Killer Kid

Killer Kid (Leopoldo Savona, 1967)

aka CAPTAIN MORRISON

The ruthless and cruel Captain Ramirez hunts down and kills revolutionaries in his search for The Saint, the righteous leader of the Mexican insurrection against the Federales. Adding complications to Ramirez’s pursuit, a group of American gunmen secretly steal weapons from US encampments to be sold to the freedom fighters. Enter Killer Kid, the most dangerous gunfighter in the west, biding his time in a military jail but soon escapes and ingratiates himself in the company of the elusive Saint ultimately joining them in their fight against Ramirez. However, one of the Saints men, Vilar, doesn’t trust the American whose motives and actions are relatively unclear till the finale.

“This film is dedicated to the Mexican people who in humble valor allowed for the birth of a modern, independent, democratic republic”. So begins this 1967 Italian western. KILLER KID was one of a handful of political westerns that saw release during the heyday of the ‘Euro oater’ which, despite many entries being highly derivative or low rent affairs, successfully altered the way westerns were perceived around the world. With such a bold and patriotic statement to begin the film, Savona’s movie never quite reaches classic status settling instead for a typical western affair albeit with a convoluted plot akin to those seen in the SARTANA films. However, a handful of scenes are deftly managed by the director such as a great scene involving the Kid and his love interest, Mercedes, the niece of the Saint. The Kid gives a grand speech about his change of heart in regards to the peasants who fight for a righteous and just cause. This scene is accompanied by a very nice romantic musical piece by composer Berto Pisano. Their are a few other nicely orchestrated sequences that manage to elevate the film above the average spaghetti sagebrush saga, but never quite proves itself worthy of the company of such noted classics as Damiani’s A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1967) and Corbucci’s THE MERCENARY (1968). A fair number of characters and minor sub-plots litter the hot and arid landscape depicted in KILLER KID (1967). The title character, for example, is as complicated as the plot itself.

Anthony Steffen essays another one of his archetypal western hero roles which only required him to remain silent much of the time with an occasional sly grimace to carry his performance. He’s best when playing characters such as these and unlike American performer Richard Harrison, Steffen could successfully pull off a wooden performance turning it to his advantage. Having starred in some 27 westerns, Steffen also displayed some flair in the quirky and fun A MAN CALLED APOCALYPSE JOE (1971) which, like KILLER KID (1967), was also directed by Savona. This is definitely one of Steffen’s better movies of the near dozen I’ve seen. Like his other colleagues who enjoyed domestic popularity, Steffen crossed over into other genres for films such as THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971) and THE KILLERS ARE OUR GUESTS (1974). He will most probably be remembered most for his prolific career in Euro westerns.

Former sword & sandal actor and stunt man Giovanni Cianfriglia has a larger than usual role here as the main antagonist–Captain Ramirez. Cianfriglia is a strong presence during the first 30 minutes or so but then disappears midway through before showing up for the bombastic finale. He also got to play the main villain in HERCULES THE AVENGER (1965) in which he duelled with British born Reg Park. He did get to partake as the lead hero in the Italian superhero/spy action films SUPERARGO AGAINST DIABOLIKUS (1966) and SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS (1968). Cianfriglia was gifted with a great look but although his career spanned 40+ years and covered every genre, he never made it as a leading man regardless of being one of the most recognizable faces of Italian genre cinema.

Fernando Sancho needs no introduction to spaghetti western fans and his role here as Vilar is one of the best he was ever given. An unusual turn in that he plays a good guy and a somewhat complicated one at that. In addition, he gets quite a bit of screen time and dialog almost taking the film away from Steffen with his lively and spirited portrayal of the anxious and hot-tempered Vilar. His character’s name is very similar to the word ‘vulgar’ and it suits him perfectly.

The film itself seems to have had a decent budget; at least bigger than a lot of similar films made at the time. Savona and his cinematographer do a fine job capturing some great scope shots in addition to some well handled character interplay and several nicely choreographed action scenes. Although there are a couple of sloppy bits here and there; such as one of the soldiers leaping from the blast from an explosion just before the detonation takes place. Also, it appears the hideout for Sartana’s gang (no relation to the series character but also played by Gianni Garko as a villain here) seen in BLOOD AT SUNDOWN (1967) is used here for one scene after the insurgents have fled their initial sanctuary. That film, incidentally, also starred Anthony Steffen and may have been shooting at the same time as KILLER KID (1967).

