genre well, that means this is an excellent overview. This was the sole extra on the original Raro Video release of the film.
Like the commentary, the Troy Howarth piece is new to this release and it is excellent. It gives a 45 minute overview of Umberto Lenzi’s poliziotteschi films, and describes Gang War as closer to a noir than that 70s series of Italian crime movies. It focuses on the director’s other films in the subgenre giving a fascinating overview of the movies, including some rich detail behind the filming of them, with details about Syndicate Sadists particularly interesting. A valuable, engrossing and insightful extra.
The gallery features just over 10 promotional images. A welcome addition.
I wasn’t provided with the booklet to review, but the calibre of the writers means it should be very informative.
Radiance Films have been my personal favourite label of the year not just for their own releases, but also for distributing Blu-rays in the UK from other labels. Their first choices of Raro Video releases to distribute have been fantastic. Gang War in Milan is a tough watch – some scenes are very difficult to swallow in 2023 – but is filled with great acting, memorable characters, decent set-pieces and a good script, marking it out as an above average entry in the poliziotteschi subgenre. Raro Video’s release, distributed in the UK by Radiance Films, contains a strong transfer, and some worthwhile extras, making it easy to recommend for fans of the subgenre and Italian cinema.