UK Premiere! Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films that Ruled the ’70s




Directed by Mike Malloy. Starring Franco Nero, Enzo G. Castellari, Henry Silva, Richard Harrison and John Saxon. USA 2012, 127 mins.

ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH, MILAN CALIBRE 9, CRY OF A PROSTITUTE, HOW TO KILL A JUDGE… just four of the hundreds of ‘poliziotteschi’ movies the Italian Film Industry churned out during the turbulent 1970s once the Spaghetti Western and Giallo trends subsided. First they aped the American crime hits of the day DIRTY HARRY and THE GODFATHER. But soon they addressed typically Italian issues like the Mafia, Camorra, Red Brigade and even ‘scippo’ – Vespa bag-snatching. And rushed production methods meant ‘poliziotteschi’ superstars Franco Nero, Richard Harrison, Luc Merenda and Maurizio Merli performing their own stunts, directors stealing shots, no live sound recording and a rapid bleed-over between real crime torn from newspaper headlines and violent movie action. Here those once involved in the genre paint a brilliant picture of all that madness and mayhem in this lucidly explained visually dynamic documentary packed with fabulous clips and poster artwork.

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Gang War In Milan

Gang War In Milan (Umberto Lenzi, 1973)

aka ‘Milano rovente’

Sicilian born Salvatore ‘Toto’ Cangemi (Antonio Sabato) is Milan’s biggest pimp and practically has the monopoly on the city’s prostitution racket. Frenchman Roger ‘The Captain’ Daverty (Phillipe Leroy) is Milan’s top importer of Heroin and Hashish and thinks that he and Salvatore would do well to go into business with each other, the idea being that the Toto’s hookers could sell Daverty’s drugs to their clients. This proposal is suggested to Toto only to be rejected outright, partly due to his reluctance to partner up with a Frenchman but mainly because Daverty had one of his best girls drowned and dumped face down in his swimming pool.

A tit for tat war starts between the Frenchman and the Sicilian. Daverty’s men pose as Policemen and round up all of Toto’s girls and ship them off in vans to a warehouse, losing the pimp a fortune in takings. In return Toto has Daverty’s car blown up. Taking things to the next level Daverty sends out his boys again, this time they beat up and hassle the ladies of the night, slashing their breasts with switchblades, throwing acid in their faces, cutting nipples, stubbing out cigarettes on their chests, stealing their hard earned cash and whipping their asses with a leather strap. This is too much for Toto and he decides to call in some back up in the form of Billy Barone, a scar faced ‘Mr. Fix it’ who promises to take care of business. Things don’t go quite to plan though and Lino (Antonio Casagrande), Toto’s right hand man, is kidnapped by Daverty. Being the gent that he is the Frenchman offers Lino a deal, help him overthrow Toto and he will let Lino take over as boss. Lino of course refuses to do this which results in him being tied to a chair with his underpants around his ankles as one of Daverty’s men tickles his balls with two pieces of sparking electrified wire. To make matters worse all of Billy Barone’s attempts to thwart Daverty end up failing and pretty soon it’s clear to Toto that the only option is to broker a deal with the Frenchman. It’s an arrangement that can surely only end in tears, the hookers start selling the smack to their clients, Toto starts making a huge amounts of money and begins to cut Daverty short on the agreed deal…

After spending the end of the 60’s and early 70’s directing Gialli such as Orgasmo (aka Paranoia) (1969), Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1971) and Knife of Ice (1972) Lenzi found himself attracted to the up-and-coming Poliziesco genre, Eyeball (1974) is proof that by the mid 70’s his mind was not focused on the Giallo genre and that same year he directed his second, and possibly his best, Crime film Almost Human (Milano Odia: la polizia non puo sparare). Lenzi had found his niche genre and began a non stop run directing almost a dozen Crime films over the course of the decade.

Milano Rovente, Umberto Lenzi’s first venture into the Poliziesco (Police/Crime) genre, however, is a mixed bag of a film; it has the requisite ingredients present in these kind of films that make them so enjoyable (Gangsters, Hookers, Drugs & Violence) but it lacks the certain something that Lenzi’s later crime films have and it’s obvious when watching Milano Rovente that the film is a ‘testing of the water’ for him and this genre. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly that ‘certain something’ is, maybe it’s the actors, Phillipe Leroy is pretty much perfect in the role of the French drug dealer but Antonio Sabato could’ve been better, he’s acceptable enough and gives the role of a cocky, moustachioed, Sicilian, pimp plenty of character but one wonders how things might have turned out with someone like Tomas Milian in the lead role. It also doesn’t help having some of the ugliest women in Italy playing some of the prostitutes; you’d swear that some of them were really dreadful transvestites who apply their makeup with trowels.

