As well as fascists, ultra-leftists, fascists posing as ultra-leftists and ultra-leftists posing as fascists, Italy’s “years of lead” (the violent ’70s, give-or-take) were stoked by disgruntled southern peasants who’s been drawn to the northern cities by the promise of the Italian “economic miracle”, only to turn to crime after finding the streets paved with shit rather than gold. In one of this disc’s bonus interviews, Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare (original Italian title) director Umberto Lenzi posits another explanation for this chaotic decade, namely that it was French criminals who brought kidnapping, drug dealing, bank robbing, et al, to Italy… an improbable claim but one that also surfaces in Enzo Castellari’s seminal Poliziotteschi effort High Crime aka The Marseilles Connection (1973) and Contraband, Luci Fulci’s late (1980) entry in the cycle, the latter of which panders to a romantic conception of the mafia’s origins as a patriotic opposition to the Napoleonic occupation of Italy. Almost Human (1974) is not a mafia movie (though Lenzi made plenty of those) and its protagonist is not mobbed up, nor is he any kind of a heroic patriot… Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian in top, scenery-chewing form) is part of the aforementioned economic flotsam and jetsam… he’s a snivelling psychopath with a chip on each soldier and a burning desire to strike back at everybody who’s responsible for his personal and social inadequacy, i.e. everybody but himself!
The action starts with Giulio fouling up a bank heist by shooting a cop who merely wanted to write him a parking ticket (his trigger-happiness will be a recurring motif throughout this film.) Beaten up and called “a shit head” by local Mister Big Ugo Majone (Luciano Catenacci) and his boys, Giulio resolves to prove them wrong and join the criminal super league. As explained to impressionable stooges Vittorio (Gino Santercole) and Carmine (a nicely nuanced Ray Lovelock), his master plan includes the kidnapping of Marilù (Laura Belli), the daughter of rich industrialist Porrini (Guido Alberti.) After they’ve pocketed the ransom they’ll kill her anyway to cover their tracks. “Listen, there’s only one thing that matters…”, Giulio insists: “… either you’ve got a load of money and you’re somebody cool, or you haven’t got a place to pee!”
The kidnap is eventually effected with the connivance of Giulio’s long-suffering girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg)… boy is he punching above his weight here, but Iona’s hung up on this bit of rough and that’s all there is to it. After her boyfriend has been gunned down, Marilù tries to seek refuge in the home of a bourgeois family who are sexually assaulted, strung from the light fittings and machine-gunned for their trouble. Carmine, who had initially experienced cold feet, participates enthusiastically in all this carnage after Giulo has plied him with pills.
Giulio ties up an irksome loose end by sending Iona’s car to the bottom of Lake Cuomo, with her in it. investigating this rum series of events, Commissario Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) notices that one guy keeps cropping up again and again and finally it clicks that Giulio was the guy taunting him at the scene of a cop stabbing. “I’m interested in this man..” he tells his superior, in a telling turn of phrase that suggests Grandi’s personal affinities with his quarry: “… he’s a psychopath!” Takes one to know one, I guess, but the law requires something more solid than the strong circumstantial case he is building. In the words of the title… “Milan Hates: The Police Aren’t Allowed To Shoot” But we are talking about Henry Silva here…
Grandi is literally hobbled as the climax to the kidnapping drama plays out. Having shot the ill-fated Marilù and both of his accomplices, Giulio unloads a clip into the Commissario’s leg before disappearing with the ransom money. Later he’s sitting at a sidewalk café in his expensive new threads, sipping “French champagne” and trying to recruit a new crew of dead beats when Grandi, walking with the aid of a stick, turns up and shoots his way through the legalistic Gordian knot. “Call the chief and tell him that ex-detective Grandi just killed a murderer”, Dirty Henry tells a gob smacked copper. Giulio expires, appropriately enough, atop a pile of garbage.
Producer Luciano Martino’s in-house writer Ernesto Gastaldi (better known as a giallo specialist) penned this hard-hearted effort in accordance with Lenzi’s obvious love for the likes of Mervyn Leroy’s Little Caesar, William Wellman’s Public Enemy (both 1931) and Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932.) Its story owes another obvious debt to No Orchids For Miss Blandish, the 1939 James Hadley Chase novel filmed under that title by St. John L. Clowes in 1948 and as The Grissom Gang by Robert Aldrich, just three years before Lenzi lensed Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare… he lensed most of it, anyway. The edge-of-your-seat car chases sequence, orchestrated by the legendary Rémy Julienne, has been cut in by the cost conscious Martino from the previous year’s The Violent Proefessionals, directed by his kid brother Sergio. This would be the first of many times that Julienne’s footage got recycled in various crime slime epics… hope he was remunerated every time rather than accepting a flat payment (though I rather doubt it!) All of this kick-ass action is nicely complimented by a downbeat Morricone score with a memorably staccato main theme.
Of the significant bonus material on this disc, the featurettes Like A Beast… Almost (interviews with Lenzi, Lovelock, Gastaldi and Santercole) and Milian Unleashed (an audience with the film’s charismatic star) will be familiar to anyone who invested in the No Shame DVD release back in the noughties and the latter has already appeared on Shameless’s own DVD release of Almost Human. Pride of place goes to a new Umberto Lenzi interview, in which the grumpy old man of Italian genre cinema is on vintage form. He talks animatedly about how that cinema drew its inspiration from successful American models and – while remaining infra dig with the intelligentsia – effectively bank rolled the Arthouse efforts of Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, et al. He moans about Kathryn Bigelow pinching his President-masked bank robbers and Sergio Martino stealing his favourite editor (Eugenio Alabiso.) Amusing (sort of) anecdotes include how film noir icon Richard Conte missed the first day of shooting because he died, obliging Lenzi to recruit Silva at short notice in what turned out (with apologies to Conte’s nearest and dearest) to be a masterpiece of serendipitous casting.
Lenzi ‘fesses up re his reputation of being a hard ass with actors but contends that if you don’t impose your will upon them, the shoot is going to hell in hand cart. His memories of working with Milian (on several pictures… he compares the relationship to that between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski) are particularly compelling. Apparently the actor used to drive him mad by improvising while the camera was rolling, though Lenzi is big enough to admit that these unsolicited contributions were sometimes inspired. More alarmingly, he reveals that Milian’s method acting approach prompted him to hit the pharmaceuticals pretty hard in his attempts to clinch the character of Giulio’s Little Casar. We at The House Of Freudstein are reminded of Laurence Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man (1976)…
presented in HD, Almost Human looks almost totally marvellous, though pronounced grain in certain shots (a few obvious second unit cutaways) are the price we have to pay for such technical advances. It’s an imperfect world, made even more so by the recent passing of Tomas Milian. This Shameless release serves as a timely tribute to an enormous talent, showcased in a role that is, even by his less than sedate standards, truly demented.