Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

The Italian West Take On a Classic Theme

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Thompson 1880 (1966) **** PG-13

George Martin: Raymond Alec “Ray” Thompson

Gia Sandri: Shelia O’Conner

Jose Bodalo: Judge Lennox

Gordon Mitchell: Glenn Sheppard

Paul Muller: Jameson Brady

Ignazio Spalla: Pancho, Brady Thug (as Pedro Sanchez)

Pasquale Basile: Lucky, Brady Thug Leader (as Pat Basile)

Consalvo Dell’Arti: Sheriff Braddock

Osiride Pevarello: Augustine, Brady Thug (as Osiride Peverello)

Dino Strano: Axel, Brady Thug

Nino Nini: Mike O’Conner

Aiche Nana: Fanny

Written by: Jaime Jesus Blacazar (as Jesus Balcazar), from a story by Lorenzo Gicca Palli (as Enzo Gicca)

Directed by: Guido Zurli

Synopsis: A non-violent drifter learns how to use a gun to defend a town from a greedy businessman after the man’s goons beat him to a pulp.

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1966 proved to be a pivotal year for the Italian Western as films like Il Bouno, il Brutto, il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), Django, Le Resa dei Conti (The Big Gundown), and Navajo Joe were being released and becoming international hits, thus giving the genre a broader place in the cinema spectrum. Some lesser more “B” quality, but no less entertaining films such as Un Dollaro Tra i Denti (A Dollar Between the Teeth/A Stranger in Town), Mille Dollari Sui Nero ($1000 on the Black), Sette Dollari sul Rosso (Seven Dollars on the Red), Tempo di Massacro (Massacre Time), and of course Thompson 1880 also were released.  Thompson, the last of the bunch has often been seen by Italo Western fans as probably one of the least entries of the Golden Period of the genre. It’s lack of the edgier and darker material that had been in place since Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci gave the genre it’s success made it automatically 2nd rate, and the chosen director, while a success in other genres, wasn’t seen as a proper choice .That, and the decision to go a little more American style in the approach wasn’t seen as necessary with the genre now having its own voice.  While not inventive in any way, director Guido Zurli and screenwriter Jaime Jesus Balcazar still put together a good old-fashioned story about a wandering young man aiding a dying town against a greedy businessman intent on driving out the citizens so all the trading in goods goes to him.

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George Martin, one of the few Spanish leading men of the Italian Westerns, does good against type as Raymond “Ray” Thompson. A peaceful man at heart, Ray makes his living as a gunsmith, knowing the ins and outs of a gun, save for being able to use one himself. On his way to Mexico to sell some of his wares, Ray becomes embroiled in the town of Desert Springs’ problems when he refuses to pay the ludicrous price for two beers. When the goons of the greedy businessman Brady fail to intimidate him, even getting beaten up by him, they all realize Ray could get the town to rally against them. Using his wit, skill, and stoic determination, Ray agrees to help in the fight.  Martin was initially sold in the film as a contemporary to Giuliano Gemma, having him use his fists more than weapons to defend himself. While he would later be known for his brooding flawed heroes and his nasty villains, Martin handles being an acrobatic fighter well and is quite believable in the part.

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Gia Sandri, a lesser known Italian character actress, is a blast and a breath of fresh air as Shelia O’Conner. Shelia proves to be the only one in Desert Springs who openly stands up to Brady and his goons. Helping her father, an old honest merchant, Shelia is the only business owner in town who hasn’t given in to the intimidation that has practically left the town broke. The final straw for Shelia is when a much-needed shipment of goods is taken away, in spite of the seller’s refusal to be intimidated. While unable to fight like a man, Shelia constantly pushes the buttons of Brady’s thugs, hoping they’ll forget their boss’s orders of nonviolence so a Marshal can be brought in. Sandri’s spitfire, feisty, and independent woman of the West was a much-needed change up for the time. Women of the Italian West tended to be very generic, often times a punching bag for the rough neck bad guys or a scheming shrew who’s plans always seem to go wrong, so seeing an independent woman who wasn’t going to let men do all the work and thinking for her.

