Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thriller
(Enrico Maria Salerno, Sal Borgese, Brigitte Skay, Martine Brochard, Gianfranco De Grassi, et al / 3-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / Arrow Films - MVD Visual)
Overview: The 1970s were a time of intense uncertainty and instability in Italy. Political corruption and widespread acts of left and right-wing terrorism, alongside a breakdown in social cohesion and a loss of trust in public institutions such as the government and police, created a febrile atmosphere of cynicism, paranoia and unexploded rage.
Throughout this period, these sentiments found expression in a series of brutal, often morally ambiguous crime thrillers which tapped into the atmosphere of violence and instability that defined the so-called Years of Lead.
This box set gathers five films from the heyday of the poliziotteschi, the umbrella term used to describe this diverse body of films. In Vittorio Salernos Savage Three (1975) and Mario Imperolis Like Rabid Dogs (1976), random acts of violence committed by vicious young sociopaths threaten the fragile fabric of respectable society.
In Massimo Dallamanos Colt 38 Special Squad (1976) and Stelvio Massis Highway Racer (1977), renegade cops battling against red tape and political corruption turn to new and morally dubious methods to dispense justice.
Finally, class dynamics are explored in Salernos No, the Case is Happily Resolved (1973) as an innocent man finds himself under suspicion for a savage crime committed by a highly respected member of society.
Blu-ray Verdict: Described by critics for their supposedly fascistic overtones, the poliziotteschi were in fact more ideologically varied and often considerably more nuanced than such superficial readings would suggest, and proved a huge hit with theatergoers, who responded to their articulation of present-day social concerns.
Featuring an impressive line-up of Euro-cult stars, including Joe Dallesandro (The Climber), Ivan Rassimov (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key), Maurizio Merli (Violent City) and Enrico Maria Salerno (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), this collection of stylish, hard-hitting Euro-crime thrillers showcases the range and breadth of the genre and is a must-have for newcomers and grizzled veterans alike.
It opens on Savage Three (1975), who are three young men, fresh into the world, who work together at a computer analysis company. All three appear to be calm, level-headed, well-educated young men with the world at their fingertips.
They are best friends, working together by day and playfully carousing at night. Dominated by the Ovidio, played by the handsome Joe Dallesandro, the three young men soon evolve from well-mannered professionals to violent criminals.
Simply put, this is a really demented film, but incredibly well-made and original! The social commentary also really works in this film for the three young men seem to be killing random people for no reason; although they most certainly have a motive, of course.
Savage Three describes a situation that rarely happens in real life, but anything is possible right? There is plenty of violence and gore here, but there seems to be a good excuse for all this mayhem to take place.
The upbeat, progressive hard rock score by Franco Campanino (The Climber) is a winner also, but in truth I am not sure if Savage Three can be categorized as a standard Italian crime film as it avoids the expected bank robberies and car-chases!
But it will definitely appeal to fans of the genre, especially to the ones with a taste for real sleaze. A really special obscurity that deserves wider recognition.
Then we get Like Rabid Dogs (1976) where Tony is the young member of an upper class Roman family. He lives a hectic double life, and under the guise of good student, he likes to persecute and kill prostitutes in the company of a couple of friends!
Here we float into the sub-genre of Rich Kids Thrill Kill films where three kids, who all belong to rich families, have taken to robbing places and killing people for kicks; starting off with a robbery at a football stadium where a cop takes a gunshot to the face. Shortly afterwards, his pregnant wife takes a very realistic dive out of a window.
This does not go down well with Inspector Muzi, a downtrodden police officer who thinks he knows whose behind the killings - a young, rich, thin, sporty, arrogant, high-cheek boned, self-confident jerk by the name of Tony, son of a rich businessman and probably heavily influenced by his fathers ruthless approach to life.
Other than being a part-time armed robber, he also likes to kill women, and so does his girlfriend Sylvia, and her other boyfriend, as the three of them share everything. In fact, as we will find out, Sylvia shares everything with everyone and spends a lot of this film starkers!
Muzi cannot find any real proof that Tony is behind the killings, but when Tony takes to killing his fathers favorite prostitutes, Muzi gets a brain damaged idea to have his female associate go undercover as a hooker that almost gets her raped, which she recovers from fairly quickly in time to get it on with Muzi.
There is not much plot in this one but there sure is a lot of violence and nudity, somehow seemingly justified by Tony and Muzi having discussions about the political climate of mid-seventies Italy and how Tony things they are similar in nature.
As these murderous rich kid theme goes, at least this one attempts to give us some background on the kids and show things from their end, as they discuss their hate for everything and their wish to live in a world devoid of other people. Plus, one of them blacks up as Othello. Ah, the seventies!
The gore level is higher than usual too as people are blasted with shotguns, hit in the face with spiked planks or shot through the head. What was going through the heads of people in Italy to produce so many of these nihilistic films?
s a film which exemplifies the best of a genre that is still hidden from most film fans today, who are missing out on the delights of Maurizio Merli and his contemporaries beating the hell out of criminal scum.