This restored version from Koch Media is comparable to any of the recent Italian westerns released from MGM. It’s a beautifully restored print and easily one of the best foreign DVD releases for Italian westerns. The main extra is home movie footage of Steffen entitled “A conversation with Anthony Steffen” in which he discusses his career with family and friends. There is also the catchy Italian trailer and a photo gallery. The film itself is presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Italian and German audio options, and supported by English and German subtitles.

KILLER KID (1967) is a slightly above average film with a number of elements to set it apart from the run-of-the-mill entries of the genre and is definitely one of Steffen’s better films.

(Brian Bankston)

La Polizia ha le mani legate

La Polizia ha le mani legate (Luciano Ercoli, 1975)

aka Killer Cop

Massimo Dallamano’s superlative cop thriller WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974) was the film that first made a star out of Claudio Cassinelli, one of the most recognizable and dependable Italian genre stars of the 1970s and 80s. Cassinelli’s next crime thriller was KILLER COP, which is regrettably a much less appreciated film. Cassinelli stars as Commissioner Matteo Rolandi, a narcotics cop who is tailing an Algerian drug runner as part of a routine surveillance job. Rolandi follows the man to a hotel, where a big international conference is currently being held. To his horror, Rolandi witnesses the hotel being bombed. Several of the important international diplomats who were present at the hotel are killed as a result of the bombing, which leads to some strong political pressure being applied to the case and finding the guilty party an urgent priority. The job of investigating judge is assigned to Armando Di Federico (Arthur Kennedy), a procurator who is widely known for his great honesty and sense of justice.

The only notable clue in the case is the amateurish, short-sighted bomber (Bruno Zanin) who managed to lose his glasses while struggling to escape after planting the bomb. Rolandi’s partner, Balsamo (Franco Fabrizi), happens across the nervous, myopic man but manages to let him escape. This makes Balsamo an important witness since he is the only one who knows what the bomber looks like. Unfortunately, he is murdered by a ruthless assassin (Giovanni Cianfriglia) shortly afterwards– as is everyone else with any kind of connection to the case. With a strong personal involvement, Rolandi starts doing some unauthorized investigating of his own and gradually closes in on a conspiracy that extends to the highest levels of politics. With everyone else dropping like flies, Rolandi’s only hope is to track down the increasingly paranoid bomber, but he must work quickly if he is to find him before the assassin does…

Throughout his rather short career, director Luciano Ercoli only made eight films, of which the best known are his three gialli FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972), all starring his sexy, Spanish actress wife, Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro). Ercoli’s next film, THE MAGNIFICENT DARE DEVIL (1973), marked his first brush with the then increasingly popular crime thriller genre (though Ercoli combined both giallo and crime movie elements) but, unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable film. KILLER COP was Ercoli’s second crime thriller, and a vast improvement on the director’s previous entry into the genre. Unfortunately, the KILLER COP title is highly inappropriate, alluding to a type of film that this is most certainly not. This is not a brutal Italo-cop thriller in the DIRTY HARRY vein, as it the action scenes are virtually non-existent; we only get the assassinations, an explosion and a climatic face-off with the assassin. Instead, this is a more character-driven political thriller; pitting a lowly cop against corrupt government forces à la Steno’s EXECUTION SQUAD (1972). The Italian title, LA POLIZA HA LE MANI LEGATE (which translates to ‘The police have their hands tied’), is far better at conveying the film’s themes.

If KILLER COP is more political and lower on action than your average Maurizio Merli flick, it still makes for a solid thriller and this is thanks largely to the two lead characters, both of whom are interesting, well-written and fleshed out. For example, Commissioner Rolandi is impressively developed, not only as a smart, dedicated cop but also as a human being. We get a relatively good look into his private life; including his peculiar wake-up routine, his friendship with his partner, not to mention his reading habits, which includes an almost obsessive fascination with ‘Moby Dick’. Clearly relishing the opportunity to play such a well-written character, Claudio Cassinelli gives everything here – delivering a terrific portrayal of the determined cop, thus making him an extremely likeable lead.

