• Gabe Powers

Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 Blu-ray Review


Arrow Films

Blu-ray Release: June 22, 2021

Video: 1.85:1 & 2.35:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono (Savage Three and Like Rabid Dogs); English and Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono (Colt 38 Special Squad and Highway Racer); Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono (No, the Case is Happily Resolved)

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 84:38, 97:45, 102:03, 101:25, 97:39

Directors: Vittorio Salerno, Mario Imperoli, Massimo Dallamano, and Stelvio Massi


The Italian genre fads of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s were often built upon the international successes of Hollywood hits, but their popularity in Italy was almost always based on the country’s current social/political malaise. Never was this more true than during the ascension of poliziotteschi films during the early ‘70s. Poliziotteschi – a portmanteau plural of poliziotto/police and the suffix esco/esque (poliziottescho) and sometimes called Eurocrime or polizieschi all'italiana – was born out of attempts to repeat the box office receipts of William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971), Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971), and Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (1973), among other gritty American cop movies (which themselves were inspired by French crime films of the ‘60s), but quickly grew into a reaction to a specifically Italian wave of crime and violence, known as Anni di Piombo or The Years of Lead. The Years of Lead ran roughly between 1969 and 1988, and included mafia warfare, political assassinations, failed neo-fascist coups, and brutal clashes between far-left and far-right factions.


The angst, anger, and bitterness felt by average movie-going audiences during this tumultuous period led poliziotteschi down increasingly violent and sadistic paths that mirrored the turmoil and spoke to the audience’s fears, sometimes challenging their notions of authoritative corruption with real nuance and, other times, fulfilling their reactionary demands for fascist cops wreaking vengeance on a cartoonishly evil criminal population. Arrow’s Years of Lead Blu-ray collection includes five reasonably obscure entries released during the height of poliziotteschi dominance, which showcase the genre’s range of quality and moral messaging.



Disc One:

Savage Three

A mild-mannered computer analyst named Ovidio (Joe Dallesandro) takes two of his friends on an increasingly violent crime spree.


Things begin on a vicious note with Vittorio Salerno’s Savage Three (Italian: Fango bollente, 1975), an unambiguously derisive look at middle-class male discontent, misogyny, and societal corrosion. Salerno and co-writers Ernesto Gastaldi, Lucile Laks, and Giancarlo Balestrini don’t make obvious light of the situation and treat the barbarous behavior of the title three characters seriously (as seriously as any crime spree that includes impaling a woman with a forklift can be), but the core statement is shaded in acrid sarcasm. Really, the poliziotteschi trappings, of which there are plenty, are a means to explore delinquency and violence, and I imagine that, had it been made a few years earlier, Ovidio would have more in common with a neurotic giallo killer. What makes Savage Three particularly interesting is the contrast between its three main components: Ovidio’s cold and sterile workplace (which has a science fiction vibe, thanks to the modernist decor and ill-defined purpose of the lab), his increasingly chaotic criminal actions, and the melancholy life of aging police inspector Santagà (portrayed by Bird with the Crystal Plumage’s Enrico Maria Salerno), who quietly laments the sorry state of society while investigating Ovidio’s crimes against his superiors’ wishes. Between these, Solerno explores the frustratingly mundane home lives of Ovidio’s friends/co-workers. None of this stuff is unique on its own merits, but the combination is an intriguing approach to the commonly shared social anxieties. It’s also all strikingly similar to Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down (1993), minus the ambiguity (and plus two extra guys).


Salerno had previously co-written mediocre spaghetti western scripts, but didn’t direct many films, aside from an early giallo called Libido (1965), until he made two poliziotteschi No, the Case is Happily Resolved (which is available with this set, but, for some reason as the last disc) and Savage Three. Both seemed to have been well received, but mostly marked the end of his career, aside from a supernatural horror movie called Notturno con grida (1981).


HD versions of Savage Three, Highway Racer, and No, the Case is Happily Resolved were created and supplied by Intramovies and Savage Three, Like Rabid Dogs, Highway Racer, and No, the Case is Happily Resolved are also available from Camera Obscura in Germany as part of their Italian Genre Cinema Collection. It appears that all of these transfers come from the same sources. Savage Three is one of two titles (along with No, the Cast is Happily Resolved) that was re-graded by Arrow at R3store Studios. Savage Three is a good indication as to the majority of the collection’s quality. There is room for improvement in the original scan, which exhibits minor telecine noise throughout the grain and (I assume) related feathering effects in the finest details. Overall, however, the 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer maintains cinematographer Giulio Albonico’s naturalistic photography. Albonico uses color sparingly, but what he does use is punchy against the white and grey backgrounds, and matching hues are consistent.


