Case Number 23528

FERNANDO DI LEO CRIME COLLECTION (BLU-RAY)

Caliber 9
Raro Video // 1972 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
The Italian Connection
Raro Video // 1972 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
The Boss
Raro Video // 1973 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Rulers Of The City
Raro Video // 1976 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // March 19th, 2012

The Charge

Felons, Italian style.

Opening Statement

As with most radical changes in a medium, we love to blame the influence of foreign artists. When the western went spaghetti, it was the Italians. When drama turned from Hollywood sparkle to haunting neo-realism, the Italians were cited once again. From splatter-filled horror schlock to a more menacing and operatic mafia, the filmmakers from a specific European front were, as usual, parties to the proto-process. So it's no surprise that the super cop/brutal police thriller of the '70s and '80s (with holdover sway in the '90s and '00s) was heavily influenced and reformed by rebels from Rome and the surrounding regions. One of the most important was Fernando Di Leo whose pro-criminal poliziotteschi efforts from the era have since become the blueprint for all manner of rape and robbery. Getting his start with Sergio Leone, he transformed the violent underworld subgenre into a lightning rod of shock and sadism. Proof can be found in the recently released box set from Raro Video. Even in newly minted HD prints, the grit and sleaze of these amazing movies come across loud and clear.

Facts of the Case

Containing all three films in the Milieu Trilogy (as well as Rulers of the City, which has almost no connection to same), the early '70s efforts from Di Leo mark his most important work. In each one of these plots, you will see how the storylines (almost always centering on the infighting between crime families) became the road map for a myriad of exploitation and mainstream moviemaking, beginning with:

Caliber 9 (1972)
Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin, The Godfather: Part II) has just been released from prison. He wants to go straight and avoid any more association with former friend Rocco (Mario Adorf, The Tin Drum). Of course, he is immediately confronted by the cad, since he is convinced that Ugo has stashed $300,000 earmarked for a foreign crime boss known as The Americano (Lionel Stander, 1941). With his girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet, Don't Torture a Duckling) in tow, our ex-con tries to stand clear of the elements on both sides of the law.

The Italian Connection (aka Manhunt) (1972)
Two hitmen (Henry Silva, Cinderfella and Woody Strode, Once Upon a Time in the West) come to Milan looking for small time pimp Luca Canali (Mario Adorf). They believe he is the reason why a shipment of heroin never made it to the States. Of course, the real thieves want Luca eliminated. When his wife and child are murdered, our white slaver seeks revenge, wanting to destroy everyone just like they destroyed his life.

The Boss (1973)
Hitman Nick Lanzetta (Henry Silva) uses a grenade launcher to blow up several members of the Attardi family. This makes bosses Don D'Aniello (Claudio Nicastro, A Man Called Magnum) and Don Corrasco (Richard Conte, The Godfather) happy while pissing off last remaining enemy Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi, The Cat O' Nine Tails). Vowing revenge, he kidnaps the nymphomaniac daughter (Antonia Santilli) of the former, requiring Lanzetta to step in. Violent hijinx ensue.

Rulers of the City (1976)
Tony (Harry Baer, Shadow of Angels) hates his job as muscle for a low end loan shark named Luigi (Edmund Purdom, The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff). Looking for a way to advance his criminal cause, he hooks up with Rick (Al Cliver, The Beyond) and an older gangster named Napoli (Vittorio Caprioli, The Libertine). They plan on bilking major league mobster "Scarface" Manzari (Jack Palance, Batman) out of a lot of lira. Naturally, they run into resistance from those who would protect their patron.

The Evidence

There is no getting around it -- Fernando Di Leo is a lost gem. Sure, he's been name checked by everyone from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino, influencing artists as diverse as John Woo and Walter Hill, but in the constant stream of praise for Italy's best, he's often left out of the mix. The reason is obvious once you watch the films that make up this amazing Blu-ray box set. These are not nice little forays into the felonious acts of some antisocialists. Instead, from the moment some ancillary characters are tortured and killed in Caliber 9, we recognize our arrival into something far more sadistic. Like Lucio Fulci when he turned the haunted house surrealism of The Beyond into a regular blood and guts splatterfest, or Fellini when he twisted every genre on its pointed little expectations, Di Leo demands respect for how aggressive and uncompromising his vision is. Without his take on gangland gratuity, we wouldn't have the overripe genre we have today.

Dealing with each film specifically, here are some thoughts on their individuals merits-and occasional miscues:

Caliber 9 (1972)
In this ballsy, brazen movie, one gets a perfect introduction to what Di Leo is about. Nihilistic, critical, and often more insightful than the actual truth of the times, the revisionist approach taken by the director landed him in international hot water. He didn't really glamorize the criminal as much as assassinate the sainted character of those charged with stopping them. Government and law enforcement take a beating here and elsewhere in Di Leo's work, painted as nepotistic, incompetent, and constantly on the take. But beyond the themes he wants to tackle, this is a filmmaker who understands the needs of his narrative. Caliber 9 is suspenseful, angry, loaded with atmosphere and overflowing with memorable moments. It's a phenomenal reimagining of what we now consider to be the standard genre tropes.

