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Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection(1972-1976)
The inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's early films, Fernando Di Leo is the master of garish, intricately plotted, ultra-violent stories about pimps and petty gangsters who perfects the genre with an uncanny accuracy. For the first time digitally restored from the original 35mm negative and remastered in collaboration with the Venice Film Festival.
For more about Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection and the Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray release, see Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on February 3, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Henry Silva, Mario Adorf, Gastone Moschin, Jack Palance, Barbara Bouchet, Al Cliver
Director: Fernando Di Leo
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray Review
Don't Mess with Milan.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, February 3, 2012
Filmmaker Fernando Di Leo was a well-regarded helmer who specialized in severe crime stories pulled from the bowels of Italy -- tales of grizzled men hunting other grizzled men, burning through numerous power plays, assassinations, and monetary disruptions. They were films of pure Italian personality, monitoring political turbulence while bashing around baddies, creating a roughhouse Euro genre with realism that would come to influence American directors looking to add some bitterness to their own cinematic brew. Collected here are four of Di Leo's most prominent efforts, each blessed with unique qualities and rage issues, all possessing a singular desire to depict criminal behavior at its lowest rung of decorum. The results are uneven but unforgettable, blasting viewers with two-fisted tales of unrepentant Italian machismo, soaked in J&B.
When a monetary exchange goes wrong and $300,000 goes missing, mob boss The Americano (Lionel Stander) is livid, sending henchman Rocco (Mario Adorf) out to retrieve his property and kill the thieving scum. Crook Ugo (Gastone Moschin) is the likely suspect, a tight-lipped tough guy looking to settle into some type of life with girlfriend Nelly (Barbara Bouchet) after a stint in prison. Trying to stay clear of the cops and reunite with his enforcer pal Chino (Philippe Leroy), Ugo is subjected to endless harassment by Rocco, who's hunting for clues leading to the stash of money, making life impossible for the weary rehabbed mobster. Returning to life in service to The Americano, Ugo attempts to orchestrate gangland chaos to protect Chino and preserve his future with Nelly.
There are many things to admire about Di Leo's 1972 feature "Caliber 9," but the opening launches the hoodlum antics like a NASA rocket to the moon. Establishing the criminal transaction debacle, Rocco and an associate are soon sent off on their retrieval mission, shaking down the likely suspects. Expected beatings and threats take place, roughing up these seemingly semi-innocent figures, but when Rocco doesn't find what he's looking for, it's time to dispose of the witnesses. What better way to get rid of possible thieves than to tie them together inside a nearby cave and plant a few bundles of dynamite between them. Boom. No more loose ends. Now that's how a crime saga should commence.
Based on the book by Giorgio Scerbanenco, "Caliber 9" combines complex plotting and tentative character relationships with beefy, leathery actors who've perfected the art of the staring contest. It's a tug of war between the needs of exposition and the effortless cool of Di Leo's direction (scored with some 1970's rock sauce by Luis Bacalov and the band Osanna), summoning an patchy viewing experience that rolls along on square wheels -- at times it's utterly hypnotic in its vicious manner, other times the feature is painfully dull, swallowed by a script (credited to Di Leo) that's too consumed with character position, leaving very little payoff. The quibbles are minor, yet "Caliber 9" isn't the wild ride its cartoon opening promises, soon settling into a routine of conversation when the material is far more potent with two raised fists (or a cocked gun). Stasis is primarily regulated to the Police Commissioner (Frank Wolff), a furious personality stroking his extended history with Ugo. The performance is agreeable and the character properly arrogant (trying to rub our hero the wrong way), but there's too much distraction, with talk of Italian politics taking command of the movie (era-appropriate, but indulgent), slackening pace and reducing the urgency of Ugo's plight.
"Caliber 9" is best tracking Rocco's attempts at disruption and Ugo's shifting plans to break free of The Americano's influence, taking refuge in the arms of his stripper girlfriend Nelly and his odd friendship with Chino. While a few of the plot threads are blurred in the adaptation process, Di Leo guns ahead with primary colors, sustaining Ugo's paranoia and his sense of defeat when resisting The Americano proves to be too much of a challenge. Moschin is terrifically steely as Ugo, carrying dark secrets behind his poker face, but the film belongs to Adorf, who's sublimely oily and reprehensible as the unhinged messenger, unafraid to kick around furniture or beat up a woman to emphasize his points.
