Thursday, September 22, 2011

The top ten Poliziotteschi / Eurocrime films for your eyballs and earholes.

Poliziotteschi or Eurocrime films aren't for everybody.
If you like your films fried up with gratuitous violence, sprinkled with hot, gore-filled action, laced with misogynistic sprinkles, infused with fascistic themes, layered with gunfights and car chases, and coated with characters who are ugly, inside and out destroying each other, then take a bite of the Eurocrime sandwich.
I'm no expert in the genre but I've seen over a hundred Eurocrime films. I haven't found a good place on the intergalactic network with a list of "must see" films in the genre, so I'm creating one.
Here are eleven films to see if you are interested in Poliziotteschi films. Like any "top" list, these are my favorites and they are liable to change at any given time. I'm actually pretty wishy washy on this list. The Boss should be higher up the list. Frustratingly, my copy of Rome Armed to the Teeth did not work, therefore, I have yet to see this acknowledged Eurocrime classic. Maybe Contraband should be on there (the film's low points are just so damn low, I could fall asleep in parts, then it switches to extremely horrific violence; just too up and down.) Manhunt in the City could also be on the list.

11. The Boss (Il Boss) - 1973 - Dir: Fernando Di Leo
Cocchi's entire clan is wiped out by a bomb. He knows who did it and he's going to fuck their shit up.
I first saw Henry Silva in Lust in the Dust as a kid. I kinda fell in love with him. He's Cocchi in this film and he's a badass killing machine. He's a kidnapper and murderer as well. HA.
There are no heroes in The Boss, like a lot of Eurocrime films, there are simply villains that the camera follows and villains that it does not.
The action is good. The acting is good. The pace (a lot of Eurocrime films have problems with pacing) is good. As I'm writing this, I'm realizing this should have been higher on my list. Oh well, good to start out with a BANG.

10. Syndicate Sadists (Il giustiziere sfida la città) - 1975 - Dir: Umberto Lenzi
This is the story of Rambo. Rambo is an old warrior, now a wanderer. He rides his motorcycle across the land and lives life free. An old friend convinces Rambo to join up with his security company, protecting good men from the mob. Rambo's friend is murdered and Rambo sets off on a trail of revenge.
Rambo pits mob families against each other in a Red Harvest, Yojimbo, Fistful of Dollars kind of way. He's a thinking badass.
Tomas Milian plays Rambo. I said it over on my Spaghetti Western top ten list and I'll say it here. I just don't buy Milian as a tough guy. He's so good as a scheming wretch, but when he acts tough it looks like he's acting tough. That being said, the film has a decent storyline and the pace is fine. Joseph Cotton makes an appearance as a retired mobster and old friend of Rambo.
A fine film.

9. Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Uomini Si Nasce Poliziotti Si Muore) - 1976 - Dir: Ruggero Deodato
From the director of Cannibal Holocaust comes Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man.
I'm not so informed on the social history of Italy in the 1970's but a lot of Eurocrime films have a desperate, crime is rampant, the police have no power, tone to them. They follow similar themes to the NY vigilante theme happening at the same time in the U.S.
Are the Italian films direct ripoffs of the American films or was a similar blanket of fear of street crime covering Italy as it was in the U.S. at that time?
I'm not sure who the political structure and police higher ups are answering to, it is always vague in the Eurocrime films. The public? Policiticians in the pocket of the mafia and other mob organizations? Was there an extreme swing to social liberalism that these films were taking a stab at? Anyway, I don't know the root of the situation, but MANY of the films have police red tape as a major theme.
LLC,DLM is a buddy cop film, maybe a very tight, loving, getting in each other's pants kind of buddy movie. Are the two main characters bisexual? They are constantly skirt chasing yet live together and share a room. Either way, these gents are cops on the edge. Beating, maiming, and slaughtering their way through the Italian crime world.
The plot is something about a top mobster that they need to stop and yadda yadda. It hardly matters. The ass kicking is the main course in this film. It's a fun ride.

8. Street Law (Il Cittadino Si Ribella) - 1974 - Dir: Enzo G. Castellari
Franco Nero rocks the screen hard in this film as Carlo Antonelli.
Antonelli is an engineer, an ordinary citizen until he is taken hostage during a bank robbery. He is threatened with death. He is beaten. He is humiliated. The action is intense as the police chase the robbers. They dump Antonelli and don't give him a second thought.
Antonelli thinks hard. Antonelli acts. The film came out the same year as Deathwish (the novel of Deathwish came out in 1972) and is similar in a lot of ways. However, Antonelli is focused on the specific group of mobsters who victimized him. He is not a knight in shining armor either. Antonelli blackmails criminals into helping him, he lies, and is unrestrained by red tape as most Eurocrime protagonists are.
Franco Nero is at his best in Street Law. The actor most famous for playing the tough as nails, one man army, Django, tightens his belt of humility and plays a humiliated victim with amazing deftness. Nero blew me away with his performance. You can read his eyes every step of the way. There is a shot after he is released by the robbers where his eyes are red. I have seen the victims of violent crime in person, and Nero's face is real. Antonelli is not a hero, he is desperate and uncalculating. He fumbles and is beaten.
The film has a great twist in the middle of it as well. Most genres start with complicated and relevant themes and slowly lose these to the simpler, easier, machinations which define a "genre," Street Crime is no exception. It is an early entry, rich in theme and character. Revenge is a dirty, unpredictable business.
Street Law, like many Poliziotteschi has a great soundtrack. Fast paced and tense.
In 1972, Nero and director Castellari made a film called Street Crime (La polizia incrimina la legge assolve). See that film as well. It is fantastic and should be on my list. Yeah, I suck.

