Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection (1972 - 76)
By: Stuart Giesel on August 28, 2013 | Comments
RaroVideo | Region Free | 1.85:1, 1080p | Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 | minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Starring: Mario Adorf, Jack Palance, Henry Silva, Barbara Bouchet, Gastone Moschin
Screenplay: Fernando Di Leo
Country: Italy
Italian filmmaker Fernando Di Leo specialised in gritty, lurid crime stories about hard-nosed (and really hard-faced) Italian mob bosses and goons. This set by RaroVideo, the first volume of (at the time of writing) two collections, presents a wonderful assortment of Di Leo's crime sagas that deliver more than enough grotesque thugs, macho bullshit, bright red blood and not-so-subtle digs at Italian politics than you could ever want. This volume presents the three films in Di Leo's "Milieu Trilogy" - Caliber 9 ("Milano Calibro 9"), The Italian Connection ("La Mala Ordina") and The Boss ("Il Boss"), three films linked thematically rather than by plot - along with Rulers of the City ("I Padroni della Citta").

Caliber 9 is probably the strongest of the four films in this collection, if only because of the story and acting. Ugo (Gastone Moschin) has just been released from prison for a three-year stint and is harassed by the goons working for mob boss "The Americano" (Lionel Strander) as to the whereabouts of the missing $300,000 from a botched drug money exchange. Heading this band of toughs is Rocco (Mario Adorf), a smarmy git with a unibrow and the gift of the gab. Rocco trails and harasses Ugo for the money, when all Ugo wants to do is reconnect with his old girlfriend Nelly (the stunning Barbara Bouchet), get out of the business and avoid additional jail time that may result from the probing investigations conducted by the police commissioner (Frank Wolff) and detective Mercuri (Luigi Pistilli).

Much of Caliber 9 revolves around questions of who stole the money, and although there are only a few viable explanations, Di Leo (based on a novel by author Giorgio Scerbanenco) manages to wring some tension and genuine shocks out of the material. But it's not really about the plot. In Di Leo's capable hands, he crafts a thrilling film about less-than-altruistic human beings who mostly don't look like what we've come to expect from cinematic gangsters - these wise guys are mostly a balding, earthy, misshapen lot. If there's one main criticism, other than the tendency for the scenes involving the inspectors to wander drastically off-course into a commentary on the state of Italian politics, it's that the stunning, exciting opening sets such a high bar that the rest of the film can't hope to match it. Yes, Caliber 9 starts off with the botched money exchange in such a dazzling way, complete with shocking violence and brilliant editing, that it can never hope to recover - it has essentially shot its wad prematurely.

Still, if you like your crime stories featuring hirsute foreign gentlemen then you've come to the right place. Rocco, the hired goon with the biggest unibrow you've ever seen, is the absolute highlight, with Adorf playing him as both a preening buffoon and capable enforcer at the same time. Like Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, you don't know when Rocco will suddenly erupt into violence, yet he's still a charming and strangely likeable fellow. The film is not without humour too; there's a wonderful bit at a hotel where a hired goon stays to babysit the reception clerk and helps him with his crossword puzzles. Moschin, apparently better known at the time from his comedic work, is a capable lead, never overplaying the role and able to reflect Ugo's increasing paranoia with merely a sideways glance. Whilst the gunfights could have done with more squibwork - there are too many moments where guys get shot and react but there are no impact shots - these scenes are well choreographed and exciting. Top this off with some solid cinematography and a cool score by Luis Enriquez Bacalov and you have a superior crime thriller about a bunch of slimy reprobates.

