BLU-RAY REVIEW: Fernando Di Leo: THE ITALIAN CRIME COLLECTION
The Italian Mafia, gangsters, and hoodlums are all elements of organized (and disorganized) crime that I have always been interested in. The underbelly of society and every major city has always interested me, no matter if its in the United States or as, in this case, Italy. Sadly, until RARO VIDEO sent me a blu-ray box set of films from Fernando Di Leo to review, I was not really aware of this director nor the films he had directed. The reason I love writing about films and getting distributors to send me movies to review is because it forces me to become aware of new films and directors I may not have otherwise been aware of. RARO VIDEO is totally responsible for introducing me to the Italian Crime and Drama film. Really, I have seen some of the classics from Fellini and of course love the horror films that come out of Italy; those directed by Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and the Bava’s are classics! The films that are more arty or not as well known I am a novice to learning about…until now.
The Milieu Trilogy and Rulers of the City (I Padroni della Citta) are the films comprising the Italian Crime Collection blu-ray box set. The transfers are new high definition transfers from 35mm film. The discs look incredible. I really have no other reference to how they looked before except when I went on Youtube.com peruse the site looking for more interviews or clips from other films. Based on what those looked like, these are a major step up in quality.
The Milieu Trilogy comprises of Caliber 9 (Milano Calibro 9), The Italian Connection (La Mala Ordina), and The Boss (Il Boss). All of the films are 16×9 with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 except for Rulers of the City which is 4×3 with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. They can be watched in either Italian w/ English subtitles or in English with dubbing. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono which is probably the best it is going to get. I thought the films sounded fine and looked superb, but enough of the technical stuff, lets talk about the films themselves!
If one wants to watch them in order (which I recommend), look to the back of the box because the discs are in numerical order. I, of course, watched them mixed up because I was not paying attention and went into viewing them blindly. I don’t like reading about a film too much before i see it. I like being surprised during the viewing.
The first film of the trilogy, Caliber 9, stars Gastone Moschin as a gangster in the Italian Mafia who gets busted on a crime and gets locked up for a few years. Upon his release, all his old crew meet him as he is not even a few blocks away from the prison and gently force him to get in to the vehicle and get a ride to his destination. He does, as if there really is any choice, and is driven while being told he better give his old bosses their money back or show them where it is. After getting dropped off in town, Ugo goes to what seems to be another former boss and friend Don Vincenzo (Ivo Garrani) and guess who shows up to flex his muscle? Rocco Musco (Mario Adorf) because Rocco and his goons want the money they got screwed over on. Piazza (Moschin) is believed to have stolen a large sum of money somewhere in the ballpark of $300,000 and everyone, including the police, believe he is the man responsible for screwing over the mob and his partners by switching out the money with a bag full of blank paper notes.
A group of individuals involved with the money heist are caught by Rocco and his sidekick Mercuri (Luigi Pistilli) and tied up together in a cave and blown to smithereens by dynamite, but not without having gotten a good beat-down beforehand. See why I love this movie?
The plot is sort of simple enough with the rest of the movie following one exploit after another with Ugo (Moschin) meeting up with old contacts and buddies, his old partners following his every move and demanding he give the money up. Shortly after, Ugo is told to join his old crew and gets back to working being a gangster because the Americano (played with grace by Lionel Stander who I fondly remember acting like a tough guy in A Star Is Born, also even though his character was an ad-man!) wants his boys to keep a close eye on him.
Throw into the mix some sexy love scenes and nudity due to Barbara Bouchet being cast as Nelly Bordon, Ugo’s old flame. Let me tell you that Barbara Bouchet is quite a sexy woman, of German heritage and you may have seen in other films such as Casino Royale (1967) and Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling. Her character in Caliber 9 is that of a stripper (exotic dancer) and she has quite a few sexy scenes in the movie. I recall her being in an issue of Penthouse on the front cover, too. SEXY!
The film has so much style, violence, nudity, and character that I fell in love with it after only one viewing. The film has superb acting, most notable the scenes in which Gastone Moschin and Mario Adorf are in. I really enjoyed both characters but felt that Moschin carried the whole film, looking like an older brother or relative of British ass-kicker Jason Statham. I think the two could be related. Other notable performances were by Phillipe Leroy as Chino, a local tough guy loyal to Don Vincenzo, who only has a few scenes but his first scene in which he clashes with Mario Adorf are epic!
Upon researching Di Leo’s movies, I learned that one in particular from this box set is responsible for Tarantino getting into making movies. Depending on how much one likes Tarantino’s films, this could be a blessing or an abhorrence. I think it’s really cool that one of the biggest names in Hollywood got his inspiration from an Italian gangster film from the ’70s. I also learned that the film is quite political in its theme and statements being made about the Italian government and policies. This was apparent, but nothing specific rang loud in my head. I am not knowledgeable about the politics of the time and era this film took place, nor about much going on in Italy period.
Enjoying all the movies in this box immensely, I think Caliber 9 is the best of the lot. The finale of this film has to be one of the most memorable endings in a gangster film I have seen for some time. Ugo Piazza is going to be a name remembered in mafia flicks for quite some time due to the film’s incredibly dramatic ending.
Moving on to The Italian Connection, the 2nd in the Milieu Trilogy, we have Luca Canali, a pimp from Milan and small-time gangster who is set-up by his boss. Some heroin has disappeared being shipped from Italy to New York so some hitmen (Henry Silva and Woody Strode) are sent to Italy to kill Canali (Mario Adorf) but the pimp’s boss wants Canali killed first in case the hitmen decide to interrogate him first or realize this guy didn’t do it. Mario Adorf is a phenomenal actor and I was glad that he is back in the 2nd film of the trilogy because he balances his character well between being serious and humorous. The story could have played out like a typical action film involving the Mafia, but Di Leo is far above throwing together a normal film. His movies have so much class and authenticity woven into the plots and stories, backed up by some incredibly talented actors and actresses. I think casting Henry Silva as a hitman was a perfect choice. He seems to have a nasty demeanor about him and plays the bad guy perfectly. Woody Strode’s character plays the big, black cool muscle for the film and seems to be the ladies man throughout.
