Category Archives: Italian Films

Street People (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by his nephew.

Salvatore (Ivo Garrani) is a crime boss residing in San Francisco who orders a specially made cross to be shipped from Italy to his church as a gift. Inside it is a stash of pure heroin, which leads to a crime hit and several deaths. Padre Frank (Ettore Manni), the priest at the church that was to receive the cross, thinks Salvatore was aware of the hidden heroin and used the cross as a ruse to get the drugs passed customs and thus he ex-communicates him from the church. Salvatore insists he had no knowledge of the heroin and hires his nephew Ulisse (Roger Moore), who is half Sicilian, to investigate and find out who the real culprit is. Ulisse asks his Grand Prix racing driver friend Charlie (Stacy Keach) to help him out, but the deeper into the case they go the more it leads them to believe that Salvatore was the mastermind behind it.

This unusual endeavor was produced by an Italian production company, but filmed in the U.S. with a British star and American actor and yet the supporting cast is made-up entirely of Italian performers straight from Italy. The Italians have their voices dubbed and share a high number of scenes only amongst themselves, while Moore and Keach speak in their regular voices and appear the majority of their screen time together. The result is a haphazard effect that cuts back and forth between what seems like two completely different movies spliced together. Casting Moore as someone who is ‘half-sicilian’ despite his very thick British accent, and pale skin, is one of the more ludicrous casting decisions ever made and the script, which Moore stated both he and Keach couldn’t make any sense out of even after watching the final print, goes all over the place and will be confusing to most.

The film does have some good points. Moore plays his part in a terse,no-nonsense style and I wished this was how he had approached the Bond role instead of the detached, humorous way that he did. Keach is highly engaging and watching the two trying to work a case despite having such opposite personalities is enjoyable, but there’s no explanation for how they ever met, or would even want to work together as they don’t get along. There needed to be at least one scene showing a genuine friendship in order to make their buddy relationship make sense instead of just the constant bickering.

The special effects are decent if not exceptional and for those just looking for some action and don’t mind a flimsy storyline then this should do. The scene where Keach takes a member of the mob’s car for a ‘little drive’ and then proceeds to recklessly smash it up before their very eyes is a delight. The car chase sequence gets riveting and the look of sheer panic in Moore’s eyes, as he was the passenger with Keach driving, makes it seem authentic and it’s nice to see people wearing seat belts, or at least putting them on once the ride gets dangerous, as that’s something you don’t always see in other movies. The foot chase that takes place over the rooftops of San Francisco’s business buildings is good too.

It’s unclear though what the film, which had six writers and two directors, was hoping to achieve. Maybe they just wanted to make a cheap, mindless action flick and for that you could say it’s a success, but there are some weird moments. The cross that gets shipped-in is unusual looking particularly the Jesus figure making me wonder if they were trying to go for something more like spoof, but either way it ultimately ends-up being an inept drama with few car smash-ups for diversion.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Maurizio Lucidi, Guglielmo Garroni

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Super Fuzz (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop acquires super powers.

Dave (Terence Hill) is a newly hired policeman sent to do tasks non of the other officers want to do, which is why he’s given the assignment to deliver a speeding ticket to a remote Native American village deep within the Florida Everglades. Once he arrives he finds the place evacuated due to a secret nuclear missile test being done that he wasn’t aware of. When the bomb goes off and he becomes exposed to the radiation he begins to have various super powers including: super human strength, speed, telekinesis, psychic ability, and even hypnotism. He puts these new found abilities to use during his police work even though his partner, longtime cop Bill Dunlop (Ernest Borgnine), is skeptical about it at first. While the powers come in handy in their efforts to thwart a local counterfeit ring Dave soon realizes that there’s one hitch; if he sees the color red, which was the same color as the plutonium explosion, his powers will temporarily cease.