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Gordon Mitchell as Glenn Sheppard in Thompson 880 (1966)

Jose Bodalo, an Argentinian actor working in Spain, normally known for his roles as bandidos, also plays against type in the role of Judge Lennox. A fine Judge in the city of Desert Springs until a verdict made in haste lead to an innocent man’s death, Lennox laments his failure by drinking himself into a near constant stupor. Brady’s thugs generally leave him alone as he spends most of his time quoting playwrights like Shakespeare, which somehow amuse the intellect lacking brutes. Ray’s standing up to the criminal Brady eventually gives him the courage to face his demons. Gordon Mitchell, an American bodybuilder turned actor who enjoyed a 20-year period of steady work in Italy has a short but sweet appearance as the crippled Glenn Sheppard. A gunman by trade until Brady ordered his hands broken for standing up to him, Sheppard’s content to lick his wounds in the desert until he can pay Brady back. A meeting with Ray in the desert where Ray modifies his gun so he can use it despite his hands gives Sheppard back his edge and his gratitude.

Paul Muller as Jameson Brady in Thompson 1880 (1966)

Paul Muller, a Swiss actor mostly known for his work with the cult filmmaker Jess Franco, is a treat as the slimy and shifty Brady. Realizing Desert Springs potential as a hub for goods trading, Brady orders his men to offer fair prices to sellers to sell to him, with added “persuasion” for good measure. Brady seems unstoppable as he gives his men strict orders to never resort to violence and using guns as that would bring federal marshals which would lead to convictions for carpetbagging and monopoly. Knowing as long as everything is by the letter of the law, Brady is in control. Rays arrival in town puts a monkey wrench in Brady’s plan as since Ray isn’t afraid to take on Brady’s thugs in a fight, the shady businessman is forced to play his own version of dirty to ensure the town doesn’t unite to stand up to him.

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While not the most inventive, unique, or different Italian Western of the ’66 boom, Thompson 1880 still offers good old-fashioned entertainment, interesting characters even without the benefit of depth, and a nice simple story. The hero might not have the mysteriousness of a Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Franco Nero, or Anthony Steffen, but he’s someone audiences can relate to as he prefers using non-lethal means to resolve problems, but will act if that’s what needs to be done. The plot is basic, but told in a very exciting and interesting fashion that will keep viewers wondering how the situation will be resolved. Yes, it does lean a little more towards an American B Western, but like with the films of Enzo G. Castellari, the film’s main focus is to entertain and amuse, and allow the audience to root for the hero, sneer at the villains, and hoot/holler at the action scenes. Not perfect, but far from dull, Thompson 1880 is a sleeper hit fun ride.

(I highly recommend this film, and don’t need to add much more, save for the above, why it’s a worthy watch. The Koch Media DVD presents a fine audio and visual transfer, both points crisp and clear. Sadly, the DVD is long out of print, but I have seen new and sealed copies offered on Ebay, at fair prices. I’ll certainly list any sellers if copies are still available.)

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Addio George Hilton

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author alone)

Hello to all my followers, those I’m following, and all curious visitors,

Nearly 48 hours ago it was announced that the Uruguayan-Italian actor George Hilton has passed away at age 85. The news was confirmed by his romantic partner Gabriela in a post on Facebook. The cause of death has not been revealed as of yet, but Gabriela has stated that Hilton had been unwell for some time and was battling something. Gabriela’s fond farewell to the man she loved is moving and poetic, something I think all people in love should receive.

