Bonus: Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME! reviewed!

EuroCrime

I know a fair bit about the history of Italy post-World War II, of its painful recovery, it’s economic boom, and of its sad decline amid the infamous “Days of Lead,” but Mike Malloy’s documentary EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s (2012) still had a few things to teach me. Focusing on the poliziotteschi movies that flourished in the wake of such international hits as BULLIT (1968), THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), DIRTY HARRY (1971), THE GODFATHER (1972), and THE SEVEN-UPS (1973), EUROCRIME! skillfully blinds facts and flash in an engaging look back at the machine-like regularity with which the Italian film industry pumped out these bracing, hyper-violent, in-your-face, torn-from-the-headlines capers, many of which featured vacationing American actors (Kirk Douglas, Charles Bronson, Jack Palance, Henry Silva, Martin Balsam, John Saxon, Arthur Kennedy, Ben Gazzara, Richard Conte, Barry Sullivan, Fred Williamson, Woody Strode, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Blake, Stacy Keach) to appeal to US distributors and moviegoers while making superstars out of such Continental talent as Franco Nero, Luc Merenda, Antonio Sabato, Mauricio Merli, Tomas Milian, and Ray Lovelock, among many others.

almost human 03

Affected by the uptick in crime and terrorism that tore at Italy’s social seams, filmmakers seemed themselves torn between reflecting the fears and anxieties of their countrymen and exploiting the hell out of them. In one film the hero would be an upstanding citizen pushed beyond the boundaries of law and order by an ineffectual criminal justice system, and in another (often played by the same actor) the hero would be a deviant criminal, exposing the conflicted underbelly of the Catholic vox populi.

The Boss

And it was all good!

Nero Street Law

And when Italian producers couldn’t get a particular actor…

Merli

… they’d just  hire someone who looked like him.

Antonio Sabato

Kinda sorta.

Bank robbery

It really didn’t matter because the Italians, though they certainly favored certain actors over others, weren’t as hung up on the star thing as we tend to be here in America.

bouchet-450x325

Call it the legacy of the Bread and Circuses of ancient Rome, but the Italians enjoyed spectacle and distraction. They didn’t care who was driving the plot…

Milian 2

… be it a good guy…

tomas-milian-mod

… or a bad one. Nobody kicked, as long as the bullets flew hot, cars blew up, and the J&B poured freely. Italian moviegoers just wanted to see shit stirred up and they got that in spades. The titles alone will knock a tooth loose to say out loud: STREET LAW (1974), VIOLENT CITY (1970), CALIBER 9 (1972), ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (1976), SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1974), SYNDICATE SADISTS (1975), LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN (1976), KIDNAP SYNDICATE (1975), HIT SQUAD (1976), DEATH RAGE (1976), VIOLENT NAPLES (1976), MR. SCARFACE (1976), BLAZING MAGNUMS (1977), A MAN CALLED MAGNUM (1977), THE CYNIC, THE RAT, AND THE FIST (1977) and on and on.

live-like-a-cop_motorpsycho

Though their exploitation bona fides are plain as day, Euro-crime films have never attracted a following on par with that of the Gothic horror films or psychological thrillers that also comprised the Italian film industry’s stock-in-trade between 1960 and 1980. I’ve never quite understood why that is. One can just as readily enjoy them straight on or with a camp chaser and yet even those quick to sing the praises of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (1963) or Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) or Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) are not so quick to invest 90 minutes in THE ITALIAN CONNECTION (1972), VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS (1973), HIGH CRIME (1973), THE BOSS (1973), or ALMOST HUMAN (1974), despite the fact that the bodycounts in these non-horror films are often higher and the mood considerably more tense. Are they too specific (they’re really not) about Italy’s troubled history? Do people beg off because they think the films are political? Maybe we’ll never know… but the good news is that for those who have always wanted to dig into the poliziotteschi but have never quite known where to begin, EUROCRIME! is made to order.

eurocrime5big

Though an unfortunate number of the Eurocrime stars of the 70s are no longer with us, enough of them remain to tell the tale properly and writer/director Mike Malloy (and his collaborators) have assembled a fantastic lineup of some real poliziotteschi heavy hitters: Henry Silva, John Saxon, Franco Nero, Fred Williamson, Luc Merenda, Antonio Sabato, Joe Dallesandro, Chris Mitchum, Richard Harrison, Michael Forrest, Leonard Mann, John Steiner, the late Ted Rusoff and others contribute many a memorable patch to the overall historical quilt, describing a time and a place and the opportunity in which they were invited to create something unique.

Franco Nero

The contributors are candid about their work, discussing what it was like working in a country all but locked in civil war, the inhuman pace at which these films were made (“It didn’t take hours to hang up lights. You just cranked ‘em out.”), the insanity of Americans and Italians acting together without sharing a common language, the Hollywood influences on these films and their arguable influence back on Hollywood, the degrading view of women shared by many of these films, the interference of the Italian Mafia and the belief among Italian civilians that the Americans came not from Hollywood but from the Mafia itself. It’s a wonderful ride, charmingly assembled and persuasively executed by Malloy, with special credit to narrator Aaron Stielstra, whose voiceover strikes just the right note of retro authority without tripping over into parody.

Tomas Milian

Given a limited theatrical release in 2012, EUROCRIME! comes to DVD with extra features, among them a greatly-appreciated interview with Tomas Milian (who was able to parlay his work in Italian crime and western films into roles in such Stateside features as JFK (1991), AMISTAD (1997), THE YARDS (2000), and TRAFFIC (2000), who was unavailable to appear in the documentary, and a poignant remembrance by Michael Forrest (an American actor who worked extensively in Italy dubbing Italian films into English) of his friend Frank Wolff, another Yank who appeared in many Continental films before personal demons drove him to suicide in December 1971; Forest went on to dub the actor in his final film, CALIBER 9. Highly recommended.

Cinema Epoch’s EUROCRIME! DVD is available from a number of online outlets, including Amazon.com, where it is selling for $11.99. Cheap!

3 Responses Bonus: Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME! reviewed!
Posted By Richard Brandt : January 22, 2015 4:51 am

Props for the obligatory J&B cameo!

Posted By Autist : January 22, 2015 5:03 pm

I see from the trailer that they have an interview with the director of “Troll 2″, so you know this has to be good (at least, in an MST3K sort of way).

Posted By Richard Brandt : March 10, 2015 6:27 pm

And in case anyone’s checking here: EUROCRIME! is now online for viewing free (with commercial breaks) at Hulu.com!

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

We regret to inform you that FilmStruck is now closed.  Our last day of service was November 29, 2018.

Please visit tcm.com/help for more information.

We would like to thank our many fans and loyal customers who supported us.  FilmStruck was truly a labor of love, and in a world with an abundance of entertainment options – THANK YOU for choosing us.