All The Colours Of Bleakness… Sergio Martino’s SILENT ACTION Reviewed.

… but violent!

BD. Fractured Visions. Region Free. 15.
Buy direct

A succession of Italian military bigwigs die in a series of suspicious “accidents / suicides” (notably a spectacular train decapitation), investigated by feisty femme journalist Maria (Delia Boccardo). Her boyfriend, maverick Police Inspector Giorgio Solmi (Luc Merenda) discovers a connection between these high profile deaths and the case of a man whose brains were apparently beaten out by a call girl at his luxury crib. “I want to know how a whore-mongering electrician can afford to live like an oil sheikh”, straight talking Giorgio tells his assistants. When they rescue the call girl in question (Paola Tedesco) from another staged suicide, an alternative narrative begins to emerge, one of sedition in high places. Solmi shoots from the lip (“Hawking pussy is one business that never goes into recession”), don’t take no shit and can’t be intimidated into dropping his investigation, but the closer he gets to the unbelievable truth, the faster the bodies keep piling up…

Two years on from his seminal The Violent Professionals (Milano Trema: La Polizia Vuole Giustizia, 1973), one of the films that imparted real box office momentum to the Poliziotteschi / Crime Slime band wagon, Sergio Martino amplifies its hints that the criminal and political violence which characterised Italy’s “Years of Lead” were intimately and conspiratorially connected, in Silent Action (La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide). This theme is more frankly handled in the Italian dub / English subtitles, which explicitly allude to preparations for an upcoming right wing coup. The English language version more vaguely references a gun running operation’s connections to Establishment figures. As early as the opening montage, in which career slime criminal Antonio Casale and heavy pals stage the suicides of some inconvenient Generals, Luciano Michelini’s relentlessly staccato minor key march brings to mind Ennio Morricone’s score for Elio Petri’s Investigation Of Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and suggests that the film you’re about to watch has more in common with that kind of pointed political comment than with any amount of those “guns and gurning” Umberto Lenzi efforts in which Maurizio Merli mercilessly slaps down the scumbags.

Don’t get me wrong, Silent Action emerged from the same Martino family stable as many of those pictures and has no qualms whatsoever about packing in such crowd pleasing exploitation elements as punch ups, shoot outs, double crosses, a swaggering, indecently handsome male lead, judicious helpings of gratuitous female nudity, a prison riot, Rémy Julienne’s car crashes… all very enjoyable, as is the helicopter attack on a paramilitary camp which (though skilfully executed and featuring a memorable micro cameo from director Sergio) could probably have been omitted without any perceivable damage to the narrative.

It does, however evidence levels of sophistication and pessimism inaccessible to a director like Lenzi who, by his own contention, was weaned on the films of Edgar Ulmer, Robert Siodmak and Raoul Walsh. Martino’s message is summarised, at the conclusion of Eugenio Ercolani’s impressive supplementary featurette, The Age of Lead – 1970s Italy, as: “American films are very concentrated on defending a system, a way of life. Terrible things might happen but eventually things work out, the system still works whereas in Italian cinema it’s about the system not existing, it’s not really there. It’s just a hologram, an illusion… we don’t really know what’s happening to us. There are powers we can’t even grasp and ultimately even a police officer, a Commissario or whatever, is just a victim, as are all Italians. That’s really the difference between Italian and American films. We’re not defending anything. It’s all darkness, all bleak”.

Gorgeously remastered in 2K (Giancarlo Ferrando’s crisp cinematography has never looked better) and representing a world BD debut to boot, this nicely packaged 2 disc set (you get Michelini’s OST as a bonus CD) is limited to 3,000 units and comes armed to the teeth with nifty extras. In addition to Ercolani’s documentary, you get interviews with Martino and Michelini (each socially distanced in a public spaces) plus two conversations (one archival and another more recent one) with Luc Merenda… wow, what a silver fox he’s turned into! During all of these anecdote rich interviews, much is made of how the film makers had to pussy foot around Tomas Milian, who appears in a pivotal albeit very brief role (said brevity just as well, perhaps, given the career worst haircut somebody has inflicted on him here).

Tomas’s fragile ego is further dissected in archival featurette The Milian Connection. In a special collector’s booklet there are essays by Ercolani (elaborating the argument of his documentary) and Francesco Massaccesi, assessing Mel Ferrer’s career in Italy (like Milian, Ferrer appears only briefly in the film as Solmi’s superior, a suave, detached and deeply ambiguous character). I’ve left the best till last. The audio commentary from “tough-guy film expert” Mike Malloy (director of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop And Gangster Films That Ruled The ’70s) touches lightly on the actual feature, focussing instead on personal reminiscences of growing up fanboy and as such, will strike some serious chords with the target audience. It’s witty and engaging stuff, one of the most enjoyable commentary tracks I’ve heard in a long time… so much so, I can even bring myself to forgive Mr Malloy for his self-declared indifference towards gialli!

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