We are also treated to an excellent performance from Arthur Kennedy as the honest, mint-chewing procurator. A former A-list Hollywood actor with no less than five Oscar nominations behind him, Kennedy was just one of many faded Hollywood stars who went to Italy to find a steady flow of work in film. While some of these former stars would ham it up because they seemed to think Italian B movies were beneath them, Kennedy actually turned in some quality performances in his Italian films, and his enjoyable performance as the likable, quirky judge ranks among his finest European work – alongside his outstanding part as the diabolical police inspector in Jorge Grau’s excellent zombie film THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974).

Furthermore, Cassinelli and Kennedy also interact very well with each other, and it is intriguing to see that even the characters they play are good men trying to solve the case, circumstances have them working against each other instead of together. With well-developed characters that project an emotive quality to which the audience can relate, KILLER COP quickly becomes an engaging and very exciting little thriller with a compelling storyline and several good plot twists. That said, the plot–like many Italian political thrillers of the time—is more convoluted and complicated than it needs to be, and somewhat hampering the film in doing so.

Technical credits are top-notch, however, with excellent production values, good locations and stylish cinematography by Marcello Gatti. Another great asset is the musical score by Stelvio Cipriani, even though he is, for all intents and purposes, recycling cues from WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? with some slight alterations here and there. But there are more musical treats than just the main theme. Most notably, Commissioner Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya, has her own theme – an upbeat, jazzy tune simply called ‘Papaya’, which is an excellent, catchy piece. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming this tune to yourself for days afterwards.

Much credit for the film’s success must also be attributed to the first-rate supporting cast which is made up of numerous dependable Italian actors. Franco Fabrizi (a regular face in 1970s cop thrillers) is both likeable and charming as Cassinelli’s partner; a man more fond of using his brain than his gun; ubiquitous stuntman/actor Giovanni Cianfriglia is chillingly effective as the brutal, stone-faced assassin; and Bruno Zanin really holds his own as the rather pathetic, short-sighted bomber. Mention must also go to lovable supporting players such as the bespectacled, nerdy-looking Francesco D’Adda, here enjoying a bigger role than usual as Kennedy’s assistant; Franco Moraldi as the chief of police; and Elio Jotta–best remembered for his sinister turn as Barbara Steele’s husband in Riccardo Freda’s THE GHOST (1963)–as a shady minister.

The only substantial female role is that of Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya; played by the attractive Sara Sperati. Sperati started her career in 1973 as the July playmate in Italian men’s magazine Playmen, before graduating to film roles, following KILLER COP with MARK THE NARC (1975) and roles in some Nazisploitation flicks. She ought to have gone on to a long, fruitful career in Italian genre cinema but, unfortunately, Sperati completely dropped out of sight in 1976 after only seven film appearances, which is a great shame considering what an appealing and characteristic screen presence she had. In this film, Sperati is particularly charming and sexy – her short hair giving her a look that is different from that of her subsequent films.

The English fandub uses the Italian Cecchi Gori DVD (which was without English options) as the image source; combining it with an English audio track from a Swedish VHS release. The final result is highly satisfying; with the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer from the Italian disc looking splendid. Picture is sharp and clear with solid colours. Some very mild grain and a couple of scratches and dirt show up on occasion but on the whole the transfer looks very good. The English audio has been synced up perfectly with the image and sounds very clear and nice and is without any hiss or background noise. The English dub track also has the advantage of featuring Arthur Kennedy’s own voice, which is a great plus, and the dubbing of the Italian actors is quite more than adequate. My only gripe with the fandub stems from the fact that the print is taken from an Italian source and there are no translations given for the native text that appears during the film. This includes some newspaper headlines, a message the bomber scribes to the police, some notes exchanged between two characters in a bugged room, and the coda at the end of the film, all highly annoying as these examples are important to the plot.

While not in the Top Ten Euro crime films, KILLER COP is an excellent and engaging thriller that benefits tremendously from its excellent cast and well-developed characters. It’s too bad that Luciano Ercoli never made another cop thriller because this is one of the finest films he made in a career that was all too short. The wonderful English fandub is a joy to behold and without doubt the best way to appreciate this underrated gem. Very highly recommended.

(Johan Melle)