7. Violent Naples (Napoli Violenta) - 1976 - Dir. Umberto Lenzi
Director Umberto Lenzi is thought of by many to be the master of the Eurocrime genre. I can't argue. The film stars Maurizio Merli, who I call BMM (Blonde Mustache Man) in all my notes. Merli was a staple of the genre. Merli looked serious and gruff, with a spark of concern in his eyes. However, Merli's greatest feature was that he looked like Franco Nero.
Merli plays Comissario (Commissioner) Betti in the film. Betti also appears in two other Eurocrime films; Violent Rome (my #4) and Italia A Mano Armata (didn't make the list but is an above average Poliziotteschi.)
Do I really need to go over this plot again? Fine. A protection racket is plaguing the city. Commisario Betti will stop at nothing to crush them. Violent Naples makes the list for its flair. The pacing is top notch. The action is top notch. There are some wonderful, shocking scenes of violence. Lenzi was (seems to have retired in the early 90's) a master within the genre. He did not innovate so much but worked within genres (mostly sub-genres of horror films) with a masterful touch.
I suspect that most Poliziotteschi fans would put Violent Naples higher on their "top" list than I did.

6. Rome Armed to the Teeth (Roma a mano armata) - 1976 - Dir: Umberto Lenzi
Lenzi, Merli and Milian.
Merli is Commissario Leonardo Tanzi, the Dirty Harry x2, stop at nothing, cop.
Milian is Il Gobbo, the hunchbacked, spray his machine gun bullets into crowds of bystanders, criminal.
Rome Armed to the Teeth is the prototypical, bringing out the finest of the genre, Poliziotteschi. I can't remember the plot at all, and it isn't written in my notes. HA. "Perfect example of a Eurocrime film" is all I have written. I will have to take my word for it.

5. The Big Racket (Il grande racket) - 1977 - Dir: Enzo G. Castellari
Nico Palmieri is a cop assigned to break up a protection racket. And he does so.
Fabio Testi is great as Nico. Testi's ever-youthful, fresh, face can be off putting, but the guy gets down to business. Stop being so shallow. Testi's acting is top notch.
In the spirit of HP Lovecraft, the film follows a handful of stories where different store owners are victimized by a group of human monsters. One of the shop keepers refuses to play ball. His daughter gets raped for his decision. The shopkeeper agrees to help the police. The police get ambushed by the mob and are only saved through the quick thinking actions of an olympic skeet shooter who happens to be in the area. His wife is raped for his troubles.
Palmieri ends up getting fired for being too badass. He organizes a vigilante squad, partly made up of the victims of the outlaws. When the heads of the mob gather, Palmieri's gang strikes.
The pacing is bullet fast. The action is not gory but the body count is high. The gunfights are long and unrelenting. There is a scene where the gang locks Palmieri in his car and rolls it down a hill that rivals some of the discombobulated camerawork in in Inception. A great scene. A great film.

4. Violent Rome (Roma Violenta) - 1975 - Dir: Franco Martinelli
I'll admit it, Violent Rome was the first Eurocrime film that I saw. It blew my socks off.
This was Maurizio Merli's first film as Commisarrio Betti and one of his finest performances. A group of armed robbers are tearing up Rome. A young, undercover cop is shot and paralyzed for life.
"What are the police for? They can't do anything."
Betti takes matters into his own hands and ends up murdering a hood in cold blood. Betti quits the police force and is quickly recruited into a secret vigilante society dedicated to clean up the streets.
The vigilantes bust up some criminals. A cop gets beat up. The vigilantes beat up some more criminals. The criminals rape the daughter of vigilante group's founder. It goes back and forth up to a violent end.
The shootouts and car chases are well choreographed. The supermarket takeover robbery turned hostage situation is well done, as is the bank robbery which leads to a high speed chase.
Another satisfying, if standard, Poliziotteschi.

3. Almost Human (Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare) - 1974 - Dir: Umberto Lenzi
This time around Henry Silva is the tough as nails, sick of the red tape cop and Tomas Milian is the enterprising, hothead, criminal, Saachi.
Almost Human is considered by many Eurocrime fans to be the genre's masterpiece. The film is masterfully shot and the score by Ennio Morriconne is perfect.
Sacchi is a loser, a small time, low ranking scumbag in the criminal underworld. Sacchi is despised by his own gang. He decides to strike out on his own and devises a kidnapping plan with a small group of associates.