In addition to the different video sources, the films in this collection are presented with a variety of audio options. The two on this disc, however, only feature Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono. The audio quality is clear without notable distortion, even at higher volume levels. Franco Campanino’s score is made up mostly of two rock songs, “Santagà” and “Boiling Mud” (co-credited to S. Savastano), which are repeated throughout and help to drive Savage Three forward. The songs aren’t too heavily compressed by the single channel treatment.





Like Rabid Dogs

Three bored upper-class youths, Tony (Cesare Barro), Germana (Paola Senatore), and Rico (Luis La Torre), spend their days and nights engaging in brutal and frivolous crimes.


Mario Imperoli’s Like Rabid Dogs (Italian: Come cani arrabbiati, 1976) – not to be confused with Mario Bava’s poliziotteschi-esque Rabid Dogs (Italian: Cani arrabbiati, 1974) – is a perfect companion piece to Savage Three, because it covers similar thematic ground about sociopathic young people hiding behind the veneer of their social standing. Imperoli and co-writer Piero Regnoli embrace the cops ‘n robbers side of the genre more readily, and, visually, Imperoli sticks to the jagged visual disarray seen in many standard-issue poliziotteschi. Coupled with the lack of levity or veiled satire, and relentlessly detestable characters, it makes for an intense experience, though rarely an enjoyable one. The abrupt finale firmly characterizes the idea of class warfare, but, otherwise, Imperoli is usually too lost in rape scenes and sadistic home invasions to remember that he’s dealing in political themes. Like Rabid Dogs comes from the Last House on the Left (1972) school of antisocial filmmaking (the gang even resembles Krug’s gang), but Imperoli was almost certainly also inspired by a different movie about sociopathic teens, namely Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1971 – edit: I just watched the extras and apparently I was on the right track). That said, Like Rabid Dogs is not set in the near-future nor is it concerned with the sanctimonious punishment of wayward youth. To the contrary, this film enjoys punishing juvenile felons almost as much as it enjoys portraying their exceedingly unpleasant crimes.


An HD master of Like Rabid Dogs was created by Rewind and supplied to Arrow, seemingly with no additional grading or restoration done. The 2.35:1 image is similar to the Intramovies transfers, though with slightly less sharp wide-angle detail and more blown-out whites. This all fits with Romano Albani’s shaky-cam, documentary-like cinematography. Grain skews thick on occasion, but appears natural, and colors are consistent, despite sometimes blending together during messier shots. Again, both movies on this disc are presented in Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono with no English dub option. The filmmakers haven’t put a lot of effort into adding sound effects, but the dubbed dialogue is steady and balanced. Mario Molino’s playfully funky and bluesy score is often in complete tonal opposition to the on-screen content, but it sounds nice and warm with neatly separated bass and drum tracks.





Extras

  • Rat Eat Rat (40:49, HD) – Extras begin with an interview featurette featuring director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard. This is the first of many reappropriated Camera Obscura special features and was recorded in 2017. Salerno discusses creating a production company with other writers & directors called Comma 9 in order to make movies like The Savage Ones, developing the screenplay based on the most ridiculous real crimes he could find, casting, and language barriers on-set. He also compares his movie to A Clockwork Orange. Brochard fondly recalls her castmates and (wrongfully) refers to her character as a bad person.

  • The Savage One (40:56, HD) – Another 2017 Camera Obscura interview with actor Joe Dallesandro, who talks about his early career acting for the Warhol Factory, alternating between art films in France and genre films in Italy, communication problems making Savage Three (he didn’t speak Italian, Salerno didn’t speak English), performing some of his own stunts, and some of his other Italian films.

  • When a Murderer Dies (51:57) – A 2013 Camera Obscura interview with Like Rabid Dogs cinematographer Romano Albani presented by film historian Fabio Melelli, who pops in occasionally to offer extra context. Albani recaps his early career, his many collaborations with Imperoli, and gives an extensive rundown of the making of Like Rabid Dogs (with help from Melelli).

  • It's Not a Time for Tears (32:55) – A 2014 Camera Obscura interview with Like Rabid Dogs assistant director Claudio Bernabei, who also talks about his pre-Rabid Dogs work, before sharing pleasant memories of Imperoli, and the true crimes that inspired the film, which he briefly compares it to A Clockwork Orange (yes!).

  • Like Rabid Dogs trailer

  • Like Rabid Dogs music sampler, set to stills (6:01, HD)

  • Poster gallery



Disc Two:

Colt 38 Special Squad

Police inspector Vanni (Marcel Bozzuffi) forms a special squad of vigilante cops, all armed with unregistered Colt .38 revolvers, to combat a vicious crime lord dubbed “Il Marsigliese/The Black Angel” (Ivan Rassimov) who is cutting a bloody swath across the city of Turin.