This was the third and final attempt to make Hill, who’s quite legendary in Italy especially in films where he teamed with Bud Spencer, into an American star. The first two attempts that he did here, Mr. Billion, March or Diewere flops and this effort, which was aimed solely at the kiddie crowd, wasn’t much better and its dismal failure both critically and financially sent Hill back to Europe permanently. Many adults who grow up in the 80’s will remember seeing it on Pay-TV where it was in heavy rotation. I recollect catching bits and pieces of it on Showtime, but the only thing that stood out for me was its cheesy soundtrack that had a chorus singing: ‘Super, Super, Sup-eee-rrr’ every time Dave did one of his tricks.

The film’s biggest downfall are the special effects that amounts to a lot of tacky, fast-action photography that can be seen in a wide assortment of other mindless low budget fare and is nothing special. There’s also just not enough trickery, too much dim witted dialogue, and lame humor in a plot that evolves too slowly to hold the interest of either a child or adult.

Having Dave acquire all these powers after being exposed to nuclear energy instead of getting terminal cancer like anyone else would makes no sense. The story would’ve been helped somewhat by reeling-in the powers aspect and giving him only one special ability instead of allowing him to do virtually anything making him almost like superman. Entering in more limitations than just the color red would’ve, if done right, brought in some tension and creativity, which is otherwise lacking.

While it’s sad in some ways to see a legendary, Academy Award winning star like Borgnine in such mindless tripe he is the best thing in it as he provides much needed energy, which help contrast Hill’s overly laid-back demeanor. Watching the tubby guy dance on top of a giant balloon, or try to dance with Joanne Dru is funny as are his overreactions, which would be considered cartoonish in any other movie, but here only helps to lift it up from its simplistic foundation. It’s also a great chance to see Dru, her first movie appearance in 15 years and also her last, ham it up as the villainous of which she’s pretty good.

The ending though, where Hill is somehow able from a tiny piece of gum to form this gigantic bubble is where the thing, which wasn’t floating too well to begin with, really sinks. How can Dave’s super powers get a piece of gum to expand far more than it should and since bubbles from bubble gum are very flimsy and can easily pop why doesn’t this one end up doing the same? You can also clearly see the seam of the sewn fabric on the bubble, which an actual bubble would never have.

While the movie was notoriously ridiculed by the critics at the time of its release, some critics today have taken more of a softer stance. Maybe it’s because they remember growing up watching it on TV, but feelings of nostalgia doesn’t make it any less stupid. This isn’t even good for kids who I believe are more discerning than adults think and will right away recognize the dated quality, tacky effects and won’t be impressed. 

Alternate Title: Super Snooper

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Wanted: Babysitter (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A babysitter gets kidnapped.

Michelle (Maria Schneider) is an artist who works part-time as a babysitter and is roommates with Ann (Sydne Rome) who’s an aspiring actress. Ann is upset that her career isn’t taking-off as quickly as she’d like and her frustrations cause her to get involved with her co-star Stuart (Robert Vaughan) who schemes to kidnap the 8-year-old son, Boots (John Whittington), of a wealthy food mogul (Carl Mohner) and then hold him for ransom. He hires Ann to disguise herself as Michelle while taking on a babysitting assignment of looking after Boots. She enters the place wearing a wig that resembles Michelle’s hairstyle and then forces Boots to drink something that will put him to sleep. He is then taken to another location where Lotte (Nadja Tiller), who is also in on the plan, pretends to be the boy’s mother and hires Michelle to babysit. When Michelle arrives at the alternative address she’s completely unaware of what’s going on, but soon finds herself trapped by the criminals forcing her to work with the distrustful boy to find a way out.

This was the final film directed by Rene Clement who did many acclaimed movies throughout his long career, but towards the end focused on kidnapping stories that had an offbeat touch like The Deadly Trap and And Hope to Die. This one is similar to those as it features in elaborate scheme that gets presented in fragmented style requiring the viewer to piece it all together. For the most part it works particularly with Clement’s use of eccentric characters and moody atmosphere though it’s not a complete success.

