Wake Up and Kill Blu-ray Review (original published 2015)
During the 1960s, Luciano Lutring committed more than one hundred armed robberies in Italy and on the French Riviera. To the media, he was the ‘machine gun soloist,’ a name he’d earned as he kept his weapon in a violin case. To the public, he was a Robin Hood figure, one who only targeted the wealthy by stealing more than 35 billion lire during his criminal career. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
As Arrow’s synopsis implies, Carlo Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill (Italian: Svegliati e Uccidi; aka: Wake Up and Die and Too Soon to Die, 1966) is based on a true story, one that was still in flux while the film was being made. The real Luciano Lutring’s final attempted robbery occurred in September of 1965; at which point he was taken into custody. Lizzani’s film was released the following April. That’s certainly not a record turnaround time for a tabloid cash-in movie (American made-for-TV movies had a history of getting the job done in a couple of months), but it’s a pretty impressive achievement, considering the logistics required to make and release a feature film in the 1960s. Lizzani was a typical Italian workhorse filmmaker who dabbled in whatever genre was popular and what little time was required. These included war films (Achtung! Bandit!, 1950), dramas (Esterina, 1959), comedies (Lo Svitato, 1956), and westerns (The Hills Run Red, Italian: Un Fiume di Dollari, 1967; Requiescant, aka: Kill and Pray and Let Them Rest, 1967) of varying success, but he is probably best known for his early stage poliziotteschi (Eurocrime) movies, specifically Wake Up and Kill, Bandits in Milan (Italian: Banditi a Milano; aka: The Violent Four, 1968), and Crazy Joe (1974).
The unifying element of many Lizzani poliziotteschi is that they were based on a series of real-world crimes that rocked Italy during the 1960s (or ‘40s in the case of his war drama, L’Oro di Roma, 1961). It is generally accepted that the wild popularity of poliziotteschi and gialli during the late ‘60s and early-to-middle ‘70s was the direct result of huge escalations in urban Italian crime rates. Lizzani’s genre entries tended to reflect this grim reality with pragmatic and naturalistic filmmaking techniques. While most poliziotteschi films are gritty and embrace cinéma vérité-like stylings, Wake Up and Kill engages with the even more documentary-like Neorealist traditions of the previous decade, mixing them with more 60s-friendly vivacity in the form of club scenes and cheerful, well-dressed people zipping around Milan, Paris, and Zürich in sporty cars. I suspect that Lizzani was also inspired by French and Japanese New Wave filmmakers, as “world cinema” tended to be a pretty cannibalistic place in the 1960s, but what’s most curious is how much Wake Up and Kill has in common with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde. Penn’s film, which was released one year later, was among the first in a long line of popular American productions that claimed to be directly influenced by European filmmakers, though most historians and critics usually cite top-tier French nouvelle vague filmmakers – not their more mainstream-focused Italian counterparts. Wake Up and Kill doesn’t feature the same level of graphic violence as Bonnie & Clyde, but nuggets of Penn’s oft-mimicked sensibilities (not to mention bits and pieces of William Friedkin’s The French Connection and Michael Mann’s Heat) are found in the tone and action of Lizzani’s film.
Wake Up and Kill is also ahead of its time in its relentlessly paced stream of information. Lizzani inundates viewers with characters, locations, violence, drama, comedy, and even musical breaks, all with nary a moment to catch our breath and absorb the plot of the film. This is only intensified by the fact that I was watching the longer Italian cut of the film and was distracted by intensive, exposition-heavy subtitles. At a certain point, I was forced to just go with the flow of Franco Fraticelli’s rapid-fire editing and found that, the more I ignored the intricacies of the plot, the easier it was to understand the broader story and the characters’ motivations (spoiler: they’re mostly greedy and all the men want to assault Yvonne Lutring – the misogyny is, in fact, pretty exhausting). It also helps that the actors are performing at such a melodramatic level, leaving no emotion to the chance of subtlety (save perhaps Gian Maria Volontè, who likely had his fill of histrionics after appearing as the villain in two of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns).
I don’t believe there has ever been an official DVD release of Wake Up and Kill in any territory (it appears that there may have been a German disc, but I can’t find more than a mention of it in a forum, much less actual specs). Not one to disappoint the fans that have been waiting for a proper version since the days of VHS, Arrow has restored the film from a 2K scan of the original camera negative. The results are effective, but mixed. This is a very grainy transfer, due in part to the fact that so much of the film was shot so roughly and on so many outdoor locations. The grain fits the gritty, off-the-cuff tone and I personally prefer it to a bunch of DNR effects, but it may turn off any viewers who expect a more ‘modern-looking’ presentation. Color quality and detail both depend on locations and lighting, though perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Contrary to most productions of this type, the brighter outdoor scenes are usually rough and blown-out, while the dimly lit interiors tend to be sharp and vivid. Again, this relates to the overcast, sometimes downright foggy conditions Lizzani and cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi were shooting in. Still, even with a bit of haze, some overheated whites, and occasionally mismanaged focus, hue quality is relatively consistent and textures/patterns remain complex. Overall gamma is not as consistent, which leaves some of the black levels faded during the darkest sequences. Besides the grain, there are minor white artefacts and some chemical stains, but no notable compression artifacts.
This Blu-ray includes two versions of the film – the longer Italian version and the much shorter North American cut. These are separate films, not alternate language tracks, so the viewer cannot shift between the two dubs without changing versions. The original Italian and English language soundtracks are both presented (again, as separate films) in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (48k). Some viewers may notice that the lip-sync is iffy in both languages, but I’d like to remind everyone that these movies were shot largely without sound. Everything, from the occasionally off-the-mark dialogue to the tinny sound effects, was added in post-production. There is a bit of fuzz and hiss at higher volume levels, but the general soundscape is surprisingly well-balanced and even well-layered. Effects overlap without muffling each other and dialogue is rarely lost in a flood of noise. The music was supplied by the great Ennio Morricone the same year he was perfecting his unique spaghetti western style on Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The score is used more sparingly here than in those spaghetti’s, only coming out to play between sequences and during the credits. This is kind of disappointing, because the score is solid, especially the piano & guitar getaway theme. Morricone’s songs abruptly end mid-note when a sequence ends, but even this isn’t a rarity for an Italian production from the era.
Besides the inclusion of the North American cut, the only other extra is a trailer.
The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.