Quentin Tarantino references the characters portrayed by Silva and Strode in Pulp Fiction, seeming to quite possibly be where he got his inspiration for his characters played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson maybe. David Catania (Silva) and Frank Webster (Strode) are definitely bigger and the original badasses in the gangster film genre. Silva always playing a total dick!
When Luca Canali’s wife and kids get murdered by fellow gangsters, things really begin to heat up and the rest of the film turns into non-stop violence, incredibly fun car chases, and extremely memorable scenes and lines of dialogue. Again, another great film from Di Leo, packed with great action and an entertaining story. Di Leo really has a knack for making the finale into something very special and memorable. I can’t think off the top of my head of many films that have a character hanging onto the front of a truck and using his head to smash the windshield in while the vehicle is moving at breakneck speeds!
The final film in the Milieu Trilogy, The Boss (Il Boss), stars Henry Silva again, this time as a hitman who has been hired to take out a bunch of men (all from the same crime family) while in a small movie theater watching a porno film. We don’t see the film but that is what one of the guys is talking about and it seems to be a very private screening. Nick Lanzetta (Silva) kills everyone in the theater by shooting with a fucking bazooka! He blasts them a few times, each explosively gory and over the top in terms of violence, and the next scene shows the aftermath of the bloody, torn-apart corpses. I loved this opening scene and could tell the film was heading towards being another gem in my book.
Apparently, using a bazooka in a movie theater was first done by Di Leo, us Americans following shortly after. Completely above my head, there are a bunch of references to politicians from Italy and was actually denounced by a minister for some scenes in this film, The Boss (Il Boss), in which a character reads out the names of ten leading Christian Democrats involved in anti-mafia trials as the names of ten corpses in a mortuary. Again, totally above my head and lost on this viewer but at the time, I am sure these names were well-known to a core of individuals within the right circles in Italy at the time.
The base of this film revolves around money in which someone has stolen it, wants it, or is trying to earn it. A mafia movie can’t work unless there is some sort of backstabbing going on. In this film, one crime family is trying to annihilate another crime family and Lanzetta gets involved in the middle of it as the carefully reckless hitman. I really enjoyed Silva portraying Lanzetta, a loner of sorts who is smarter than most and always looking out for himself. He sort of reminds me of the Italian Lone Wolf minus the cub.
The two mafia bosses, Richard Conte as Don Corrasco and Pier Paolo Capponi as Cocchi, the lone survivor of the movie theater massacre, played great roles as conniving mob bosses. The only part of the film that got confusing was with all this double-crossing and backstabbing, I sometimes found it difficult to understand who was on who’s side and who screwed over who. I just know that I was rooting for Lanzetta (Silva) the whole time because he was the smartest, the coolest, and the baddest in the whole film.
The fourth film included in the box set was Rulers of the City (I Padroni della Citta), a film that had many elements of comedy within it, as well as focusing on the small-time crooks and suburban gangsters. These guys in the film are hustlers, players, pimps, thieves, and no-name hoods. The film focuses on Tony (Harry Baer), a loan collector who wants to score some big money so he can go to Brazil with his brother. I mean, this is all the dude talks about whenever leaving the city is brought up. He drives around in his dune buggy-looking car collecting money for his boss (who runs a pool hall filled with ugly men and some old-timers). When all the hoods are too chickenshit to cash a check that big-time mob boss Mr.Scareface aka Manzari (Jack Palance) gives while gambling at the pool hall. Tony and another young mafioso Rick (Al Cliver) who has a grudge against Manzari (Palance) because he got humiliated and kicked out of the gang decide to rip off Manzari and steal a load of money. With the help of Vinchenzo Napoli, the three hoodlums end up pitting themselves against Mr. Scarface’s crew and the pool hall hoodlums.
This fourth movie fits in with the others as its theme is still the Mafia and organized crime. Although Luigi and all the goons at the pool hall are small time crooks, the story shows how people all over town gamble and end up owing money to Luigi, which in turns effects their life and the decisions they make. It shows how the criminal elements are represented on every lever. So many people owed money. I really liked the characters in this film, especially Harry Baer as Tony. The characters were really likeable and it made watching the film very enjoyable. I believe that this film had the least amount of nudity in it, but still had plenty of violence and had a very fun story. I recommend checking out this movie as it is the one movie that Tarantino said inspired him to make movies the most.
As for the trilogy, each story told a different tale, had different forms of violence, and focused on intricate stories (some based on fact) that entertained throughout. In addition to the blu-rays looking sweet, the blu-rays had interviews with Di Leo, documentaries on the films as well as director Di Leo, and photo galleries. Each blu-ray may not have had any running commentaries, but with the interviews and docs on the films and genre themselves, I think it made up for it. Also included was a cool pamphlet sized book that contains an interview with Di Leo on the making of his films by Luca Rea from 2001, two years before his death.
This box set if full some of the best Italian gangster films filled with grit, violence, nudity, sleaze, and memorable characters and stories possessing a very high replay value. I will never get sick of these stylized gangster films showcasing the underbelly of society. Do yourself a favor and watch the films that inspired filmmakers worldwide with their style. Head over to the RARO VIDEO website to check out these and other cool films for sale.