Although just few years removed from having done Last Tango in Paris Schneider looks much more mature here and I liked seeing her in such a different setting even if Leonard Maltin, in his review, complained about her acting, which he described as ‘abysmal’.  I didn’t find her performance to be as bad and in a lot of ways it works particularly her expressive eyes that helps convey an innocent pleading look in an environment where she’s surrounded by otherwise sordid types. Maltin also criticized the casting of Renato Pozzetto, who gained fame in Italy as a stand-up comedian. I found his presence interesting as his pudgy body type went against the chiseled features that most men who play a love interest in a movie have and his unpolished thespian skills meshed with his confused and dim-witted character.

Vic Morrow scores as the short-fused kidnapper though he’s played this type of role a bit too often. Vaughan is okay as the sinister mastermind and the kid, whose only acting role this has been, is quite endearing. Yet out of everyone it’s Rome, an American born in Akron, Ohio who came to Italy in the late 60’s to break into showbiz and never left, that’s the standout. She’s probably better known for her modeling, singing, and early 80’s aerobic videos, but here she’s quite diverting as a desperate young thing ravaged with insecurities and whose wide-eyed, breathless delivery hits the bullseye.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is intriguing up to the scene where the ransom gets paid-out, but the wrap-up is unsatisfying. Michelle had gotten tricked into making it look like she was a part of the scheme, she really wasn’t, but to an outsider it would seem that she was, so the fact that she doesn’t get questioned by the police about it was confusing. Having her go back to her boyfriend’s art studio and then having him arrive with a locksmith while she’s inside wasn’t clear either. Was he going to change the locks on the door and trap her in there without knowing it? If so this should’ve been explicitly shown and not just eluded to.

Alternate Title: The Babysitter

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Director: Rene Clement

Studio: Cite Films

Available: DVD, Tubi

L’Immoralita (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child falls for killer.

Simona (Karin Trentephol) is a lonely 12-year-old who lives with her mother (Lisa Gastoni) and her wheel chair bound step father (Mel Ferrer) in a secluded home on the Italian countryside. One day while walking through the forest that’s near her place she comes upon an injured man named Federico (Howard Ross), who has been shot in the arm by the police for being a dangerous child killer at-large. While he was able to escape the ambush the authorities continue their search, so Simona offers him sanctuary in a small coach house behind her home. It is here that she grows fond of him,but Simona’s mother finds out who she’s been hiding and tries to entice him to kill her invalid husband. Simona,who’s relationship with her mother is already strained, becomes upset that she can’t have Federico all to herself and plots a revenge on both of them.

This film is notorious for its depiction of child nudity and simulated sex. Back in the 70’s Italian filmmakers were on the front lines of shock cinema in their effort to push-the-envelope and attract curiosity seekers looking to see how far the next controversial film would go. This one, while dull and generic story-wise, definitely goes to the extreme at the one hour mark, when a naked Simona jumps out of the tub and then lies on the floor begging for Federico, who’s in the bathroom with her, to ‘make a baby’. While an adult stand-in was then used for the simulated sex it’s still an explicit moment that will disturb most viewers and likely will never get a DVD/Blu-ray release here though in Italy it has.

If you take out the controversial moment, which wasn’t needed and could’ve been implied, the film is otherwise quite sterile. There were a few things I did like including the subtle yet haunting score by the incomparable Ennio Morricone and the film’s faded color. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or just the print of the DVD, but the off-color nicely reflects the immoral characters who seem normal initially, but quickly reveal their twisted natures underneath. Trentephol, whose only film appearance this is, is outstanding. I don’t know where the producers found her, or quite frankly how they got her paent’s permission to play such a difficult role, but she lends an amazing presence particularly her piercing blue eyes that clearly conveys her character’s inner disdain for those around her.

Gastoni, who was quite prolific in Italian films during the 50’s and 70’s, but then went on a sabbatical after doing this one and didn’t appear in another movie until 2005, is good too as an aging, jaded woman where nothing it seems is too vile to upset her. The conversations she has with her daughter are truly warped, but still something you might hear in a family that was as dysfunctional as this one. Even the aging Ferrer, who at one time was a budding star, but relegated to finding work in overseas productions when Hollywood quit calling, gets an intense moment where he angrily points a rifle to his chest and then challenges his wife, who he knows wants him dead, to pull the trigger.