"Caliber 9" doesn't speed along, but it does save the best for last, waking out of its nap to indulge in a little gunplay (with highly amusing backyard moviemaking rules to depict the slow, painful demises of nameless minions) and execute a few potent double-crosses, leading to a dark but satisfying resolution. The conclusion saves the feature, leaving the viewer with a lasting sting the rest of picture seems almost reluctant to offer, creating a desire to see the filmmaker accept a greater genre challenge with more explosive exploitation elements.
The Italian Connection
Hitmen Dave (Henry Silva) and Frank (Woody Strode) are brought in from New York City to search Italy for small-time pimp Luca (Mario Adorf), a jittery man suspected of stealing a massive shipment of heroin from the mob. Stomping around Milan on the hunt for their target, the brute Americans quickly learn Luca is a slippery one, growing aware of his pursuers as he attempts to piece together the facts before his execution. With Don Vito (Adolfo Celi) doing whatever he can to take Luca down, the paranoid crook attempts to fight back, evading Dave and Frank while trying to protect his family and clear his name.
Stepping up from the purely Italian mood of "Caliber 9," "The Italian Connection" ushers in a pronounced American vibe to the Di Leo experience, with Silva and Strode gifting the picture a frosty bruiser presence to counteract the local manic behaviors, following the filmmaker's orders to remain tight-lipped and stone-faced. The actors are a welcome sight in this potholed effort, permitting the movie an international scope, treating the core crime with a little more expanse than before, promising a feature of substantial activity and complexity.
"The Italian Connection" is a bit disorienting at first, with Di Leo coldly shoving the viewer into a plan of attack, where Frank and Dave are handed their orders and sent off to terminate Luca. Names and offenses are tossed around quickly in the picture, without a chance to settle into the bass-slapping tone of criminality, pleasingly seasoned by Armano Trovajoli's groovy score. "The Italian Connection" doesn't show concern for a consistent pace, fixating more on attitude and backstabbing, winding up the case against Luca before it comes time to understand the felon's perspective, as both a family man and a baddie attempting to reduce the heat blazing beneath him. Essentially, the movie is either locked in laborious exposition (constructing a flaccid cat's cradle of blame and deception) or it's off engaging in extravagant chase sequences, creating a stuttering pace that's not as hypnotic as Di Leo imagines. The feature's moist 1970's atmosphere is superb, with blinding costuming and casual nudity, but to buy into the fury of the conflict takes considerable patience.
Halfway through the explanations and character wrangling, "The Italian Connection" suddenly gets the urge to go haywire, ignoring Frank and Dave to nurture Luca's paranoia, which bubbles over into tragedy, leading to an amazing 10-minute chase where the small-time crook is hit with a cruel reminder of ruthless mob power. The sequence is electric, carrying all the surprise and viciousness the picture had been missing up to this point. Suddenly, all bets are off, finding Luca going feral to reach revenge, beating the tar out of his adversaries. The movie suddenly awakens, supplying stakes and motivation in a major way. The second half of "The Italian Connection" is alert and engrossing, providing head-butting, gun-toting thrills, fully absorbing the sweat-stained power of Adorf's engorged work as Luca. It's a meat-eating performance of pure rage, stealing the feature from the Americans, especially in the final act of the film, where the actor is handed ample room to develop his masterful articulation of greasy emotional release.
While "Caliber 9" had its moments of insanity, "The Italian Connection" goes a few steps too far, chiefly in the finale, where Luca befriends a stray kitten while doing his damndest to evade Dave and Frank in a junkyard. Fair warning: the kitten is eventually shot in the crossfire -- a harsh note of violence that serves no real purpose outside of shock value. Cat lovers, beware. Cat haters, here's your next Netflix rental.
"The Italian Connection" doesn't carry the same stony consistency as "Caliber 9," but when it strikes broader notes of criminal engagement, it's more animated and determined to serve up excitement beyond near-Olympic acts of brooding. It feels like Di Leo is taking hold of the crime genre with this offering, warming up for the next round of gunfire, breasts, and Italian men who don't just hang up telephones, they use their foreheads to smash the plastic cradles to bits.
A lethal enforcer for a powerful mob family, Lanzetta (Henry Silva) is unstoppable, taking his reign of terror to the next level when he wipes out members of a rival organization. When acts of retaliation escalate to the kidnapping of Don D'Anniello's (Claudio Nicastro) beloved daughter Rina (Antonia Santilli), Lanzetta is tasked with orchestrating an elaborate plan of retrieval, helping him to rise in the ranks. Unfortunately, Rina proves to be more of a handful than she initially seems, complicating the situation and clouding Lanzetta's loyalties as other crime families and law enforcement officials zero in on the intricate mess.
