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August 11, 2011

Almost Human

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Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare
Umberto Lenzi - 1974
Shameless Entertainment Region 0 DVD

Shame on me. I had no idea over five years ago that s second DVD version of a film I wrote about would come my way. Back when this blog was barely a crawling infant, a still new DVD label called NoShame had me on their screeners list. Almost Human was one of the first films I wrote about, along with another police thriller. I no longer have that DVD to compare with the new version from Shameless, but again, since NoShame has sadly gone belly up, this film is again available. Shameless even has included the Thomas Milian interview that was included in the NoShame DVD.

Umberto Lenzi grabs your attention with three bank robbers donning grotesque masks prior to a robbery. The wheel man, edgy and impatient, loses his cool when a street cop approaches about a possible parking violation. The cop is shot point blank, and the wheel man and the bank robbers embark on a high speed chase through Milan. Eluding the cops, it turns out that that the guy behind the steering wheel is a small time hood who gets beaten by the mob for his incompetence in blowing the bank job. The driver, Giulio Sacchi, has a big mouth, big dreams, and a plan to make a big score.

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Almost Human is described by some writers as being part of the poliziotteschi genre, Italian films about policemen largely inspired by Don Siegel's Dirty Harry. That classification doesn't quite fit here as the main character is the small time hood, Sacchi. The character, as played by Thomas Milian, fueled largely by drugs and alcohol, made me think of an even more manic and dangerous version of the character Johnny Boy, played by Robert De Niro in Mean Streets. Did Lenzi or screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi see that film, perhaps at Cannes in 1974? Another possible influence might be the classic High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart as "Mad Dog" Earle. Certainly, Lenzi has stated his admiration for Raoul Walsh, One can see both some similarities in story elements, a robbery gone wrong, and a car chase, but mostly Sacchi is like Earle in cruelty towards his own gang members, but without Earle's humanity that almost redeems him.

Sacchi and his two lunkhead companions kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Along the way, others are killed, including Giulio's too trusting girlfriend. In pursuit is Walter Grandi, a no nonsense detective who puts the pieces together. As played by Henry Silva, in one of his rare good guy roles, Grandi is a cop you should be afraid of. Ultimately, it is Sacchi, in his megalomania, who undoes himself. This is a very unadorned film with no time for lyricism. Ennio Morricone's propulsive music is much the same way (turn up the bass), charging forward. And if you still need another reason to add this film to your collection, the first 1000 copies of the Shameless DVD have this special lenticular cover art.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 11, 2011 08:51 AM