The kidnapping and ransom plot goes smoothly at first. Sacchi and his crew are on their way to the easy life. The problem for Sacchi is that he is a megalomaniacal sociopath. On an intelligence scale of 1 to 10, Sacchi thinks he is an 11, but is probably closer to a 3.
While his plan appears to be working fine, Sacchi murders and rapes his way into trouble. The poor guy, just can't help himself. The plan begins to crumble. Sacchi gets more desperate, acts more rash. The plan continues to crumble. It is a fascinating film, Milian is in his element and he shines.
Henry Silva's Inspector Grandi is a solid Poliziotteschi cop. Pissed at the red tape (how many times can I use that expression in this list?) and willing to kick ass to save the kidnap victim.
Almost Human has an excellent script and story. The acting is fantastic. The pace is fast and the writing is good enough to sustain your attention during the slower scenes. The gunfights and car chases are fine.
A great film and probably the best known Poliziotteschi.
Check out this insanely cool U.S. trailer.

2. Caliber 9 (Milano Calibro 9) - 1972 - Dir: Fernando Di Leo
A complicated scheme has several mob operatives move £300,000 into the hands of their boss, Rocco. The problem is that when Rocco gets the cash, it has been replaced by phony money. Rocco murders all of the men to have touched the money along the way. All but one.
This is the first five minutes of Caliber 9.
Ugo Piazza, played by Gastone Moschin, has just been released from prison. He had his hands on Rocco's money back when the scheme went down. Ugo was arrested for a robbery shortly after and was spared Rocco's revenge. Now, Rocco is convinced Ugo has his money. The police are also convinced Ugo has hidden the money but really want Rocco's boss, The Americano, and they want Ugo to help them get him.
Did Ugo steal the cash? That is the set up for Caliber 9.

Moschin as Ugo is incredible. I did not recognise Moschin from any other film when I saw Caliber 9, and that is always a plus for me. He is in The Conformist and The Godfather II. Moschin is brutish looking. You would swear he was a big, oafy, dolt, but Ugo is sly and competent. Whether he knows where the money is or not, he's got a plan and knows he is one step ahead of Rocco and the Americano.
Ugo sort of reminds me of a more resourceful version of the butcher in Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone. He has the meaty physique and dull eyes of the butcher.
The unloveable, Frank Wolff is the police officer trying to get Ugo to help him set up The Americano. Wolff bounces off Luigi Pistilli's police officer role in terms of politics. Both sides of the "police red tape" are shown and argued. Both men deliver fine performances. Unfortunately, Frank Wolff committed suicide before the film was released.
Barbara Bouchet is stunning. Not only is she a fine actress, she delivers a dance sequence that is HOT.
The story has some great plot twists. The "police red tape" theme evolves into part of the story. The action is not as gory or hateful but hot and heavy, nonetheless. Caliber 9 really pours in a lot of film noirish powder to thicken the milkshake and it tastes just swell.
The music in the film also stands out.
I feel that Caliber 9 is a great film and a great way to dip your toes into the world of the Eurocrime film. It has a lot of the standard genre contraptions but is of a slightly higher caliber (pun intended, hee hee.)

1. Rabid Dogs (Cani arrabbiati) - 1974 - Dir: Mario Bava.
Rabid Dogs is not a standard Poliziotteschi by any means. The story does not revolve around cops and red tape. The film IS brutal, unpredictable, and tense.

I was blown away by this film. One of Mario Bava's last. Bava did not live to edit the film.
Three robbers take a woman hostage, soon they kidnap a man and his sick child. The characters are dumb, misogynistic, and brutal. The action takes place in real time and at times is cheesecake dense with tension.

The dude from Antropophagus, George Eastman, plays a character named 32 (think sexual and think metric system) and he is just scary. Like one of those out of control redneck dudes that you don't know if they will hug you or run you down with their truck. Unpredictable and dangerous dumb.

The leader of the criminals is called simply Dottore (Doctor.) He barely has a grip on his crew and while, evidently thought of as a braniac in the underworld (or by whoever hands out nicknames) he is a dimwit to the rest of the world. His true intelligence is that he knows this.

Bisturi (Blade) rounds out the crew. Disturbingly, attached to 32, Bisturi seems on the verge of a breakdown or violent ouburst at any given time. He's thinking something passionate and insane and we never really learn what is going on in his head. An excellent performance.
The man and woman who are held hostage are also excellent. I appreciated the casting of the female hostage. She is not a sexpot and a touch older, creating an interesting relationship with the criminals. She is not a bubbly, whining teen. She is a woman.
The man is quiet, intense, and his eyes are calculating. The writing stands up to the strengths of his character. There are no parts where you will be yelling at the screen for him to do something. It's not a slasher film. He will not be skinny dipping by himself at midnight. He will be thinking of a way to escape.
The film is tense and unrelenting. In the beginning the tension is pure and situational. But when the female hostage tries to escape, personal and sexual tension adds a couple of new layers to the troubled cake.
I normally hate third acts. But Rabid Dogs has a fantastic ending.
The DVD also has a commentary track which is excellent.
You can get it used for $4.89 from Amazon. Check it, before you wreck it. Seriously, don't read too much about the film. Just see it.

(Sorry about the writing in the letterbox section of the trailer.)

(here's the link for the upcoming documentary, previewed above. The pics in this article were stolen from a variety of sites.)

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