"The Boss" is by far the weakest entry of this flavorful box set, and that's saying something considering how the film opens with Lanzetta infiltrating a porno theater populated with Italy's most powerful perverts, blowing up the sleazy gathering with an RPG attack. Admittedly, it's difficult to top a show of force like that. Cruelly, "The Boss" doesn't even try.
Adapted from a novel by Peter McCurtin, the picture represents Di Leo at his most passive, struggling to liven up a twisting plot that doesn't leave much room for exploitative charms. With "The Boss," Di Leo aims to tell a tale of loyalties and deceptions, using the knotted story to generate his own epic of stubborn men and the ladies they habitually slap around. Truthfully, the picture is 90% exposition and conversation, spending an excessive amount of screentime chatting up plans instead of showing the work, giving the film over to actors as a way of padding the picture, hoping inane chatter and locked eyes might approximate depth.
It's actually quite shocking to find "The Boss" so immobile and painfully talky, especially after the relatively snappy "Caliber 9" and "The Italian Connection." The third picture is a step backwards for those accustomed to cheap thrills, finding Di Leo suddenly shifting into reverse to create a mood of legitimacy around "The Boss," endeavoring to produce something with more intellectual heft. The endeavor is wasted on cyclical dialogue that puts the movie to sleep, struggling to erect a war zone of dons, cops, and gunmen who converse their way into trouble, using argumentative behavior instead of blunt force befitting the underworld atmosphere. "The Boss" is glacial and unenlightening, spotlighting a cast of snoozy characters failing to intertwine as intended, reduced to talking heads in a picture that requires more of a direct punch. Di Leo isn't making "The Godfather," but one gets the feeling while watching "The Boss" that the thought did cross his mind during production.
In keeping with the director's fascination with the ugly side of life, "The Boss" contains a few behavioral whoppers worth viewing, including the curious case of Rina: mob daughter and all-around troublemaker. A nymphomaniac who happily services her kidnappers, Lanzetta, and anyone with a penis who steps into view, Rina keeps the film provocative with her deplorable behavior, generating a real sense of ick in a picture in serious need of viewer response. Of course, this being Europe in the 1970s, the response to Rina's diseased actions is to smack her around, adding more discomfort along the way. Also maintaining interest is the score by Luis Bacalov, which retains a frenzied rock tone, possibly commenting ironically on the movie's inertia. The music is baffling, creating such fist-pumping anticipation for hellraising, only to peak with nothing on-screen to support. I suppose Di Leo had to snatch excitement where he could.
"The Boss" is essentially motionless with the exception of a few violent encounters (one, featuring a switchblade triggered inside a stooge's mouth, is a doozy). It's the type of slow-burn character study that should be mesmerizing, harvesting bits of intensity and idiosyncrasy as the plot winds around numerous double-crosses involving multiple mafia families. Instead, the feature lacks fire, pleased to discuss matters of mob business in a laborious manner that occasionally transforms the effort into an audio book. The ending (one of roughly 15 by my count) promises a sequel that never materialized, suggesting that Di Leo's black heart wasn't invested in the long-term arc of betrayal established here. Or perhaps somebody stepped in and convinced the filmmaker that one of these patience-testing pictures was enough.
Rulers of the City
A sassy debt collector dreaming of a better life, Tony (Harry Baer) has accepted a death sentence when he stupidly volunteers to cash a hefty gambling check written out by crime lord "Scarface" Manzari (Jack Palance). Engineering a plan to swindle extra cash out of the ruthless mob boss, Tony gets away with millions, though his boastful nature doesn't sit well with Manzari. Teaming up with gunmen Ric (Al Cliver) and pal Napoli (Vittorio Caprioli), Tony looks to defend himself against oncoming trouble, taking on Manzari and his men head-on, working to secure himself a peaceful future.
The last release of the set, 1976's "Rulers of the City" is by far the most engaging of the Di Leo efforts. Stripping away convoluted mob schemes, reducing the running time, and hiring a top-notch team of stuntmen, Di Leo fashions a breezy, boppy crime saga that's considerably frothier than his previous efforts.
