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November 12, 2005

A Fistful of Poliziotteschi

Emergency Squad/Squadra Volante
Stelvio Massi - 1974
NoShame Region 1 DVD

The Last Round/Il Conte e Chiuso
Stelvio Massi - 1976
NoShame Region 1 DVD

A Man Called Magnum/Napoli Si Ribella
Michele Massimo Tarantini- 1977
NoShame Region 0 DVD

About a day before I left Miami Beach to avoid Hurricane Wilma, this latest shipment from NoShame arrived. While I had electricity to see the DVDs, my internet connection has still been inconsistent. I wasn't sure it I would be able to post reviews before the release of these titles this Tuesday.

Until I saw these films, I was not familiar with either Stelvio Massi or Michele Tarantini. These two filmmakers actually crossed paths professionally with The Case of the Bloody Iris, with Tarantini serving as the assistant director, and Massi as cinematographer. Tarantini even credits Iris director Giuliano Carnimeo with elevating him to the director's chair. Otherwise, Massi's best known credits would be as camera operator for A Fistful of Dollars, as well as cinematographer on a couple of Django and Sartana spaghetti westerns. The only familiar title on Tarantini's filmography for me was Sergio Martino's Torso.

Emergency Squad features Tomas Milian as a grubby, independent detective who goes after the gangster who killed his wife five years earlier. The gang has just committed a payroll heist, and one of the bullets is identified as being from the same gun as was used on Milian's wife. The gangster, known as Marseilles, obviously feels more attached to his firearms than to the rest of his gang who he kills off as part of his plan. An even less believable plot point has Milian shooting at the gang from a helicopter chasing their car at high speed. The DVD features an interview with Massi that was conducted just prior to his death. His wife is heard off-screen sometimes filling in where Massi's memory fails him. The interview with Milian, who began his career studying under Lee Strasberg, reveals an actor who often felt superior to the films he starred in, and often was.

Even the liner notes with The Last Round DVD fully admit that the basic story is a variation of Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars. What I didn't know was that the skinny guy who's the hero of the film, Carlos Monzon, was a World Middleweight boxing champion in the 70s. The other casting twist is to have Luc Merenda, usually cast as the hero, play the charismatic crime boss of one of the two rival families. Monzon's real life mistress, actress Susana Gimenez plays a stipper with an unusual, interactive performance. The film is enhanced by Luis Bacalov's score which uses pan flutes and harps. The DVD features Luc Merenda showing off some of the items in his antique store. Retired from acting since 1992, the 63 year old Merenda seems both pleased and bewildered by the renewed interest in films he made thirty years ago. The DVD also includes a CD titled The Eclectic Ultimate Cinedelic Experience (Funky Cops and Hard Boiled Girls) performed by a group called Entropia. With snippets of dialogue from the films, this is something for the hard core fans to enjoy.

Merenda is seen to better effect in A Man Called Magnum. According to the DVD notes, director Michele Tarantini had an uneven career. Be that as it may, Tarantini certainly put his creative energies to full use in this film. Visually, Tarantini alternates between low angle shots, extreme close ups, and shots from the level of a child, kind of like a mash up of Ozu, Leone and Truffaut. Merenda plays the no-nonsense Milanese cop sent to Naples to bust the mob. The short, balding Enzo Cannavale provides comic relief as Merenda's Neopolitan partner. The gorgeous Sonia Viviano is also featured. While Merenda and Cannavale are after the mob, the mob boss wants to know who stole the latest shipment of dope. The action is punctuated with several chase scenes including one in a greenhouse, as well as a couple of well done car chase scenes with stunts one never thought one would see performed with humble Fiat sedans. The DVD looks great, and with an Italian language track in 5.1 Dolby probably sounds better than the film did in its initial release. Also worth mentioning is a subtitled commentary track by Tarantini. While Tarantini doesn't have much to say about A Man Called Magnum, he is interesting to listen to in discussing the history of his own career as well as discussing other little-known or forgotten Italian directors. One interesting bit of news is that he mentions being the cousin of Sergio and Luciano Martino. As the old joke goes, sometimes the family that plays together, slays together.

Posted by peter at November 12, 2005 05:53 PM