The story’s weakest element is Federico. While we see him dig the grave of one of his victims at the start, we never witness him killing anyone, which hurts the tension as he’s not volatile and threatening enough. Instead he’s overly passive while being lead around by both Simona and her mother. Maybe that was the point, to show how women ultimately control men even the dangerous ones, but it’s not handled in a way that’s interesting. Everything gets played-out in a heavy-handed fashion including a climax that offers little punch.

Alternate Title: Cock Crows at Eleven

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Massimo Pirri

Studio: Una Cinecooperativa

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child could be killer.

Elise (Britt Ekland) marries wealthy author Paul (Hardy Kruger) and then after the nuptials comes into contact with his 12-year-old son Marcus (Mark Lester) still grieving over the death of his mother 6 months earlier. Elise had the understanding that the mother, who died from drowning in her bathtub, was accidental, but as she gets to know Marcus she suspects that he may have had something to do with it. She then speaks to his school’s headmaster (Harry Andrews) and learns that Marcus has been having disciplinary issues including that of torturing and killing animals. When Elise tells Paul of her suspicions he refuses to believe it, which pits her against both the father and boy.

While the story may have intriguing elements, though it does sound too much like The Bad Seed, the execution is poor. It starts out right away with Elise meeting Marcus, no backstory scenes showing how Elise met Paul are shown, and right away he acts weird and creepy. There’s no nuance or layers to the story, just one long ‘is he a killer, or not’ scenario that ends up being highly talky with no real thrills. The producers, apparently realizing the proceedings needed some spicing up, hired Andrea Bianchi to come in and add some sexually tinged moments including a scene where a nude Lester, sitting in a bath tub, begins fondling Britt’s breasts, who is sitting outside the tub fully clothed. If that wasn’t shocking enough there’s another scene later where she strips fully naked in front of him, but neither of these moments, as sleazy as they are, makes this otherwise tired and placid plot any more intriguing.

The film’s only real selling point is to see child star Lester playing against type. He shot to fame in the starring role in Oliver!, but all of his roles after that couldn’t capitalize on his talents and like with this one were weak and pedestrian that didn’t give him much to do. Watching him play an evil kid, instead of the angelic lad like we’re used to seeing, is interesting to some extent and he does it surprisingly well, but he’s not in it enough.

As for Britt she’s quite beautiful and the camera focuses on her lovingly, and the male viewers certainly won’t mind her nude scenes of which there are plenty, but her character is poorly fleshed-out. It’s hard to understand why she married Paul as he treats her in a callous way and clearly favors the kid over her, so why stay in a relationship if she’s just going to be the spare tire especially with a psycho kid that’s just going to put her life more and more in danger? Any sensible person would pack-up and leave and the fact that she chooses to stay in such a bad and uncomfortable situation makes her seem as nutty as the rest.

Things pick-up during the final 10-minutes which gets filled with a lot of wild imagery though some of this should’ve been sprinkled though out the film, which is too cardboard otherwise. The final twist is a bit of a surprise, but the whole thing could’ve been better paced. Everything hinges too much on the provocative overtones while the characters are one-dimensional and fail to resonate and thus causing the viewer to remain pretty much detached emotionally from everything that goes on and the twists that do occur fail to deliver any punch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: James Kelley, Andrea Bianchi

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex without knowing names.

Paul (Marlon Brando) is a middle-aged American man living in Paris who’s despondent over his wife Rosa’s recent suicide. Feeling alone and without direction he meets up with Jeanne (Maria Schneider),a much younger woman, while both are looking to rent the same apartment. Jeanne is dating Thomas (Jean-Pierre Leaud) a filmmaker who wants to film her life and make it into a movie, which Jeanne is not so keen about. Despite not knowing Paul’s name, as he wants their identities to remain a mystery, she gets into a torrid sex affair with him and finds Paul’s evasive manner to be both frustrating and intriguing. However, after he rapes her he disappears and Jeanne considers their relationship over, but Paul meets her on the street a few days later, but this time he tells her all about himself, but hearing the sad details of his lonely life makes him less appealing to her. She tries to get away from him, but Paul continues to pursue her, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