Detangling the underworld scenarios he's previously worked with, Di Leo charges full steam ahead with this gun-happy trifle. Although it opens with a pivotal step in the scarring of Manzari, revealing his deceitfulness and insatiable greed, "Rulers of the City" sticks closer to Tony as it unfolds, enjoying time with a carefree enforcer riding around in a bitchin' car (a Puma GT), collecting cash from debtors and breaking faces with his moderate fight skills. All Manzari can offer is intimidation and waves of doofy subordinates, while Tony is a swinging single rocking a Brazil t-shirt who enjoys the company of prostitutes. Of course he's going to steal the movie. Joining the fun is Ric, a silent-but-deadly sidekick with his own reasons to put Manzari down, and Napoli, an aging goombah wary of escalating criminal interests that lean toward instant violence, helping the men with a gun that doesn't fire straight (the only genuine laugh of the box set, sold beautifully by Caprioli).
There's plenty of treachery, assassinations, and Italian boasting crawling around the feature, but Di Leo fashions a distinct plotline of self-preservation, relaxing the dramatics to forge ahead as an actioner, utilizing the efforts of a flexible stunt team to fill "Rulers of the City" with abundant fight sequences, complete with awkward flips and blocky martial arts, repeatedly raising the pulse of the picture. Although a film from the mid-1970s, the movie plays more like a 1980s slugfest -- I expected Chuck Norris to pop up as Tony's "cousin from Memphis," helping his kin to clear the room of disposable hoodlums waiting for their cue to leap through the nearest sheet of plate glass. "Rulers of the City" is wonderfully amusing when it gets down to the business of beating strangers, also sustaining a weird interest in running, with Manzari's assistant always jogging around, while the climax (already an orgy of explosions and pursuits) provides a furious foot chase for Tony. Sprinting is the new black.
Perhaps wary of bogging down the elements in forgettable details, Di Leo keeps "Rulers of the City" easily digestible and brightly acted, always eager to entertain instead of intimidate. It's not politically minded, pretzel-plotted, or elongated with glaring marathons. It's pure escapism, providing the best of Di Leo's enthusiasm for hardened men doing dirty work, executed with a refreshing interest in speed and visceral delights.
Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray, Video Quality
Arriving with AVC encoded image (1.84:1 aspect ratio) presentations, RaroVideo has done a remarkable job fitting Di Leo for his Blu-ray debut. These cult films look almost as fresh as the day they debuted, boasting a bright color palette with vibrant hues. The primaries are especially triumphant, punching through with bold reds, yellows, and blues, with "Caliber 9" perhaps the most direct in terms of color saturation. The image is very clean, with minimal frame jumps (Update: "The Italian Connection" does include a handful of single-frame digital spasms that resemble and can be misconstrued as slight print defects during play*), minor banding issues, reel changes, and dirt and hair specks, while sustaining a marvelous sense of detail, allowing for a sturdy image to pause and scan for maximum study (even Moschin's ear hair is visible during his close-ups), creating a deeper appreciation for framing and set design. Shadow detail is stable, doing very well with tricky low-light scenarios and ornate fabrics, giving off a satisfactory sense of texture. Skintones look healthy and pink, while the HD image reveals the heavy make-up employed to keep the gorgeous glowing and the ghouls grim. Grain is nicely maintained without overwhelming the action, delivering a terrific film-like quality to all four movies. The set looks alive and alert, restoring the nuance to Di Leo's work.
*For further inspection, please click here.
Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mixes on the Blu-ray set carry the thick aural sensation of the pictures quite well. With heavy dubbing and studio construction of environments, the discs manage the clotted force with a confident frontal push, urging dialogue exchanges out in front, sustaining the heated conflicts with intelligible interactions and clean accents. There's some mild distortion during more furious scenes of conflict and "The Italian Connection" possesses a few inconsistencies, but it's rare to find anything swallowed by the mix. Scoring is bold when called upon, finding bass accompaniment (a sweet spot of "Connection") giving the proceedings some feel for heaviness, adding a pleasing genre thump. Hiss and pops are minimal, matching the visual elements in terms of fresh appeal. The listening experience carries its intended 1970's brawn with polish, returning a sense of theatrical life to the Blu-rays.
Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's quite a ride through Di Leo's id, with all the bullets, babes, and brawn exhausting to watch. These four pictures, while bumpy, are wonderfully unpredictable and enchantingly lurid, isolating the filmmaker's tastes and gifts through revelatory Blu-ray presentations that restore Di Leo's lush, bruised vision to cinematic glory.
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