The Italian Connection sees two American hitmen, Frank (Woody Strode) and Dave (the legendary Henry Silva), come to Rome to off sleazy pimp Luca (Mario Adorf, again) because of a heroin shipment that has gone missing. Luca proves to be a tougher quarry than the hitmen - or anyone else for that matter - realise, and soon Luca is smashing his way through Rome looking for who set him up. The story of The Italian Connection isn't nearly as compelling as that of Caliber 9, but when Luca's anger is truly unleashed things start getting absolutely mental and suddenly story doesn't matter all that much. Up until then, there are enough punch-outs, gunfights and tough guy swagger to satisfy. But from the moment we're launched into a sharply edited and exciting car chase - where Luca headbutts his way through a windshield to get to his quarry! - there's no slowing down for The Italian Connection. There's violence, a fair amount of pointless nudity, granite-faced goons with greasy haircuts and sleazy moustaches - what more could you want?

Mario Adorf is, as in Caliber 9, easily the standout performer. Underestimated by everyone, to their detriment, Adorf really comes into his own as an action star, doing some crazy Jackie Chan shit at one stage - by the looks of it he did much of his own stuntwork, and it really sells those scenes. Strode and Silva have less to do, but their presence is always felt throughout the film. Propelling the story along, with the often dynamic camerawork, is Bacalov's funky and energetic score. There are some nice touches amongst all the madness - for one, Luca comes across a kitten in a car yard, and the poor, misguided creature winds up shadowing him, even when a gunfight erupts. The Italian Connection is another winner from Di Leo, more uneven than Caliber 9, but no less fun.

As with Caliber 9, Di Leo opens The Boss with a staggering scene of violence: here, a cinema full of mob bosses is obliterated by Henry Silva (playing mob enforcer Lanzetta) wielding a grenade launcher! Caliber 9 struggled to live up to the promise of its fantastic opening scene, but through a combination of deft camerawork, lively performances and some nice twists and turns it at least delivered the goods. Unfortunately, The Boss seems incapable of reaching the same giddy heights delivered by its deliriously violent opening scene.

The plot is a murky mess of relentlessly talky scenes involving gangster families fighting it out for control after the cinema massacre, interspersed with more talky scenes involving various enforcers and a bunch of cops. There's a lurid subplot involving the kidnapping of a Don's daughter by the name of Rina (Antonia Santilli) who turns out to be a nympho and has no qualms about bedding any guy she comes across, even when it's her own kidnappers! Ultimately, like much of The Boss, this subplot doesn't really go anywhere, and we're left with only a few scenes of genuine thrills, and bloody, satisfying revenge. The actors do what they can with the material - Silva is always watchable, and Santilli is extremely beautiful to watch, when she's not being slapped around by her kidnappers or Lanzetta himself that is.

Ultimately it feels like Di Leo's going through the motions with this one, trusting in a convoluted script to maintain interest. What might have been compelling in another film - after all, the intricacies of mob politics has worked in those little-seen Godfather films - doesn't really make for fascinating viewing here. There are no characters, including Silva's Lanzetta, you feel like rooting for. To add insult to injury, The Boss ends abruptly with a "to be continued..." promise which, as far as I can tell, Di Leo never fulfilled. Though it's definitely the weakest film in this set, it still has enough violence, double-crosses and nudity to keep the attention, it's just a shame that the film feels so inert compared with Di Leo's other films in this Blu-Ray release.

The final film in the set is Rulers of the City (aka Mister Scarface), probably the most straightforward film narratively-speaking. Tony (Harry Baer) is responsible for collecting small-time protection money for his boss Luigi (Edmund Purdom) but winds up over his head when he dares to collect a sizeable amount of money from rival boss "Scarface" Manzini (Jack Palance) through duplicitous means. Scarface is furious and seek revenge, not only on Tony himself but on Luigi's gang, and unfortunately there are elements within the gang - notably Beppi (Enzo Pulcrano) - who are more than happy to sell Tony out. Fortunately for Tony, he hooks up with his camp, ageing thief friend Vinchenzo Napoli (Vittorio Caprioli) and one of Scarface's old gang members Ric (Al Cliver) to turn the tables on Scarface's gang.