I must admit my fascination and admiration of George Hilton has only been within the last couple of years. I recall in my early college years (man, to feel old at 32) having seen Los Desesperados (The Desperate Desperadoes/A Bullet for Sandoval) and not thinking much of it or Hilton. When I finally got a region free Blu Ray player, tired of being limited in what was available here in the States, one of my earliest purchases was the Hilton Western Il Tempo degli Avvoltio (The Time of Vultures/Last of the Badmen) on Blu Ray from Germany. Hilton was both perplexing and amazing for me in the film, and I found myself thinking Why haven’t I noticed him before? and realizing the talent he possessed. More films with him including Il Dolce Corpo di Deborah (The Sweet Body of Deborah), C’e Sartana…..Vendi la Pistola e Comprati la Bara (I Am Sartana, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin), Lo Strano Vizio della Signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh), and La Coda della Scorpione (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail), all of which I enjoy very much.

As I had stated in my Actor/Actress Spotlight of him earlier in the year here, Hilton could overdo his performances at times, but after seeing him in so many films, I realized he never went to a level that could be deemed silly, and these performances often times worked in the film’s favor, showing Hilton’s dedication to his craft and wanting to do the best he could with the role given to him. Probably the most grossly underrated of these performances was that of Insp. Ugo Moretti in Torino Violenta (Violent Turin/Double Game) in 1979. Viewed as the worst Euro-Crime film ever made, Hilton actually gives a very fine performance as the good cop gone bad, finally snapping at the horrid rise of crime in his city, and looking to frame two rival gangs for his crimes. Hilton himself gave praise to the Turin film crew for their professionalism and would gladly work with them again.

I knew Hilton was having some heath issues, and became worried after seeing his Arrow interviews for Sartana and Scorpion’s Tail, something clearly affecting his speech and aging. He was still very much in control of his faculties and as coherent as ever, but it was clear an illness or stroke of some kind affected him profoundly, and not as full of life and vigor as before. A few weeks ago Daniel Carmego, who did the recent documentary on Hilton’s life and career, sent me a very nice comment on my About page, thanking me for the nice write ups I was doing on Hilton and his films. Here is what he wrote to me:

Hi Tony, nice to see your pieces about George Hilton and his films. He is an actor who deserves it – Daniel Carmego

Now I’m not normally one to associate anything to the supernatural and such, though I am more in touch with my sensitive side, but when I learned of Hilton’s passing I looked back on that comment and got a little misty-eyed, thinking maybe it was really Hilton himself asking Carmego to convey his thanks to me. Now I could be totally wrong with this, having felt a pang learning an actor I admire had passed away (I felt something similar when Tomas Milian passed away), but I’m content in thinking this little idea might be possible.

Andare con Dio George, you will be missed, but never forgotten.

Check under my Western and Euro-Crime pages for my writings on Mr. Hilton.

Here’s Gabriela’s tribute to the man she loved

(I hope she’s OK with people spreading the word)


Filed under: Film: Special Topics

The Euro-West Version Of Wagon Train

by Tony Nash

(A Part of western Wednesdays)

(Spoiler Free)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

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Antes Llega la Muerte (I Sette del Texas/The Hour of Death/The Seven from Texas) (1964) **** PG-13

Paul Piaget: Bob Carey

Claudio Undari: Ringo (as Robert Hundar)

Gloria Milland: Maria (Mary) Clifford

Fernando Sancho: Tomaso Scometti

Jesus Puente: Mr. Clifford

Francisco Sanz: Rogers the Guide (as Paco Sanz)

Raf Baldassarre: Jess, Bandit Leader (as Ralph Baldwyn)

Gregorio Wu: Lin Chu (as Gregory Wu)

Beni Deus: Dan

Luis Induni: Donald, Bandit

Gaspar “Indio” Gonzalez: Tom, Bandit (as Indio Gonzalez)

Written by: Federico De Urrutia, Manuel Sebares, & Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent (as Joaquin L. Romero Marchent)

Directed by: Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent

(credits according to Spanish version)

Synopsis: The wealthy Mr. Clifford must get his wife Mary to the city of Laredo for an operation. With the Apaches on the war path, all he and his guide can find for help is some local riff-raff, the only good man of the bunch being Mary’s ex-boyfriend Bob Carey, recently released for a self-defense killing. Trouble quickly brews when the leader of a bandit gang trying to rob the Clifford’s seeks revenge on the group for being left helpless to be killed by the Apaches.

