Posts Tagged With: Fabio Testi

Heads They Win, Tails We Lose… THE BIG RACKET Reviewed.

15542294_10210471275332589_2463110374540683296_n.jpeg

DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Pretty much squeezed out of the giallo thrillers that proliferated in the ’70s, Italian cops decamped into a cinematic genre of their own. Reflecting contemporary public angst over pandemic political and criminal violence in the 1970s (“the Years of Lead”), this particularly torrid cinematic stream can be sourced to La Polizia Ringrazia (aka Execution Squad / The Enforcers), a 1971 film by erstwhile comedy specialist Stefano Vanzina (aka Steno) that starred Enrico Maria Salerno in the authoritarian cop role and owed a fairly obvious debt to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, released earlier in the same year. It took Enzo Castellari’s La Polizia Incrimina, La Legge Assolve (aka High Crime, 1973) however, to really ignite the box offices. Castellari, already a veteran director of action packed, acrobatic spag-wests and war films, here hooked up for the first of many times with Franco Nero, playing Vice-Commissioner Belli, a maverick cop who’s out to close down the supply of heroin from France into Italy. If all of this sounds vaguely reminiscent of “a certain William Friedkin picture” (indeed, this picture has also been released under the alias “The Marseilles Connection”), Castellari goes so far as to as to bring back Fernando Rey as Belli’s adversary and stages a mighty familiar looking car chase, while upping the ante in terms of sheer sadism (the drug gang think nothing of cutting the nads off of those that cross them!) Later in 1973, Sergio Martino knocked out another saga of rulebook trashing cops The Violent Professionals (Milano Trema – La Polizia Vuole Giustizia) and followed it in 1974 with the similarly themed Silent Action (La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide). The same year, Castellari and Franco Nero were back with Il Cittadina Si Ribella (“The Citizen Rebels”) aka Street Law, in which Nero’s revolting citizen strikes back against a system so tardy about protecting the citizenry that it’s virtually complicit in criminality. In The Big Racket (1976) Castellari develops his argument a step further by effectively identifying The State itself as a criminal conspiracy.

Enzo's Mad As Hell....jpg

Enzo’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take anymore…

While some of its genre predecessors strive for gritty social relevance with plot points that paradoxically leave credibility teetering on the edge of a precipice, The Big Racket gleefully dons hobnail boots to kick the fucker right over the brink. Its in-your-face opening depicts a business premises being trashed by a rent-a-goon gang of OTT ne’er do wells. Their colourful apparel and larger than life anti-social antics clearly foreshadow the cartoon characterisations of Castellari’s apocalyptic trilogy Bronx Warriors (1982), Bronx Warriors 2 and The New Barbarians (both 1983) and The Big Racket depicts civil society as one step removed from that kind of total breakdown, with wrecking gangs roaming the city despoiling honest citizens at will. On this kind of form, Castellari makes Michael Winner look like a tree hugging Lefty!

DFNMYOhXUAYWOv9.jpg

It’s big…

The aforementioned goons are enforcing a protection racket run by foppish Englishman (?!?) Rudy (John Loffredo). God help anyone who refuses to cough up. When one of their marks, restaurateur Luigi Gestore (Renzo Palmer) does stand up to them, they abduct and rape his schoolgirl daughter (Castellari’s own daughter, Stefania Girolami, later an assistant director on such Hollywood productions as Super Mario Bros, Dawson’s Creek, American Gothic and Empire Records, now back working for her dad). She subsequently kills herself out of shame.

Needless to say there’s a hard-assed cop keen on closing down the operation. In the absence of Franco Nero we get equally hunky Fabio Testi as Inspector Nico Palmieri. When he is rumbled investigating the racket, its perpetrators have no qualms at all about rolling a police car and its occupant into a quarry, a quite amazing sequence whose realisation Castellari discusses on this disc’s audio commentary track.