Arrow has coupled these films per disc to represent different facets of poliziotteschi and disc two features vigilante cops, which includes everything from Dirty Harry-esque lonewolf power fantasies and misfit cop duo stories, like Ruggero Deodato’s popular Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Italian: Uomini Si Nasce Poliziotti Si Muore, 1976), to entire squads of renegades, as seen here, in Colt 38 Special Squad (Italian: Quelli della calibro 38 AKA Section de choc, 1976). It’s a good place for new viewers to start, because it indulges in the violent action that audiences loved, but was directed by one of the era’s most underrated visual stylists, Massimo Dallamano. The plot, credited to Dallamano, Franco Bottari, Marco Guglielmi, and Ettore Sanzò, is not so loosely based on the best Dirty Harry movie, Ted Post’s Magnum Force (co-written by John Millius & Michael Cimino, 1973), with a touch of The French Connection and a mean poliziotteschi slant.


Dallamano helped define the look of the spaghetti western by acting as cinematographer on Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964; co-credited with Federico G. Larraya) and For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), then delved into giallo with an early entry, A Black Veil for Lisa (Italian: La morte non ha sesso, 1968), and one of the genre’s greatest, What Have You Done to Solange? (Italian: Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange?, 1972). He only made two poliziotteschi: this, his last film before his untimely death, and 1973’s Super Bitch (Italian: Si può essere più bastardi dell'ispettore Cliff?). Like What Have You Done to Solange?, Colt 38 Special Squad blends raw exploitation sleaze with graceful imagery and thoughtful compositions. The effect is a really good-looking movie that still manages to pack a shocking kick. Dallamano’s vigilante violence placates the public’s bloodlust and coincides with some truly breathtaking car chases (one across a moving train!) and shoot-outs, but is tinged with a moody melancholy and isn’t afraid to rub the audience’s nose in collateral damage.


Colt 38 Special Squad was previously available on DVD via NoShame in the US (as a double-feature with Luciano Ercoli’s The Rip-Off [1977]), by Anolis in Germany, and Cecchi Gori in Italy. It is the Years of Lead collection’s one exclusive HD release and features the most impressive transfer. The original camera negative was scanned in 2K at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, then graded and cleaned up by Arrow at R3Store Studios in London. Gábor Pogány’s plush photography is beautifully recreated with tight, but not oversharpened details. The palette alternates between neutral exteriors and colorfully gelled interiors, and is surprisingly delicate. Grain levels are present and consistent without appearing intrusive. Both disc two movies feature English and Italian LPCM 1.0 mono options. As per usual, I’ll remind the reader that these films were shot without sound, so all tracks are dubbed in post and the choice between English, Italian, or any other language option comes down to preference. In this, the English track sounds pitched-up slightly, but manages to create a rounder, bassier sound for Stelvio Cipriani’s score (and a pair of Grace Jones songs), while the Italian track, though tinnier, separates the music, dialogue, and effects well.





Highway Racer

Marco Palma (Maurizio Merli) is a rough ‘n tumble cop who refuses to play by the book, but he can drive better than anyone on the force, so he’s taken under the wing of an aging hero cop in a bid to stop a series of bank robberies.


Stelvio Massi’s Highway Racer (Italian: Poliziotto Sprint, 1977) is a different shade of vigilante cop movie with a much lighter tone that helps it bridge the space between the gritty reality of early poliziotteschi and the spoof comedy of later entries. It is reportedly based on a real police officer named Armando Spatafora, who drove a modified Ferrari 250 GTE, and some of the set pieces are reportedly based on infamous crimes that took place during The Years of Lead, but is, above all, a bombastic, borderline cartoonish car chase movie. Gino Capone’s screenplay is underwhelming and replaces the typical criminal intrigue with mostly tepid laughs and undercover cop clichés, but the reckless, demolition derby car stunts are truly jaw-dropping, rivaling their Hollywood counterparts with appalling abandon. The film is structured around the chases, too, leaving little time to grow bored of the mediocre character beats, which better fit the grizzled mentor/bright-eyed student tropes of PG underdog dramas than the grim world of the poliziotteschi. Lead Maurizio Merli, who plays more of a tactless brat than a tough-as-nails maverick type, was arguably the biggest superstar to emerge from the genre. His career was initially built upon his resemblance to Franco Nero and he played essentially the same character (sometimes literally the same character) across a couple dozen movies. Highway Racer was the first of six movies he made with Massi, another former cinematographer whose own career was built upon the successes of Emergency Squad (Italian: Squadra volante, 1974) and Mark of the Cop (Italian: Mark il poliziotto, 1975).