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Having come out the same year as Per un Pugni di Dollari (A Fistful of Dollars) and Pistole non Disconto (Gun’s Don’t Argue), Antes Llega is another of the early precursors to what would make up the Italian Western genre. Spanish filmmaker Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent, one of the leading figures of Spanish genre cinema along with his elder son Rafael Romero, creates an interesting story revolving around a group of characters who learn a lot about themselves and the people they once mistrusted as they head off on a wagon journey to the big city. The rag tag group includes a man and his wife, a famous gunfighter recently released from prison, the man out to kill the gunman for the self-defense killing of his brother, an honorably loyal crusty guide, and a roughish Mexican Indian with unusual loyalties & his close friend. The woman’s ill health is the reason for the trip, but because the husband doesn’t want her to worry, tells her she’s in the early stages of pregnancy and the city of Laredo is ideal for raising the coming child. When the group must put aside suspicions and hate when bandits posing as aids, as well as marauding Apaches begin stalking them, the group begins to respect each other and come to realize certain truths.

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The CBS series Wagon Train was still on the air at the time of the film’s release, and it’s not completely implausible that Marchent was influenced by the series as he co-authored the screenplay. That it’s a journey film with various locations and characters making cameo appearances gives some credence to this idea, but the characters and the reason for the journey appear to be more in line with the Italian feel of the genre. And with the journey being impromptu, there’s no Wagon Master, though Mr. Clifford is clearly the organizer/head of the trip.

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The only stand out performances from the cast are Italian/Euro Western regulars Claudio Undari (under his American alias Robert Hundar), Fernando Sancho, and Raf Baldassare. Undari plays Ringo, a man determined to kill Bob Carey for the death of his brother, whom others insist Ringo’s brother tried to get Carey from behind. He eventually comes to be a 2nd needed hand to the group as the journey becomes more treacherous and the dangers of attack rise higher. Initially full of anger as he joins the wagon group, his hate for Carey gradually lessens, but also feels he owes his brother to avenge him, leaving him torn as to what is really right in the long run. Sancho plays Tomaso, a mixed-race man, of Spanish and Native American roots. While many who were part Native American heritage during the period were shunned and victims of harsh discrimination, Tomaso seems to have gained the respect and admiration of the local community, in spite of his criminal behavior. While he has no qualms about stealing and fighting, he gives those he likes and admires the respect and courtesy they deserve, and will stick it out as long as he has to. Baldassare, a normally secondary character in the Westerns, gets a rare opportunity to be the main bad guy of a film as Jess. An outlaw by profession, Jess and his crew use the trip as a means to rob the train, and initially are with Tomaso and his pal on the scheme. When Bob Carey intervenes on the Clifford’s behalf, the group chooses to leave Jess to hands of fate. He swears revenge not long after.

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While leaning more towards the American style of the Western than the Italian style soon to follow, Antes Llega is still an interesting little film that mixes character relations and action set pieces. The characters are one dimensional, but are still interesting in that they seem like very real people who could be encountered in everyday life. Marchent, known for his human interest drama Westerns, shows off what he intended that style to be, and though the character interactions take precedent over the story, the film remains intriguing.

(I do recommend this film as it offers a nice mix of action and drama, but am a little disappointed with Dorado Films in the advertising of the release. Their original info when the release was first announced said that Spanish and English audio would be included, English subtitles for the Spanish audio. Sadly, the Spanish audio is not included, even with the SWDb release page info saying that it is. I’m not saying that Dorado intentionally deceived anyone with this mistake, but that kind of mistake should be taken into account. The release itself does offer a fine visual transfer that offers crisp imagery, even with clearly faded colors. The English dub is decent, but at times it’s still easy to tell it’s bland it spots, though this go around the dubbers are at least trying to do a decent job and sound convincing. Overall not that bad of a release.)

