Blu-ray Release: August 15, 2023 (as part of the Cosa Nostra collection)
Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 110:42 (both versions)
Director: Damiano Damiani
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Radiance Films’ Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales By Damiano Damiani three-disc collection along with Day of the Owl (Italian: Il giorno della civetta, 1968) and The Case Is Closed, Forget It (Italian: L'istruttoria è chiusa: dimentichi, 1972). Please read my Day of the Owl review first for a deeper look at the careers of Damiani and Nero.
Director Giacomo Solaris’ (Franco Nero) latest film revolves around a judge corrupted by the mafia, who is later found murdered. The real judge the character is based on seizes the footage, but is later killed in the same way. Feeling a degree of responsibility, Solaris investigates, but, as the assassinations increase around him, will he reach the source of the conspiracy? (From Radiance’s official synopsis)
Following The Case Is Closed, Forget It (Italian: L'istruttoria è chiusa: dimentichi, 1972), Damiano continued using genre cinema to explore politics and corruption, including antifascist murder mystery Girolimoni, the Monster of Rome (Italian: Girolimoni, il mostro di Roma, 1972), religiously critical nunsploitation flick The Devil Is a Woman (Italian: Il sorriso del grande tentatore, 1974), and the final film in his Franco Nero crime tetralogy, How to Kill a Judge (Italian: Perché si uccide un magistrato, 1974). If The Case is Closed, Forget It was Damiani’s version of a prison drama, then How to Kill a Judge is his postmodern take on the Italian murder mystery. It’s not a straightforward giallo, but it matches the needs of the genre better than some of the interchangeable body-count thrillers that flooded the market during the mid-’70s (minus the fact that a murder doesn’t occur until almost halfway through the film).
How to Kill a Judge didn’t only slightly switch-up the genre formula, but ended up being a more personal project than the other three Nero/Damiani features. The film was inspired by a striking coincidence: a couple of months after Confessions of a Police Captain (Italian: Confessione di un commissario di polizia al procuratore della repubblica, 1971) was released, real-world Magistrate Pietro Scaglione was killed in Palermo. The murder was attributed to the Mafia (later discovered to be possibly unconnected) and stirred a sense of creative paranoia in the director, who opted to approach the story with a metatextual slant, similar to Dario Argento’s, Tenebrae (aka: Unsane, 1982), eight years later.
How to Kill a Judge opens with a scene of real-world authorities watching their fictional counterparts and picking apart the inconsistencies and lies, reading between the lines of a particularly avant-garde production in search of defamation. The prosecutor doesn’t take the situation very seriously and laughs at the clichés. Giacomo doesn’t initially take the situation too seriously, either, stating that it takes more than a movie to bring down a judge. But, the longer the controversy carries on, the more his interest is piqued. Soon, he’s playing amateur detective, drawing further comparisons to Argento and the template for his giallo protagonists, who are also artists compelled to solve mysterious murders. What separates Giacomo is that he is not a complete outsider. His work as a filmmaker has won him friends and enemies on both sides of the law and, suspiciously enough, he has a movie currently in theaters that stands to make a lot of money now that its subject has been killed.
Like Tenebrae’s Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa), Giacomo is a suspect and his fame and connections to the case put a public face on the murders. Damiani goes about this differently than Argento, though. Nero isn’t playing anything close to a one-to-one stand-in (Argento included a number of direct references to himself throughout Tenebrae) and the meta-commentary is tinged with curiosity and remorse, rather than anger and defensiveness. Damiani’s typical stylistic restraint also doesn’t mirror Argento’s hyper-sensationalism, but the bigger difference is that Argento tends to stick to his protagonist’s point-of-view, while Damiani is, as always, interested in comparing the bickering and backroom dealings of mafiosos and law enforcement. This doesn’t only take the camera away from Giacomo’s perspective, but ends up giving the audience information that he doesn’t have. Also, in Argento’s world, solving the mystery usually saves the hero, even if they are scarred by the experience. In Damiani’s world, the truth often remains buried or, in this case, only leads to more tragedy.
Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 by Roberto Curti (McFarland & Company, 2013)
How to Kill a Judge never had an official VHS or Beta release stateside, but, unlike the other two movies in Radiance’s Cosa Nostra collection, there was an anamorphic DVD via Blue Underground and ended up streaming in SD on Amazon Prime and any other service BU lent it out to. This US/UK Radiance Blu-ray debut is being released a little after Artus Films’ French disc, which is part of a different Damiani trilogy, alongside The Case Is Closed, Forget It and Goodbye & Amen (1977). The transfer was made using a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative and might be the best in the collection overall, simply because, between the gritty realism, colorfully naturalistic outdoor environments, and hyper stylish movie-within-a-movie sequences, it’s the most eclectic-looking of the three. It also has the harshest blacks, but in a way that fits the grit and helps the details pop. On the other hand, there’s a slight sense of DNR in some of the close-up details. Wide-angles have plenty of depth, though.
How to Kill a Judge is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound. Unlike the Day of the Owl disc, the English and Italian versions of the film run the same length and connect the alternate titles via branching. The few scenes that weren’t dubbed into English also automatically switch over to Italian with subtitles, then back again. If that sounds annoying to you, stick to the Italian track, but know that the English dub does feature Nero dubbing his own performance. It’s also a bit less sharp than the Italian track. The Case is Closed, Forget It was scored by the biggest composer in the history of Italian filmmaking, Ennio Morricone, and How to Kill a Judge is scored by the second biggest composer, Riz Ortolani. Once again, the music is minimal, setting the stage at the beginning and underscoring the tone of select sequences, but lis argely absent, even during dramatic moments.
Franco Nero on How to Kill a Judge (12:59, HD) – The final part of the three-part interview, the actor talks about his work between Damiani movies, How to Kill a Judge as a work of true auteurship, shooting in Palermo, slightly basing his character on Damiani, his co-stars, regretting not taking a role on the La piovra TV series (1984–2001), which would’ve given him one last chance to work with the director.
Lessons in Violence (21:38, HD) – Filmmaker David Cairns explores How to Kill a Judge’s themes and motifs, the ways Damiani plays with genre, specifically poliziottescho and giallo, the true murder case that inspired him to make such a self-referential thriller, further connections to early Hollywood noir that concerned tabloid media, Ortolani’s music, the careers of the cast, and the differences between Damiani’s style and that of the fictional, in-movie director portrayed by Nero.
Alberto Pezzotta on Damiano Damiani and How to Kill a Judge (34:23, HD) – The author of Directed by Damiano Damiani (I couldn’t find a publication date) wraps things up with an extensive look at the director’s work, focusing mostly on his contributions to Italian mafia fiction, how the themes of those movies were perceived at the time and how that perception has changed, and Damiani’s legacy as an originator of the poliziotteschi and how it may have inspired Hollywood counterparts.
English and Italian language trailers
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.