Dagored’s DVD, whilst not the best looking or sounding disc ever, is presented in Italian language with good, but tiny, English subtitles. The source print looks to be an old theatrical print with noticeable wear throughout, especially at reel ends, with the sound not rating anything higher than ‘adequate’ which is a shame as Carlo Rustichelli delivers a cracking, jazzy, sax filled score that is begging for a decent audio mix. Still, negative points aside it’s still a pretty decent film and I’d recommend it to any fan of Umberto Lenzi, or any fan of the Poliziesco genre…

(Jonny Redman)

I contrabbandieri di Santa Lucia

I contrabbandieri di Santa Lucia (Alfonso Brescia, 1979)

aka ‘The New Godfathers’

With the American Mafia families pooling their resources to bring huge quantities of cheap heroin into the country, it’s up to customs official Ivano Radevic (Gianni Garko) to side up with the cigarette smugglers in Naples and gain inside information to allow the authorities to intercept the drugs en route to the USA. Using leads he picks up from children selling contraband tobacco on the streets, Ivano manages to gain the trust of Don Francesco Autiero (Mario Merola), boss of one of the main smuggling gangs in the area. Don Francesco is keen to help Ivano, as keeping drugs off the streets is something he’s more than pleased to help out with, even if it means co-operating with the law. He suggests a meeting with Don Michele Vizzini (Antonio Sabato), another local crime lord with even greater connections. All seems well at first as Vizzini agrees to the plan, but as soon as the meeting is over Vizzini is revealed to be the mastermind behind the huge heroin shipment and Ivano and Don Francesco soon find themselves looking down the wrong end of a gun barrel.

THE NEW GODFATHERS is a fairly decent film from Alfonso Brescia; a director with over 50 films to his name covering a diverse range of subject matter from Sci-Fi trash ‘classics’ (THE BEAST IN SPACE, WAR OF THE PLANETS, STAR ODYSSEY), gialli (NAKED GIRL KILLED IN THE PARK) super heroes (THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN) and Crime (KNELL: THE BLOODY AVENGER, NAPOLI SERENATA CALIBRO 9). It must be said that many of Brescia’s films that were made with obviously small budgets, but even in those cases the enthusiasm for filmmaking shines through and there is usually something present that entertains. THE NEW GODFATHERS certainly has its entertaining moments; seeing Antonio Sabato playing a greasy bad guy – who’d have his own mother sent to sleep with the fishes if it meant furthering his ‘career’ – is always entertaining and Mario Merola always commands an engaging onscreen presence.

Utilising a whole host of actors that regularly appear in Brescia’s films, Jeff Blynn, Lucio Montaro, Sabrina Siani accompany Sabato and Merola from some of the director’s previous work and not forgetting the loveable duo of engaged pre-schoolers Marco Girondino and Letizia D’Adderio who return as Gennarino and Stellatella. Familiar locations appear throughout including the same set of steps seen in NAPOLI SERENATA CALIBRO 9 where the kids are again seen selling their packs of cigarettes, and as usual what appears to be actual local contraband smugglers are seen speeding their powerboats in formation, showing off for the movie cameras.

As well as using cast, crew and locations previously used in his own films Brescia didn’t bat an eyelid when it came to borrowing footage from other director’s films in order to pad out his creations. Notable cinematic thievery includes the use of car chase sequences from Ferdinando Baldi’s AFYON OPPIO (1972) and the entire sequence of the car driving along the top of the moving train from Massimo Dallamano’s QUELLI DELLA CALIBRO .38 (1976). All are used to good effect though, with the helicopter/car chase sequence particularly effective, though juxtaposing the bizarre choice of a disco tune will either delight or drive you around the twist with its mind numbingly repetitive chorus.

Released on DVD in Italy by Cecchi Gori Home Video, with sadly only the original Italian audio for the language options, we see the film get a marginally better transfer than previous home video versions but with a lot of room left for improvement. It’s obvious that an old 35mm theatrical print has been used for the DVD master as reel ends are literally battered to within an inch of their lives, with speckling and green emulsion damage appearing throughout the print. The anamorphic enhancement is welcome though the image does suffer from some cropping on both sides of the frame (see image comparison below) when compared to the old letterboxed transfer featured on the UK VHS released by Intermovie (and later then re-released by Diamond Films; both of which feature the English dubbed version).

Green is the VHS frame area, purple area is the DVD frame.

For all of the prints shortcomings the DVD is an improvement over the previously available VHS releases and interestingly, it includes extra footage not found in the English dubbed versions wherein Gianni Garko and Marco Girondino’s characters are seen looking at a cinema poster for film called LO SCUGNIZZO and mentioning that it stars Gianni Garko and Marco Girondino; Garko even says that the film must be good as it stars Gianni Garko! As the two walk away a portly, bearded man steps towards the poster and asks who the hell the director Alfonso Brescia is as he turns to the camera to reveal that it is indeed Brescia himself. Obviously an in joke that the distributors of the English language version deemed out of place for the English speaking audience and admittedly one that would fly over the heads of most casual film viewers, but a nice touch for the Euro Cult film fan and makes the DVD a worthy purchase.

(Jonny Redman)