All images courtesy of Images, and their respective owners, including Dorado Films

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

High Plains Drifter: The Key Clue No One Saw


by Tony Nash

(Major Spoilers ahead, so for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, watch it and then comeback)

(all opinions are of the author alone)

Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter (1973) ****1/2 R

Clint Eastwood: The Stranger

Verna Bloom: Sarah Belding

Mitchell Ryan: Dave Drake

Billy Curtis: Mordecai

Ted Hartley: Lewis Belding

Geoffrey Lewis: Stacey Bridges

Dan Vadis: Dan Carlin

Anthony James: Cole Carlin

Walter Barnes: Sheriff Sam Shaw

Marianna Hill: Claire Trevors (as Mariana Hill)

Buddy Van Horn: Marshal Jim Duncan

Written by: Ernest Tidyman & Dean Riesner

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Synopsis: A mysterious stranger, for reasons of his own, aids a cowardly town against the three outlaws they sent to prison.

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Now High Plains Drifter doesn’t need an introduction, everybody is familiar in one way or another with this Western that blends in snippets of Gothic Horror. The main question that people find themselves asking when it comes to the film is who exactly is The Stranger. Clint Eastwood in his Inside the Actors Studio interview, as well as info from the IMDb and Wikipedia state that the original script had The Stranger be the dead Marshal’s brother out to avenge his murder, but later felt leaving it ambiguous as to who The Stranger really is was much more interesting.

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The most popular theory is that The Stranger is in fact the reincarnation of Marshal Jim Duncan, back from the dead to avenge his own murder, and humiliate the town that stood by and did nothing to save him. Initially fans stated it was highly plausible as there were certain things only the Marshal would know regarding his own death that his brother wouldn’t be privy to and that the actor who plays the Marshal bore a keen likeness to Clint Eastwood (he was also Eastwood’s regular stunt double and later stunt coordinator) but others have argued otherwise that this theory is too obvious. Others have said he is in fact a ghost allowed to function as a flesh and blood person, particularly in that he survives being shot point-blank range in a bath tub and his simply vanishing at the end of the film.

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I myself am certain that the theory of The Stranger being the Marshal’s reincarnation is in fact the undisputed answer to the question of the character’s identity. Now the evidence already given from the IMDb is a good enough indication to give it plenty of weight to be true, but there’s a brief scene that gives the theory its highest context. As The Stranger is riding into town, he passes by a wagon delivering goods, and as the wagon is about to take off, one of the riders snaps a whip to get the team of horses going. As The Stranger hears the whip, he head turns suddenly to the noise, and for the only time in the film his facial expression is one of unease, hesitation, and maybe even a little fear. This is a solid indication he’s a man spared the coldness of death, and allowed the opportunity to avenge himself. Only a man recently revived from the grave would have a reaction to the sound of a whip like The Stranger did, actually reliving his final moments in life.

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People will very well argue that The Stranger still could be the dead Marshal’s brother, automatically recognizing the sound of the weapon that killed his brother. Now while that’s true, the Marshal’s brother would display a reaction of anger or grief, remembering the pain of losing his brother, The Stranger reacts in a way of a man who felt the whip against his flesh, feeling his life slowly slipping from him, two totally different reactions. This reaction, as well as the scene where Eastwood dreams of how he died when he was still Marshal Jim Duncan, definitely does it for me that The Stranger and Marshal Duncan are one in the same. No one but the Marshal would know the exact circumstances of his own death, and how exactly to torment both his killers and the cowardly bystanders who let him die.

(I’m not normally a Clint Eastwood fan, save for Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo [The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly], but his first Western as both actor and director is quite intriguing and entertaining, and very much recommended for both Classic Western lovers and fans of Revisionist and Italian style Westerns.)

(Like with Clue, you can call me crazy if you want here, but please keep the comments fair and not mean.)

Here’s a compilation video of a cover version of the High Plains Drifter the as well as the original scene in full. that show the moment I spoke about. 1:03 is the start for the compilation video and 1:57 for the standard scene. I also highly recommend listening to the whole cover recording as its fairly well done, and keeps with the atmosphere of the film.

(all images are from Images and their respective owners, and the videos are from YouTube and their respective owners and licensing)

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Filed under: Film: Special Topics

Betti in Turin: A Tough Cop in A Violent Land

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Poliziotto e Criminale: The Poliziotteschi of the 1970’s)

(Mild Spoilers)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Italia a Mano Armata (A Special Cop in Action/Italy: Armed and Dangerous) (1976) **** R

Maurizio Merli: Commissario Betti

Raymond Pellegrin: Commissario Arpino

John Saxon: Jean Albertelli

Mirella D’Angelo: Luisa

Toni Ucci: Raffaele Cacace

Daniele Dublino; Luzzi

Sergio Fiorentini: Salvatore Mancuso

Aldo Barberito: Maresciallo Ferrari

Massimo Vanni: Massimo Fabbri

Enzo Andronico: Antonio Boretti

Carlo Valli: Rocchi

Fortunato Arena: Carlo Morel

Written by: Vincenzo Mannino, Leila Buongiorno, & Gianfranco Clerici

Directed by: Marino Girolami (as Franco Martinelli)

Synopsis: Commissioner Betti and his partner Commissioner Arpino believe mobster Albertelli is behind a group of roughnecks kidnapping a bus load of school kids and holding them for ransom. The situation becomes very complicated when one of the children dies of a health problem, and the men are now wanted all over Italy. Albertelli tries to erase his connection to the kidnapping by framing Betti for the shooting of an unarmed man.

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Commissioner Betti investigates his final case in the finale of the Trilogy that bears his name. This go around has Betti and the fellow officers working with him, certain that a powerful Turin Mob Boss was the man behind the scenes of a group of children being kidnapped, and conspire to bring him and his empire down. The problem becomes that the Mafioso has an airtight alibi, there’s little to evidence to tie him to the case, and the suspects have either died mysteriously or have forced the police to kill them. That innocent children were victimized by hoodlums makes Betti furious and that one has died because the hoods wouldn’t take him to a doctor make getting the mobster all the more pertinent. When a smuggling operation appears to be the real plan of the mobster and the kidnapping was a diversion, have Betti wanting revenge all the more.  Three years prior to the underrated Turino Violenta, it was Commissioner Betti who first took audiences to the rough and edgy streets of Turin, with rampant and blatant criminals, and an overworked and undermanned police force.

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What makes this final entry into the Betti Trilogy unique is that it focuses particularly on two interlocking cases, the kidnapping case, and the mobster’s criminal activity. The first entry was completely vignette style with an interlocking theme of vigilante justice and the second entry and similar, but had a main arc that tied all the smaller vignettes together for a complete whole. So that this entry has a more concrete straightforward basic plot makes the film interesting viewing as it allows fans to a see a more in depth look at how the Italian police operate on a more fluid level and the dedication the force puts into each case and helping each other.