Highway Racer is another Intramovies transfer and was previously available on DVD via Rai Cinema in Italy. The grain is a bit on the chunky and dirty side, but it seems natural and print damage is minimal. Dual cinematographers Richard Pallottini & Franco Delli Colli embrace the grittier side of things, but not at the expense of colorful outdoor shots, which are plenty vibrant here. Textures are tightly knit and edges bleed only slightly in wide-angle images. Viewers again have a choice between English and Italian LPCM 1.0 mono. This time, I’m going to recommend the Italian track for its higher volume and precise lip-sync (it’s still dubbed, but almost everyone is speaking Italian on set), though the English track again has the cleaner overall mix. Composer Stelvio Cipriani supplies another stellar and funky score, including one bass riff lifted straight from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”





Extras

  • 2006 NoShame Films introduction by composer Stelvio Cipriani (0:45, SD)

  • Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes (25:48, SD) – A 2006 NoShame interview with Cipriani. Since this was recorded for release with the Colt 38 Special Squad DVD, Cipriani sticks almost exclusively to discussing the writing of that particular score.

  • A Tough Guy (9:30, SD) – Another 2006 NoShame interview, this time with Colt 38 Special Squad editor Antonio Siciliano, who chats about working with Dallamano and the film’s inspiration.

  • Faster Than a Bullet (19:42, HD) – A 2020 Camera Obscura-branded interview with Roberto Curti, author of Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 (McFarland & Co., 2013). Curti gives us a rundown of the poliziotteschi genre, its inspirations, and how Highway Racer fits the tradition.

  • Colt 38 Special Squad trailer

  • Poster galleries



Disc Three:

No, the Case is Happily Resolved

An innocent man finds himself under suspicion for a savage crime committed by a highly respected and wealthy professor. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)


Salerno returns with No, the Case is Happily Resolved (Italian: No il caso è felicemente risolto, 1973). Chronologically, this is the first release in this set, but Arrow has scooted it onto its own disc, because it doesn’t match the specific subgenre types of the other movies. Like Savage Three, No, the Case is Happily Resolved explores corruption at the highest levels of society, but does it from the perspective of a giallo-esque Wrong Man narrative. This makes sense, as the gialli and poliziotteschi fads overlapped and several films, like Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Italian: La Polizia Chiede Aiuto, 1974) and Duccio Tessari’s A Death Occurred Last Night (Italian: La morte risale a ieri sera, 1970), began blending elements of the two genres. No, the Case is Happily Resolved is a stark thriller that, like a good giallo, is constructed around a tightly knit and paranoid mystery (by Salerno and Augusto Finocchi), but the killer’s identity is revealed to the audience almost immediately, giving us more information than the on-screen cops and protagonist, as one might see in a good poliziottescho procedural. It also has a political slant, given the killer’s class superiority and coinciding power over the man he frames for his crimes. What makes it a successful marriage of genres is that it doesn’t quite fit either mold, making it a unique Italian take on Hitchcockian tropes, like Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders (Italian: L'ultimo treno della notte, 1975). The one thing that doesn’t work is Salerno’s dependence on the protagonist’s internal dialogue. He and actor Enzo Cerusico otherwise do such a great job isolating the character and telling us what we need to know about his emotional state via visual cues and performance, rendering the constant narration moot. As if to sabotage himself, Salerno includes similar scenes of the killer (portrayed by Riccardo Cucciolla) doing the same thing without the narration.


As mentioned above, No, the Case is Happily Resolved is one of the two titles (along with Savage Three) that was supplied by an outside studio, but re-graded by Arrow. The results more or less match that transfer, as well as the non-graded transfers. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer might be a little mushier, but it’s also the oldest movie in the collection and actually has better color quality and dynamic range than some of the other titles, so I suppose the grading paid off. The solo Italian LPCM 1.0 mono soundtrack has some minor built-in issues with echo and hollowness, but the long silent stretches are free of buzz and hiss. Riz Ortolani’s moody score does a lot of heavy lifting for Salerno, especially his synth title theme, which sounds about five years before its time.





Extras

  • Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in The Years of Lead (20:17, HD) – An Arrow exclusive visual essay by critic/short filmmaker Will Webb that covers the genre’s tropes, social meanings, and a history of The Years of Lead, all set to footage from the five movies in this collection.

  • Mother Justice (40:36, HD) – The final Camera Obscura interview comes from the company’s 2015 disc and features director Vittorio Salerno & actress Martine Brochard. This covers some of the same ground as the Savage Three interview, but tends to pertain strictly to the production and casting of No, the Case is Happily Resolved.

  • Alternate ending (4:02, HD) – No, the Case is Happily Resolved was originally shot with a more pessimistic ending that distributors didn’t like, so Solerno added a joke to the theatrical version. Unlike Camera Obscura, who included two complete cuts of the film, Arrow has opted to include the bummer ending as a separate extra.

  • Italian trailer

  • Poster gallery

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.


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