15541938_10210471273052532_2623426668224026401_n.jpeg

When Palmieri gets out of hospital, you can bet your ass he’s even keener than before to kick some racketeering ass. It doesn’t hurt that his partner Sal (Salvatore Calimero) is a kung fu whirlwind who can beat up several assailants simultaneously and thinks nothing of kicking a lady racketeer in her private parts to convey the message that crime doesn’t pay!

What does cramp their investigative style is the oily civil rights lawyer Giovanni Giuni (Antonio Marsina) who continually gets the protectioneering hoodlums out of jail and protests that they are being overly harshly treated for their high spirits and roguish shenanigans: “These kids are just blowing off some steam” (?!?) is his weasel-worded rationalisation of their crimes. When Palmieri’s attempts to cut through all this bullshit get him taken off the case, he figures that he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Hiring the services of gentlemanly con man Pepe (a great comic relief turn from Death Wish alumnus Vincent Gardenia) he sets out to infiltrate The Big Racket. Two major set pieces ensue. The first is an astonishingly choreographed and sharply edited shoot out at a railway station, a vintage Castellari action sequence featuring all his familiar trademarks of slow-mo, multiple angles and madly gurning, machine-gun totin’ extras somersaulting through the air.

15590575_10210471275252587_3022735215604507396_n.jpeg

It is here that by-standing skeet shooter Giovanni (Orso Maria Guerrini) conveniently throws in his lot with the cops as an act of civic duty… not so convenient for his family though, as the mob respond by urinating on and raping his wife, before setting fire to her (pity that wasn’t the other way around!)

15590570_10210471274572570_3104761811943673969_n.jpeg

Palmieri recruits him, Pepe, Gestore and Doringo (Romano Puppo), a lifer seeking to cut a deal and get himself  out of jail, for the climactic confrontation with the gang at their annual general meeting, held in another of Castellari’s beloved disused factories. During the ensuing mayhem the supreme boss of the ever-expanding protection racket is revealed… a real non-surprise this one, it’s that smoothy civil rights lawyer Giuni. Castellari really couldn’t spell it out any clearer than this – liberals aren’t just well-intentioned but misguided wimps, they’re keen and active participants in the destruction of Society!

15585342_10210471273852552_2330953830728379504_o.jpeg

Marsina, overacting frantically, spells out the Big Racket’s ambitious corporate plan in alarming terms: “Factories, restaurants, shops, hotels… if they want to stay open, they’ll pay us. In fact eventually every living individual will have to pay us. If they refuse, their gas main might blow up and take half the house with it. People will soon learn that they have no defence against the terror that we will create. Just one phone call, one threat will make them pay. Do you have kids? You don’t want to lose them? Then pay! You don’t have the money? You have a house so sell it and pay. No house? Then half your salary each month. If you want your kids to live then pay, pay! Naturally some will hesitate… so we kill a couple of children… a few examples and people will pay without question. But we’ll need to cover ourselves… we can buy anybody, politicians, policemen, magistrates… anybody at all!”

This chilling vision of the future is cut short by a hail of bullets from Palmieri and co. From their vantage points they mow down most of the mobsters, though inevitably they are themselves cut down in their turn. Palmieri confronts Mr Big Smoothy Lawyer in a toilet, appropriately enough, and answers his ironic, impassioned demands for legal protection with a skinful of lead.

15578490_10210471273212536_1334108537709782382_n.jpeg15622189_10210471273252537_3353523708773006135_n.jpeg

Outside the factory, Rudy and a handful of surviving racketeers attempt to drive away but Palmieri’s bullets have for some reason acquired the ability to make anything they hit go up in a mini mushroom cloud… possibly a symbolic representation of the welled up power of his righteous wrath, more probably a realisation by Castellari that he had 90 minutes worth in the can and needed to wind things up, smartish.

Testi is a considerable actor but can’t do much here with a character who is little more than a cypher. We don’t learn anything much about Palmieri, other than the fact that criminals drive him into a murderous rage. He certainly does nothing effective to protect any of the people whom he eggs on to defy the baddies, all of them coming to a sticky end. Perhaps this is why Castellari’s freeze frame final shot depicts Palmieri howling in anguish, smashing his rifle to bits.