Although this film does not boast any roles for big Hollywood names or familiar genre fans, it proves to be distinctly above average. That is because it tells a complex, action-packed story at speed, never slowing down for a second.
There are robberies, kidnappings, assassinations, terrorism and even a bombing campaign, all delivered in a typically gutsy, as-it-is kind of way, free of sentimentality, the focus on the realism.
Massimo Dallamanos camera never sits still for a second in depicting a kinetic struggle between criminals and the police.
The essential story involves Marcel Bozzuffi (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) playing a tough Inspector with a personal vendetta against a criminal gang.
He sets up a special squad, all armed with powerful handguns and motorbikes, to track down and take out the criminals, but of course it does not go according to plan.
Although the way, the haunted Carole Andre gets caught between cops and bad guys, and Ivan Rassimov once again tackles the role of criminal mastermind.
It goes without saying that the various action bits (shoot-outs, car chases, you name it) are second to none and miles ahead of most of what Hollywood churns out today.
Another stand out film in this brilliant collection is Highway Racer (1977) where a hot-shot police driver has more guts than brains, often landing him in hot water with his middle-aged mentor, who was once a legendary police interceptor responsible for numerous large scale arrests.
The majority of the plot revolves around the obsessive manhunt by Merlis ageing superior (a legendary iconoclast himself in the old days) for a notorious criminal/ace driver emanating from Nice.
After some initial aggravation between Merli and the Chief (the hero even causes the death of his perennially scared-shitless partner when their inadequately-empowered police car overturns during a chase), the old man is quick to realize that if he is to fight Il Nizzardo tooth and nail, Merlis the one to do it!
Cue the young cops intensive training to maneuver the revved-up engine on the road and other even more treacherous terrain. Merlis also given an obligatory romance, supplied by lovely Euro-Cult starlet Lilli Carati, but her part is so underwritten as to be almost an afterthought!
Incidentally, the hero eventually made to infiltrate the villains gang, but he is unwittingly exposed by the girl herself prior to their next hit.
By now, Merlis so intent on testing his acquired skills with those of the criminal that he even lets the latter go when cornered instead of arresting him - only for the two to meet up for a duel-to-the-death with their cars in a canyon!
Lastly we get No, the Case is Happily Resolved (1973) where when the eyewitness to a brutal murder decides not to testify, the actual murderer chooses to finger him as the murderer and claim eyewitness status for himself.
While fishing at a quiet lake, a blameless civil servant happens to witness a murder. Although he and the killer suddenly stand in front of each other, the witness (Signore Santamaria) manages to escape.
At home, however, he decides not to call police, assuming that he will not be bothered by the incident any further. The murderer, on the other hand, plays his only card: He goes to police, claiming that he is in fact the witness and the Santamaria the killer.
Following the honorable professors description, police go on a hunt, forcing the real witness to destroy all evidence. As journalists write about the witness, Santamaria confronts the killer, only to learn that the truth has been turned around: The professor tells him to keep his mouth shut, otherwise he, Santamaria, will be the one to end up in jail.
Still, after speaking to a priest, the witness finally confesses to police, only to be arrested and sentenced to 24 years of prison. In a manner that sometimes looks a bit humorist, this rarely seen picture portrays the witnesses fear of being confronted with any trouble.
In his attempt to live on with his unvaried life, he wants to avoid uneasiness at any cost. The killer is shown as a cold blooded intellectual capable of deceiving everyone of his false innocence.
From a psychological point of view, the characters are to one-dimensional, and the build-up of the story leaves many (plot) holes to be filled.
Then again, it is a quite an entertaining film. Although the political message is no very strongly displayed, this one still has the special aura Italian political films used to have back in that era. These are all Widescreen Presentations (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all five films, restored from the original camera negatives, including a brand new 2K restoration of Colt 38 Special Squad exclusive to this release
Original lossless mono Italian audio
Original lossless mono English audio on Colt 38 Special Squad
English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack on Colt 38 Special Squad
New visual essay by critic Will Webb
Interview with director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard on Savage Three
Interview with actor Joe Dallesandro on Savage Three
Interview with cinematographer Romano Albani and historian Fabio Melelli on Like Rabid Dogs
Interview with assistant director Claudio Bernabei on Like Rabid Dogs
Like Rabid Dogs music sampler
Interview and introduction by composer Stelvio Cipriani on Colt 38 Special Squad
Interview with editor Antonio Siciliano on Colt 38 Special Squad
Interview with historian Roberto Curti on Highway Racer
Interview with director Vittorio Salerno on No, the Case is Happily Resolved
No, the Case is Happily Resolved alternate ending
Reversible sleeves featuring original artwork
Booklet featuring new writing by Troy Howarth, Michael Mackenzie, Rachael Nisbet, Kat Ellinger and James Oliver