The Italian Connection (1972)
The first thing you notice about this film is its close ties to a little something we like to call Pulp Fiction. Reportedly, Tarantino was inspired by the black/white dynamic inherent in Di Leo's onscreen hitmen, and adopted it for his Jules and Vincent pairing. The rest is just a hard boiled hodgepodge of sweat, stink, and suffering. As Luca the unlucky pimp, Mario Adorf is excellent. He's not a bad guy, just a local entrepreneur in the wrong place at the incredibly wrong time. The end result is a visceral one, an experience where we recognize who to root for (and who to root against) and yet feel uneasy in both arenas. Di Leo was a master at such moral ambiguities. It's what makes his movies so meaningful...and memorable.

The Boss (1973)
For those who remember Henry Silva as a '70s TV mainstay, his work in this final leg of the Di Leo triptych will be an eye opener. Coming across as both suave and sinister, he lights up the screen with his chiseled jaw line and squint-like-Clint expressions. And when you consider the cast surrounding him, you could swear you were seeing some grindhouse outtakes from the Godfather films. All that's missing is Clemenza and some cannolis. There is some great action here, a lot of dark and broody atmosphere, and a solid sense of impending doom. As a matter of fact, one of the best facets of Di Leo's work is the way he transforms the mundane into the menacing. We've seen stuff like this before, just never in the manner presented by these pulse-pounding efforts.

Rulers of the City (1976)
Jumping three years ahead in Di Leo's creative canon, Rulers argues for the benefits of a more stripped down approach. Without the constant stream of double and triple crosses that come with the Milieu movies, the director is able to concentrate on elements hereto lacking -- characterization, tone, and style. What we wind up with is a cat and mouse with depth, a narrative that needs none of the twists and turns of the previous efforts to provide a sense of doom and dread. We know that someone like Palance is never going to give up. He wants his payback. But watching Tony and Rick tool around like rejects from the old neighborhood, dreaming of something better while relegated to grunt work, gives this movie an undercurrent that is hard to deny.

Overall, this box set is like walking into a room and discovering a new collection of pristine prints by the old masters. The Blu-ray resurrection, complete with colorful and clean (for the most part) transfers argues for the splashy spectacle of Di Leo's eye. Reds are saturated and soaked in the blood of the victims, while yellows and greens jump off the screen. Raro has reinstated the original aspect ratios here (1.85:1) and the 1080p process has done a remarkable job. Yes, there is still some dirt and dust present, and The Boss suffers from some issues revolving around varying source footage, but for the most part, the movies play as Di Leo intended. As for sound, these films were never meant to be expressions of aural art. Heavily dubbed, sometimes filmed without recording devices (Dario Argento was notorious for said approach), we wind up with a 2.0-DTS HD Master Audio presentation that's oddly self-contained and complementary to the sonic situations offered. The scores always come across as clean and crisp, while the dialogue (in either English or Italian) is upfront and understandable.

As for added content, Raro really stepped up to provide some compressive bonus features. Di Leo himself is present for several documentary-style making-of featurettes, and his insights are very important. He explains his vision, his concept for the crime film, and then suggests how each of the four films here achieves same. Along with interviews with members of the cast and crew, it makes for an encyclopedia of Di Leo delights. There are also some photo galleries and text based biography/filmography material, creating a must-own offering for anyone who is a fan of foreign genre reinvention.

Closing Statement

There will be those who dismiss Di Leo as nothing but schlock. His films do come across as tightrope-treading combinations of excess and excitement, with random and brutal torture and killing throw in for good measure. Yet when watching the collection contained in this new Blu-ray set, one is instantly reminded of why the crime thriller remains a cinematic staple. Within its good guy/bad guy givens, outside its attempts to marry convention with cruelty, we wind up with vivisected piles of chills, spills, and ills. While today's slam bam shaky cam efforts have their fans, these artifacts from a different time show how simple -- and sensational -- the genre can be. Here's hoping Di Leo is embraced by the revivalist spirit of the www. He and his unique titles deserve obsession.

The Verdict

Not guilty. A terrific collection of lost "classics."

Review content copyright © 2012 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Caliber 9
Video: 92
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 99
Story: 96
Judgment: 96

Perp Profile, Caliber 9
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Caliber 9
* Featurettes
* Photo Gallery
* Biography/Filmography

Scales of Justice, The Italian Connection
Video: 94
Audio: 90
Extras: 88
Acting: 96
Story: 95
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile, The Italian Connection
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Italian Connection
* Featurette
* Photo Gallery
* Biography/Filmography

Scales of Justice, The Boss
Video: 85
Audio: 90
Extras: 88
Acting: 95
Story: 96
Judgment: 96

Perp Profile, The Boss
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Boss
* Featurette
* Biography/Filmography

Scales of Justice, Rulers Of The City
Video: 92
Audio: 90
Extras: 75
Acting: 89
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Rulers Of The City
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Rulers Of The City
* Featurette
* Biography/Filmography

Accomplices
* IMDb: Caliber 9
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0067429/combined

* IMDb: The Italian Connection
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0068902/combined

* IMDb: The Boss
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0069818/combined

* IMDb: Rulers of the City
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0076518/combined