Rulers of the City is probably the most outright fun movie in the collection. We're not bogged down with gang politics or scenes of cops talking about the state of Italian crime and politics. The film mostly centres around Tony's plan to take down Scarface and his mob, with Ric playing the stoic marksman and Napoli providing the comedic relief. Caprioli seems to get more outrageously camp as the film goes on, but combined with Baer's likeable hero and Cliver's no-nonsense sidekick the trio prove to be a great cinematic team. Jack Palance lends weight to every scene he's in, including the extremely strange opening scene which appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the film and is filmed in an almost dream-like state.

There is plenty of action, with Tony zipping around Rome in his red buggy, bedding women and getting into trouble, only stopping to engage in some ropey fight scenes with various goons. The stakes get more serious later on, and there are the prerequisite gunfights, chases and explosions to entertain. Probably the highlight of Rulers of the City is Tony's clever plan to trick Scarface out of the money - I thought for a while that the film might have involved more of these sorts of scams, but the film quickly retreats to predictable territory after that. Still, the film ends with a wallop, featuring some good stunts and a few, admittedly eye-rolling, chuckles provided by Napoli and a dodgy gun.

If you're a fan of crime films and don't mind a bit of European sensibility, you owe it to yourself to check out Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection. Caliber 9 is an extremely solid and compelling film, The Italian Connection starts off slow but ends up being enormously entertaining and Rulers of the City is simply flat-out fun. Only The Boss is a bit of a letdown, but it's still got some great moments.
The Disc
Presentation of these mid-70's films is superior. The sets are often sparsely decorated, but nonetheless detail and colour is impressive. There are a few single frames in The Italian Connection that pop up with weird horizontal bands, but they could have been errors with the original print. On the whole, however, it's hard to imagine we'll ever see better presentations of these four cult films. For the most part the video is clean, vibrant and look a treat. Sound is heavy on the (mostly dubbed in post) Italian dialogue, though meaty sound effects provide enough thrills. However you'll probably get sick of the obvious "clack-clack" footsteps. The Italian soundtracks are definitely the way to go for most, and for the most part the (removable) English subtitles are good - towards the end of The Italian Connection the subtitles got a little out of whack, but it's tolerable. Still, if you absolutely detest subtitles then you'll find the English dubbed versions adequate. Bacalov's scores are a highlight and come through in dynamic style.

The Blu-Ray set comes with a booklet containing an interview with Di Leo. All four discs come with a photo gallery of the film in question (Caliber 9's photo gallery also has a commentary by lead actor Gastone Moschin) as well as a director biography and director filmography, and there are specific featurettes on each disc.

Caliber 9 comes with three documentaries: "Calibro 9", which is a dissection of the film itself; "La Morale del Genere" ("The Genesis of the Genre"), a documentary on Fernando Di Leo's start in the industry, his work in Spaghetti Westerns and his move to Italian noir; "Scerbanenco Noir", covering some of author Giorgio Scerbanenco's crime novels. These documentaries contain a lot of discussions with Di Leo and his various collaborators; the feature on Scerbanenco proves to be a lot less interesting, however.

"Alle Origini della Mala" ("The Roots of the Mafia") is The Italian Connection's featurette, "Storie di mafia" ("Stories about the Mafia") is found on The Boss disc, and "Citta Violenta" ("Violent City") is Rulers of the City's documentary. My only criticism here is that there is probably too much rehashed footage from the films themselves - certainly that is the case with The Italian Connection's featurette - but they're all worth a watch, and there are some interesting anecdotes. However, spoilers abound in all of these documentaries, so make sure you watch them after you see the films in question.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
You can see why Quentin Tarantino is such a fan of Di Leo's crime films: twisty plots, tough guy dialogue, lots of double-crosses, unnecessary nudity, sudden acts of violence, ugly henchmen and gorgeous women. Certainly, the four films in Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection are products of their era. Some may find them dull and aimless, others will no doubt recoil at the treatment of women. But everyone else should find much to appreciate in Di Leo's straightforward delivery of tough-guy swagger, bruised faces, bad haircuts and moustaches, lurid sets, exaggerated delivery of dialogue and unpredictable moments of brutality.
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