The film is probably better known for the controversy and scandal it caused upon its release than anything else. While some of its sexual aspects will seem somewhat tame by today’s standards back in 1972 it became a hotly contested commodity where the government in Italy openly banned the film and ordered all copies of it seized and destroyed while also revoking director Bernardo Bertolucci’s right to vote for 5 years. Residents of Spain, where the film was also banned, would travel hundreds of miles to the French border just so they could see the film that everyone was talking about. In the US the controversy was no different with conservative pundits labeling it ‘pornography disguised as art’. In Montclair, New Jersey residents tried to physically block movie goers from going in to see the film by forming a human chain in front of the theater and those that were able to break through got labeled as being ‘perverts’.

Today the most controversial aspect are Maria Schneider’s accusations that the infamous ‘butter scene’ where Brando rapes her anally while using butter as a lubricant was not planned nor scripted and the she was taken by complete surprise. In a 2013 interview Bertolucci admits that Maria did not know the details of the scene ahead of time and this was intentional in order to capture the genuine look of shock on her face. While Bertolucci says he does not regret doing the scene he still felt bad for Maria, who maintained up until her death in 2011, that she had been both ‘violated’ and ‘humiliated’ and never spoke to Bernardo afterwards.

As for the film itself it’s interesting on a technical end, I particularly enjoyed its fragmented/dream-like narrative, but it also comes-off as being a bit overrated. It was based on Bertolucci’s own sexual fantasies regarding his desire of picking-up a young, beautiful woman off the streets and having a passionate sexual affair with her without ever knowing her name, or having any responsibilities or obligations attached to it, which is certainly an intriguing idea for a script, but the way the two come together seemed just a bit too rushed and unrealistic. Brando, who never bothered to memorize his lines and ad-libbed most of it, seems to be playing himself as he displays the same moody, self loathing quality that he also conveyed in every interview I’ve seen him in making it less about creating a character and more just him showing his true nature. Schneider is the best thing about the movie, as is the scene where the two disrupt a tango dance contest, but ultimately the film leaves one with a dark, depressed, and dismal feeling after it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 2 Hour 10 Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, YouTube

Conversation Piece (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obnoxious tenants take over.

Burt Lancaster plays an aging Professor who lives alone in his giant palazzo situated in Rome along with the exquisite art pieces that he has collected through the years. His only connection with other people comes through the form of his servants headed by his live-in maid Erminia (Elvira Cortese), but even here his communications with them is distant and detached. Then one day a Countess (Silvana Mangano) arrives asking if she can rent his upstairs room, which he rarely uses. The Professor is initially reluctant, but the Countess is looking for a place to harbor her young, left-wing lover Konrad (Helmut Berger) from her right-wing husband as well as using it as a sanctuary for her teen daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani) to spend time with her boyfriend Stefano (Stefano Patrizi). After a great deal of insistence he finally agrees. The new tenants then immediately begin remolding the room using outside contractors, which creates a great deal of noise and distraction, causing the Professor to regret his decision and feel like his once peaceful abode has now been invaded.

The behind-the-scenes had more drama than anything you see in front of the camera as director Luchino Visconti had suffered a stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair and made it hard to find funding as backers believed he was in such bad shape that the film wouldn’t be completed only to have Lancaster assure them that he would take over directing should it become necessary. To help compensate everything was shot on a soundstage, which is the most impressive thing about it as the interiors were so meticulously created that it genuinely looks like an old lived-in mansion complete with a wide assortment of artifacts that you’d find in an home resided in by an elderly person. There’s even a hidden room and the major renovation by the tenants to the upstairs is visually intoxicating. Ultimately though it becomes static and having at least a few scenes done outdoors, or in a different locale, would’ve helped.

Lancaster is excellent and comes-off seeming quite old even though he was really only in his late 50’s. His facials expressions and body language are enough to carry it even as his voice gets dubbed into Italian, which is weird at first, but eventually you get used to it. Still I didn’t understand why since it was shot in English that the dubbing even was necessary as they could’ve used subtitles for Italian viewers while allowing the authentic voices of the actors to remain.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is the story, which essentially doesn’t lead to anything interesting. I sat through it convinced there was some subtle context beneath the surface that was sure to come out as I couldn’t believe these tenants could be as obnoxious as they were without intentionally doing it in order to drive the guy mad, so they could  take over the residence, steal his paintings, and resell them on the black market, at least that’s what I thought would be the twist, but instead there really isn’t any. Despite the way they annoy the Professor at every turn he still ends up appreciating their presence and calling them his ‘family’ while anyone else would’ve had them forcibly removed and the locks changed. No matter how lonely one might be dealing with these idiots and the massive upheaval that they brought including criminal elements and even sexual perversity would be considered NOT worth it to any rational person. The fact that the film acts like it is and goes as far as rehabilitating their image to that of ‘well meaning losers’ by the end made it corny and not worth the effort, as talky as it already is, to sit through.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated R

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Crazy Joe (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Bread and Chocolate (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has no home.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) has moved to Switzerland to work as a guest worker in that country since he’s unable to find employment that pays a living wage in his homeland of Italy. In order to provide for his family he works various odd jobs and then sends the money back home to his wife and kids who he has not seen in years. There are many other foreigners from other countries competing for the same jobs as Nino including a Turkish worker (Gianfranco Barra) who vies for the head waiter position at a fancy restaurant that Nino also wants, but even though the two don’t get along they’re still forced to room together in a cramped attic apartment. Nino’s only source of companionship comes in the form of a friendship that he has with Elena (Anna Karina) a Greek who lives across the street from him in an equally small loft. He moves in with her and her son when he gets kicked out of his other place, but because she’s also a guest worker striving to make ends meet she has no time for a relationship making Nino feel like an unwanted outsider no matter where he goes.

This critically acclaimed film really allows the viewer to get to know their characters and the desperation that they feel. Many viewers today may be unaware of the guest worker program that many European countries took part in during the 60’s and 70’s, so watching this will be an educational experience as well as a good character study. What I found most fascinating though was the issue of racism. Most people wouldn’t consider Switzerland to be a ‘racist’ country, so it’s interesting to see how this element can creep in anywhere and it doesn’t have to hinge on one’s skin color either as the Swiss end up picking on the Italians simply because they aren’t from there, poor and ‘stealing their jobs’, so are therefore in their minds deserving of being looked down upon, much like foreign workers in this country can sometimes feel.

The film also makes keen observations in regards to the rich versus poor and how having a lot of money can sometimes make one a weaker person less able to handle challenges. This comes to a head with Nino’s friendship with an Italian Industrialist (Johnny Dorelli) who despite living a lavish lifestyle commits suicide after losing a custody battle with his ex-wife even though Nino hasn’t seen his family for years and lives in near squalor, but because he’s toughened to the hard times he’s able to preserve and remain upbeat where the rich man couldn’t.

There’s many memorable moments, so many that it would be hard to list as the story and characters are so multi-layered the laughs and insights come in literally just about every frame. Many will consider Nino’s visit with some farm workers who out of desperation have moved into a chicken coop and start behaving like the chickens they tend, which is funny and unique, as the film’s highlight. However, my favorite part came when Nino decides, in an effort to move up in society, to pretend that he’s Swiss and even dyes his hair blond and begins speaking in a Swiss accent. Then while at a bar he watches a soccer match between Switzerland and Italy on the TV and even though he initially cheers for the Swiss team he can’t help but eventually shout out in excitement when Italy scores a goal, which just proves the old saying: You can take a person out of their homeland, but you can never take the homeland out of the person.

The film’s most redeeming quality though is showing the strong bond that forms between the guest workers. Even if they’re at first strangers and from different countries they immediately offer support and friendship to Nino no matter where he goes simply because they are going through the same hardships as he, which becomes a wonderful testament to the hearty human spirit.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Director: Franco Brusati

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)