It’s no small undertaking to tackle The Big Racket!

Extras wise, as well as the inevitable trailer you get a lively, informative commentary courtesy of Poppa Castellari and his son Andrea Girolami. Nice.

15589820_10210471241331739_5339093588564391013_n.jpeg

Advertisements
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“I Never Laid A Finger on her, Guv!”… WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? reviewed

COSA_AVETE_FATTO_A_SOLANGE_B7_0004_FB.jpg

Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

Massimo Dallamano (Born in Milan, 17.04.17) crowned a prolific and distinguished career as DP with the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s monumental Dollars trilogy,  A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965). Thereafter his compositional sense graced a series of his own directoral efforts. Although none of these are as celebrated as the films he lit for Leone and undoubtedly rank as journeyman stuff, just about all of them (bar a couple of soft core sex romps) repay serious scrutiny, emerging as a solid and satisfying body of B-movie work. Dallamano the director made a point of dabbling in most genres, in all of which he displayed a pronounced penchant for sleazy subject matter. His most memorable contribution to the canon of spaghetti exploitation is a not-quite-completed-trilogy of gialli, kicking off with 1972’s Cosa Avete Fatto A Solgnage? (“What Have You Done To Solange?“) in which recurrent plot points include the sexual exploitation of schoolgirls, conspiracy, cover-up and murder.

His very first giallo, A Black Veil For Lisa (1968), is the kind of noiresque pot-boiler that typified the genre (Umberto Lenzi directed several similar efforts) before it was revitalised and reinvented by the international crossover success of Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970.) Here Inspector Bulon (John Mills) gives syndicate hitman Max Lindt (Robert Hoffman) a get-out-of-jail card on condition that he bumps off the bent copper’s faithless spouse Lisa (erstwhile Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi.) But Lindt falls for her instead, at which point the plot twists start proliferating thick and fast. After interestingly idiosyncratic screen adaptations of Sacher-Masoch (Venus In Furs, 1969) and Wilde (The Secret Of Dorian Gray, 1970) Dallamano got into his full giallo stride with the cracking item under consideration here.

600full-massimo-dallamano.jpg

Directing Dorian Gray in 1970

Filthy Fabio Testi is Enrico Rossini, a lecherous lecturer who likes nothing better than bedding his beautiful young students at St Mary’s College, an upper-crust finishing school for Catholic crumpet (I was schooled at a St Mary’s College too, but the closest thing to crumpet we ever got was… nah, better not name him.) Fabio’s messing about in a boat on the river with one such conquest, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo, a hall-of-famer who also appeared in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, The Killer Is Obliged To Kill Again, The House That Screamed, Riot In A Woman’s Prison and the immortal Suffer, You Prick) when she spots Hilda, one of her classmates being repeatedly stabbed in the bush in the bushes by a maniac in priestly garb… yep, those anti-clerical giallo auteurs are bashing their bishops again!

Galbo.jpg

“What is that priest doing to Hilda?”

Because he can’t be in two places at one time, we know that randy Professor Rossini isn’t the culprit, but he can hardly offer his dalliance with Elizabeth as an alibi… relations with his severe Teutonic wife Herta (krimi stalwart Karin Baal) are already bad enough, not to mention the small matter of losing his job. As more girls are fatally stabbed between the legs, his attempts to cover up his extra-curricular activities only increase the suspicions of Inspector Barth (Joachim “Blackie” Fuchsberger, another krimi refugee), who seems to delight in showing parents post-mortem photographs and X rays of their murdered daughters with knives penetrating their private parts (“It’s a necessary formality!”) Then Elizabeth makes the mistake of announcing to a roomful of the dodgiest-looking, slobering peeping toms ever rounded up in a Catholic girls’ school that she thinks the river-bank slasher was wearing a cassock. Glug glug glug, she gets drowned in the tub…

Elizabethbathdemise.png

… and things are now looking very bad indeed for our pal the priapismic prof. But every stabbed schoolgirl has a silver lining and Enrico’s efforts to clear his name coincide with the patching up of his relationship with the increasingly sexy looking (and unfeasibly accommodating) Herta. So far, so good… but no Solange. You won’t be asking what they’ve done to her so much as who the hell is she, because this character (played by Camille Keaton of subsequent I Spit On Your Grave infamy) only turns up towards the end of the final reel, trailing in her traumatised wake the key to the whole crotch-stabbing conundrum.

