Raro Video // 1974 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // May 28th, 2013
Crime does not pay.
Police Lieutenant Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda, Torso) is known for his heroics; what he's not known for is his corruption. Malacarne is in the pocket of the local gangsters, who pay him well for his favors.
Malacarne's father (Salvo Randone, My Dear Killer) is also a cop, though not nearly as successful as his son. The elder Malacarne is enormously proud of Domenico, although a bit ashamed that his son has done so much better than he has.
When a local eccentric makes a routine complaint to Malacarne Senior about a car blocking his entrance, the older cop thinks nothing of it; however, Domenico's gangster associates want the report removed and given to them.
Needless to say, this seemingly insignificant bit of business will lead to tragedy for all concerned, especially Domenico, whose father is about to learn the truth about the person he valued above all else.
Shoot First, Die Later is an intriguing Italian crime meller that falls just short of greatness. Written and directed by Fernando Di Leo, it's not quite a masterpiece, but it's closer to his great Milieu Trilogy (Caliber 9, The Italian Collection, The Boss) than the forgettable action films Di Leo wrote but didn't direct, like Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man and Young, Violent, Dangerous, or his weak late-game entries, like Madness.
Shoot Now, Die Later starts out slow...very slow. It takes Di Leo a while to establish that the cop is corrupt, that his father is going to be destroyed by the revelation (which we know is coming), and that everyone is going to suffer. The film's opening scene of violence -- in which members of a rival crew are decimated by the gangsters in league with Malacarne -- and an exhilarating car chase take a back seat to setting up the meat of the film.
Shoot First, Die Later is a film about redemption in which none is forthcoming. The violence is disturbing -- a woman gets horribly beaten, and a pet is killed -- but Di Leo seems to feature any of this as the rationale for Malacarne's change of heart.
Where it gets a little lost, as these things tend to, is when Di Leo plays up the poignancy. That's not to say that the situation isn't a tragic one -- Dominico and his father have a mutual hero worship that's touching, and when things fall apart, it's devastating -- but there are few actors who can go from glib tough guy to wounded-looking soul, and Merenda is not one of them. He's very good overall, but when Malacarne is called on to provide an actual emotion -- and there are many moments where "actual emotion" is called for -- he just seems stiff. Far better is Randone as Malacarne Sr; this actor offers a full-range of feelings, and even though his character is drawn more simply, he invests it with a humanizing complexity.
While many of Di Leo's films contain homoerotic undercurrents, Shoot First, Die Later goes for full-on caricature with an absolutely repugnant gay character. A play-toy of sorts for the mobsters, Gianni Maria (Gino Milli, Chronicle of a Homicide) wears makeup, flirts with Malacarne (resulting in some nasty come-backs from our anti-hero), dresses in drag, and sadistically murders people. I guess this was acceptable in the mid '70s, but it's still obnoxious, especially since Di Leo offers no context for this character.
Raro sent over the standard-def release for review, and it looks quite nice, with a strong image and a reasonable pair of mono audio tracks (Italian and English). The subtitles, unfortunately, are dub titles, meaning they are from the English translation rather than the Italian. This is kind of a shame, as the Italian translation often offers information not found in the English; plus, even though I know almost no Italian, I do know that "Stupido!" doesn't translate as, "Hey, I see what you're doing, now stop!"
The supplements are the same as the HD release, and they're quite good. "Master of the Game" and "The Second Round of the Game" are both interview pieces. The first is with the outspoken Di Leo; the interview doesn't focus on this film, but on his career, and it's an entertaining listen. I don't know when this was shot (there's no copyright date), but di Leo died in 2003. The second piece, also undated, features Luc Merenda, assistant director Franc Lo Cascio, and editor Amedeo Giomini. All three worked with Di Leo on a number of films, so their recollections are of the man rather than a particular project. There's also an illustrated booklet with essays about the film, its origins, its production, and of course, a bio of Di Leo, plus the Italian and English-language trailers.
Another terrific Italian crime thriller given another terrific release by Raro. What more can I say?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated