Tag Archives: Ennio Morricone

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Burglars (1971)

burglars 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Corrupt cop hounds thief.

Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his cohorts pull off a daring heist by robbing a gem collector of his emeralds in his home by using a state-of-the-art machine that is able to create a key to the safe on the spot by simply entering in the safe’s serial number. However, things go awry when Abel (Omar Sharif), a corrupt police captain, becomes suspicious of their activity after seeing the gang’s car parked on the road. Initially he lets them off, but only so he can follow them later and then blackmail them for the jewels, or threaten them with prison otherwise.

The film, which is based on the novel by David Goodis and made 14 years earlier as The Burglar, which starred Jayne Mansfield, has all the trappings for being a classic heist film. I enjoyed watching the intricate way they are finally able to crack open the safe, which takes up much of the first half-hour. I also liked the creative action, stunt work, story twists, luscious Greek scenery and musical score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Unfortunately none of this is able to overcome a rather plodding pace and a lingering feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

The film’s biggest claim-to-fame is its two chase sequences. The first is similar to the one done in The Italian Job as two small compact cars drive all over Athens, including on sidewalks, stairwells, and through crowds of people, which is exciting to watch. However, the fact that no one gets injured and no other automobiles are damaged even as the cars drive straight into on-coming traffic is hard to imagine. The camera also cuts to a close-up shot of the lead car driving on its rim, but somehow the vehicle is still able to continue to go several more miles on rough surfaces and high speeds, but why have a shot like that inserted if it ultimately doesn’t mean anything?

The second chase works better, which involves Belmondo hanging onto the side of a bus as it travels speedily down a crowded city street while he tries to kick shut the door of a police car that is following, which is quite realistic looking especially since it appears to be Belmondo himself and not a stunt double doing it. This one culminates with Belmondo being tossed from a dump truck and down a steep hill while other large rocks roll with him, which again is impressive, but the fact that he doesn’t even receive a scratch from it is hard to believe.

Sharif is outstanding in a rare turn as a bad guy. He commands every scene that he is in and in the process makes co-star Belmondo seem forgettable and unable to equal the same strong presence. Dyan Cannon, who is the only American in the cast, gets a pointless part as a pin-up magazine model that catches Belmondo’s eye. Her character doesn’t appear until an hour in and is not all that integral to the plot. Her voice is also clearly dubbed in the French version, which makes her acting here limited and probably not worth signing up for to begin with.

The climactic finish that entails a man being drowned inside a grain elevator is novel as is the final moment inside a giant, mobile chicken coop with thousands of loud, clucking chickens, but overall the film fails to illicit much tension and would’ve been better had the runtime been trimmed and the scenes shortened.

burglars 2

Alternate Title: Le Casse

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Henri Verneuil

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R