A stylishly sleazy concoction topped off with a tasty Ennio Morricone score, What Have You Dome To Solange? is an unusually police-tinged giallo that points the way to Dallamano’s later immersion in full blown polizioteschi. The mists and mellow fruitfulness of its equally atypical English locations (not to mention the peculiarly multi-hued barnet of Fusberger) are beautifully rendered by Dallamano’s (wisely) chosen cinematographer, one Aristide Massaccesi (yep, Joe D’Amato himself, who you’ll spot him cameoing as a copper during an, er, abortive stake-out.)

Cc9t1etXEAAk1vt.jpg

Remastering WHYDTS? for Blu-ray from its original camera negative, David Mackenzie has captured this visual treat magnificently. Michael Mackenzie (any relation?) contributes one of those visual essays that are becomingly increasingly familiar among Arrow extras. As I said about an earlier one, some of it will make you think, some of it will have you saying: “I’ve always thought that” to yourself and some of it will have you shouting “No mate, you’re talking bollocks!” at the screen. Other specs include a trailer… the now customary reversible sleeve, one of whose options is some newly commissioned nifty artwork by Malleus… the usual sort of glossy, illustrated booklet in which Howard Hughes surveys Morricone’s giallo scores and Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent Magazine profiles Camille Keaton… and three interviews. Karin Baal offers a scathing memoir of what she obviously regards as a thoroughly insalubrious production, slagging off  Fabio Testi and criticising Dallamano for his alleged bullying of Keaton. Then to restore the balance Testi gets to speak for himself and comes across as a much more agreeable figure than the one described by his former co-star. Finally there’s a brief conversation with producer Fulvio Lucisano, an interesting and engaging character who’s got a lot to say about how the Italian film industry has “changed” (i.e. just about died!)

WS2.jpg

The commentary track reunites Alan Jones and Kim Newman from Arrow’s celebrated Zombie Flesh Eaters BD. Newman kicks off the proceedings by stating that he’s going to be playing second fiddle because of his colleague’s undoubted expertise in the field of Italian exploitation cinema but in fact Newman’s inclusion is more than justified by the breadth of his knowledge concerning just about every other area of world cinema. His contributions are particularly useful in explaining the debt gialli owe to earlier “krimi” (German screen adaptations of thriller novels by Edgar Wallace), especially pertinent to this Italo-German co-production which has often been linked (with precious little justification) to the Wallace yarn The Clue Of The New Pin. He also sketches out the chronology that links Dallamano’s picture to an apocryphal tabloid expose via Robert Hartford- Davis’s The Yellow Teddy Bears (1963.) Informative and witty stuff from the Jones / Newman double act then, though when they speculate that the Vera Drake character is of East European origin they do squander a golden opportunity to crack the ever popular “cancelled Czech” gag…

While an oligopoly of four (Argento, Bava, Fulci and Martino) were responsible for most of the truly great gialli, other directors did manage to turn out the occasional classic… Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly Of The Tarantula, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? and Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Is Obliged To Kill Again spring to mind.) So what are we to make of Jones’s claim that WHYDTS? is one of the top ten achievements in this genre? Possibly it it is and, if not, it comes so damn close as to demand a place on the shelf of any self-respecting Italian thriller buff.

tumblr_ly84p803lh1r73lylo1_1280.png

“What shall we do today, then?”

CS572784-01B-BIG.jpg

“Oh… that!”

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: