“Ooh, Betti!” EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Nucleus Films. 18. 

Kudos to Nucleus for finally affording a proper UK release to Mike Malloy’s documentary, which has  been knocking around for about five years now. It gets underway with an amusing sequence in which salient scenes from iconic American cop films are intercut with corresponding ones from their Italian imitators. Fair enough, it’s unlikely that anybody reading this blog will need the filone system of Italian film making explaining to them. Malloy also acknowledges that the influence has been anything but one way and allows Enzo Castellari (pictured above) to complain that Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974) pinches from his Street Law, released in the same year. Well, the Brain Garfield novel which Winner based his film on was published in 1972… whatever, the influence that Castellari has exerted over the likes of Quentin Tarantino cannot be disputed and never has been by Tarantino himself.

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One keeps expecting to see QT pop up at some point in Eurocrime! but no, Malloy sticks to the primary sources and his doc is all the better for it. Apart from Castellari, we get to hear from Mario Caiano, Franco Nero, John Saxon, Antonio Sabato, Luc Merenda, Fred Williamson, Richard Harrison, John Steiner, Christopher Mitchum, Leonard Mann, Joe Dallesandro, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, Michael Forest and Claudio Fragasso, among many others. It’s particularly great to see Henry Silva, the baddest ass in cinema bad ass history, still going strong. “Does Henry still look good?” Antonio Sabato asks his interviewer at one point and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, in fact here HK’s looking spookily like you imagine Darrell Buxton might well look in his ’70s (if Darrell was a psychopathic stone killer rather than the charming chap he actually is). For a while there I’d managed to convince myself that Silva had joined the Grim Reaper’s 2017 cull of so many of our favourite personalities but here he is… live, kicking, relating humorous anecdotes (e.g. a run-in with Sabato when the latter hadn’t bothered to learn his lines) and no doubt pondering popping a cap in my presumptuous ass.

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An impressive roll call of witnesses to the Crime slime phenomenon then, though no doubt you could niggle (and some have) about who’s here and who’s been left (or opted) out…No Sergio Martino? And why isn’t Umberto Lenzi called upon to answer his many detractors? But really, what’s the point? Malloy had to work with what (and whom) he had to work with and those who did sign up aren’t exactly short on interesting and entertaining things to say about their participation in the genre. There’s a significant section on Barbara Bouchet which seems to be leading up to an appearance by BB herself, though sadly she fails to materialise. Although he died in 1989, a meditation on Maurizio Merli’s career tangent (from “guy who was lucky enough to look like Franco Nero when Nero lost interest in the genre” to “difficult” star) makes for an interesting sidebar,  emblematic as it is of Crime Slime celebrity.

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Thanks to @cosiperversa for unearthing this one. More tea, vicar?

Aside from the aforementioned Hollywood influences, Malloy addresses the domestic factors that had these films “ruling the ’70s”, at least in Italy… discontent with the explosion in crime that was the underside of “the Italian economic miracle” and fear of the regular outrages attributed to the extreme Right and Left during “the Years of Lead”. We also hear about how minor hustling criminals “facilitated” street shoots and rumours of actual mafia involvement. Actors who were called upon to do their own stunts amid live ammo relate the perils they faced during guerilla shoots where directors’ spontaneity was matched only by their lack of interest in Health and Safety (“I think I peed my pants!” confesses Silva about one such set-up). Castellari talks about the celebrated scene in The Big Racket (1976) where Fabio Testi gets rolled down a hill in his car. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and others discuss the less hazardous but extremely discomforting business of shooting without direct sound and some of the veteran dubbing artists of the Italian movie scene finally get to show their faces while having their say. It would have been nice, though, to hear more about some of the amazing composers whose OSTs have graced this genre, the likes of Morricone, Micalizzi, Cipriani, Trovajoli, de Masi, and so on. I’ll give credit here for the bitchin’, authentic sounding OST score that Malloy has pulled together, from various contributors, for this documentary.

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… are you sure you won’t have another cup of tea, vicar?

Such recurring themes as unconscionable violence, misogyny and car chases are given due consideration and we are treated to a digression into the little studied wilderness (and sheer wildness) of Italo-Turkish co-productions. Needless to say, the all-important subject of J&B product placement rears its malty little head.

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Minor quibbles: Although the narrative does occasionally venture outside of Italy, a more Italian focussed title would have more accurately reflected its contents. Malloy does labour certain points and his much discussed flashy editing style, initially impressive, does wear out its welcome well before the end of Eurocrime!’s 127 minute running time. In pursuit of flashy cutting and graphics, Malloy does seem to have lost sight of the primary purposes of editing, e.g. tidiness and concision. Personally, I could have done without some of the animated sequences and as it stands, Eurocrime is too long and baggy to be the primer that will turn the general picture-watching public on to the poliziotteschi phenomenon. It might well recruit new converts from those already kindly disposed to such genres as giallo or spaghetti westerns. For established Crime Slime devotees, Malloy’s epic labour of love will come as joyous, indispensable stuff.

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The main feature would have been even longer if not for the fact that generous interview out takes have been bumped into the bonuses section. You also get Eric Zaldivar’s 2012 interview with Tomas Milian (an anarchic free spirit to the end) and -alongside a nifty trailer for Eurocrime! itself – 31 (count ’em!) ass-kicking coming attractions for some of the genre’s most celebrated efforts.

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Well worth your time and money, especially as Nucleus, true to form, aren’t taking the piss with their price point. Nothing, er, extortionate!

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