Blood and Diamonds Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: December 13, 2022
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 102:20
Director: Fernando Di Leo
After being set up by the Mafia gang he is part of, Guido (Claudio Cassinelli) is sent to prison, upon which he vows to take revenge on those who betrayed him. (From 88 Films’ official synopsis)
Fernando Di Leo was one of six writers (along with Jaime Comas Gil, Víctor Andrés Catena, Adriano Bolzoni, Tonino Valerii, and Duccio Tessari) who worked with Sergio Leone on the original spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964). Like everyone attached to that film, he was quickly scooped up to write more westerns, including Leone’s follow-up, For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), Ressari’s The Return of Ringo (Italian: Il ritorno di Ringo, 1965), Sergio Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966), and Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (Italian: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu... tempo di massacro; aka: The Brute and the Beast, 1966), before graduating to direction with a pair of gialli – Naked Violence (Italian: I Ragazzi del Massacro, 1969) and Slaughter Hotel (Italian: La Bestia Uccide a Sangue Freddo, 1971). To his fans, however, he is most beloved for his gritty and influential poliziotteschi. I won’t list all of his accomplishments in the field, but he’s most celebrated for his Milieu Trilogy, Caliber 9 (Italian: Milano calibro 9, 1972), The Italian Connection (Italian: La mala ordina, 1972), and The Boss (Italian: Il Boss, 1973).
One of the rarer entries in Di Leo’s short career directing distinctly Italian crime movies, Blood and Diamonds (Italian: Diamanti sporchi di sangue, 1977) recycles plot elements and characters from several of his earlier poliziotteschi, mainly Caliber 9, and throws back to his western era, mainly Florestano Vancini’s Long Days of Vengeance (Italian: I lunghi giorni della vendetta, 1967). To be fair, the broad strokes of the plot are mostly taken from The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-46) and a number of spaghetti westerns, including Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said to Cain… (Italian: E Dio disse a Caino…, 1970) and Carlo Lizzani’s The Hills Run Red (Italian: Un Fiume di Dollari; aka: A River of Dollars, 1966), can trace their legacies back to Alexandre Dumas’ story. Still, Caliber 9 is the source Di Leo is most interested in alluding to. In his book, Italian Crime Filmography – 1968-1980 (McFarland & Company, 2013), author Roberto Curti refers to Blood and Diamonds as a “reversal” of Caliber 9. After pointing out the many things the films have in common – shared actors playing basically the same characters, look-alike actors filling in for others, reused wardrobe pieces, et cetera – Curti goes on to describe the vital differences between them. These can mostly be found in the film’s moral conclusions and twists on familiar themes, which subvert the expectations set by Caliber 9 and thematically similar westerns.
Challenging his old themes also means Di Leo shifts tone and pacing. Blood and Diamonds moves slowly compared to a lot of the increasingly bombastic poliziotteschi of its era. This sense of lethargy might not be intended, but does provide a compelling contrast to the staccato action beats and often even disguises the fact that Di Leo’s script is weighed down by excessive exposition and plotting. It’s a really floaty and detached film in terms of its narrative thrust, which is weird, but fits the melancholy confusion the main character is experiencing throughout the film. Guido is never in control of his story, he’s just a bystander who occasionally makes bad decisions, leading to more physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, culminating in a surprisingly touching finale. Again, I’m not sure how much of this is intended, especially not when it comes to Claudio Cassinelli’s extremely understated performance. The man’s hands don’t leave his jacket pockets for more than five minutes the entire movie.
Blood and Diamonds was a box office flop, something genre historians blame on it being released the day after the kidnapping of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by Red Bridgades (he was killed after more than a month in captivity). Perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from similar controversies, Di Leo made a different type of crime movie for his next film, the sexually-charged melodrama To Be Twenty (1978). If that was his plan, though, it didn’t work, because To Be Twenty produced its own controversy, being re-edited shortly after release to omit sex and violence. He returned to poliziotteschi soon after and closed out his career with Killer vs. Killer (Italian: Killer contro killer) in 1985.
I can’t find any evidence that Blood and Diamonds was released on stateside VHS or DVD, at least not officially, and the Italian DVD didn’t have English subtitled, so this Blu-ray from 88 Films is both the film’s HD and US/English language home video debut. The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was sourced from a newly remastered 4K scan of the original negative and works overtime to overcome many inherent challenges in the material. Cinematographer Roberto Gerardi’s photography is a mix of dark compositions, dim contrast, and bloomy, diffused lighting, all of which are stylistically nice, but are practically designed to wreak havoc with a digital representation. This is where the 4K scan really comes in handy. The widest wide shot might be a little fuzzy and grain might cake-up around some of the edges, but this is most likely what the movie looked like in theaters and there’s very little in the way of digital artifacts or compression issues. The largely naturalistic colors are consistent and, though the shadows struggle with fogginess, they avoid pooling and manage to maintain a sense of depth.
Blood and Diamonds is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. As per usual, it, like most Italian films of the era, was shot without sound, often with international cast members speaking different languages, and dubbed in post, so there isn’t really an official language option. In this case, the two tracks are practically identical in terms of clarity and tone. The Italian dub comes out slightly ahead, because Luis Enriquez Bacalov’s fantastic (though repetitive) score is louder in the mix. Most of the lip sync matches the Italian dialogue better, as well, aside from Martin Balsam, who is dubbing his own performance. On the other hand, the English track is a bit crisper and includes performances from an ensemble of familiar dub performers.
Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson – Howarth, the author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015), and Mondo Digital’s Thompson reteam yet again to take a look at yet another Italian exploitation movie. The duo reminisces on their personal journeys as cult film fans while discussing Di Leo’s greater career, the works of the cast & crew (including English dub actors), Blood and Diamonds’ place in the director’s poliziottescho canon, and the rise and fall of poliziotteschi in general.
Down by Di Leo: A Journey of Love Discovering Fernando Di Leo (96:39, SD) – A feature-length documentary about Di Leo’s life and work from director M. Deborah Farina featuring interviews with friends, family, and collaborators. Among the interviews are plenty of behind-the-scenes stories and the documentary follows the continuity of his career (including film clips), but the discussion is mostly flavored by personal anecdotes, rather than grander explorations of the Italian film industry.
Blood and Di Leo: A Portrait by Luc Merenda (19:20, HD) – The actor recalls his personal and working relationship with the director.
Italian opening, intermission, and closing titles (4:16, HD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.