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Maurizio Merli, in his final outing as Betti, gets to go a little deeper with the character than he had before. While Merli still has Betti as a man who doesn’t let the book limit him in how he went after the bad guys, he adds a little more humanity this go around. That innocent children who were kidnapped has Betti mad, sick, and powerless, and knows going gung-ho won’t do any good this time. Merli wasn’t known for being diversive with displaying emotions, but here he does a fine job with showing Betti as a flawed human, more than the previous two entries, though he was shown to care about particular characters in those as well. Ironically, those feelings have Betti doing an even better job as a cop as he decides to pursue this particular investigation with newer methods that get results. That Betti gets creative with bringing the mobster Albertelli shows audiences Betti just wasn’t just fists and anger, and lets the same audiences know he was a good cop. Also different is the adding of a romantic storyline for the Betti character, but again the first film shows him as a having a relationship with a woman he’s able to keep out of his world. This love interest is the mother of one of the kidnapped children, the who sadly died. He’s able to comfort her, and she realizes after being angry that Betti is a good and decent guy, trying to do the right thing. That Betti is dealing directly with the mob this go around has both himself and the audience curious as to how he’ll fare after all is said and done.

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Raymond Pellegrin, a French actor who spent the 1970’s in Italy, is interesting as Commissioner Arpino. A little more by the book than Betti, Arpino shares his partner’s want of justice and is equally horrified at the kidnapping of the school children. His methods are more of the ethical policeman of the period, and acts and Betti’s informative counterpart, gathering up what information he can to help Betti in catching the evil doers. He also shows he’s not above going in Betti’s direction of using assertive force in getting things done. While the character is pretty average for the most post, Pellegrin still does a good job at making Arpino believable and showing a fairly realistic cop of the time, a rarity for feature films.

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John Saxon, in another of his many appearances in Italy, exudes a smiling deceptiveness as Albertelli. A local kingpin in the city of Turin, Albertelli has both a series of loyal henchman, and those who fear him greatly. That he successfully orchestrates a kidnapping of school children to cover up a bigger deal shows what he’s willing to do to get business completed. That he knows the law and has several individuals willing to give him alibis for any crimes in question shows the pull he has and that he has to be stopped. What eventually proves to be a mistake for him is when he tries unsuccessfully to frame Commissario Betti for shooting one of his men who witnesses say was unarmed. He begins to show his true colors as Betti and company begin to make it look like those around him are beginning to talk.

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The most intricate entry in the Betti Trilogy, Italia a Mano offers up the usual thrills and also goes into the intricate work the police engage in to bring suspects to justice. The balance between story and action is done quite well, and viewers are never left with space fillers, the everything moving at a fair pace. Some might think that because the film focuses a little more on gathering evidence and information, and less time on seeing Maurizio Merli beating up the bad guys the film wasn’t as good as its predecessors, this isn’t the case as the film tries to be a bit more mature and showing the law in its own way does do the best it can, though taking risks is sometimes the only way to get things done. While Betti always  manages to get the job done, how long will it be before the criminal underworld finally decides to take their revenge on him?

(I highly recommend the third and final entry into the Betti trilogy, and even though it’s more story and dialogue driven, still offers a good amount of action and suspense. Maurizio Merli shows he was a more than just a tough guy within the genre, showing brief glimpses of dramatic acting and romantic acting. The Blu Ray from Dorado films isn’t perfect, but is still fairly watchable. It’s clear from the stills there’s a better print of the film and audio, whereas Dorado’s looks to have faded colors and the audio can be a little out of sync. This isn’t necessarily Dorado’s own fault, most likely they only had access to an English print that hadn’t fared well in storage over the years. The quality is still good even with the limited elements available to the company, and given it was their first Blu Ray release is a pretty decent job overall.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

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(The Blu Ray is exclusive to Dorado’s website, but their standard shipping fee isn’t expensive and comes out to a fair price in the long run, a little cheaper than general retail even.)


Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

The Cop Investigates in the Shadows

by Tony Nash

( A Part of Poliziotto e Criminale: The Poliziotteschi of the 1970’s)

(Mild Spoilers)

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Il Cinico, l’Infame, il Violento (The Cynic, the Rat, & the Fist) (1977) R ****

Maurizio Merli: Ex-Commissario Leonardo Tanzi

Tomas Milian: Luigi “Il Cinese” Maietto

John Saxon: Frank Di Maggio

Renzo Palmer: Commissario Astalli

Gabriella Lepori: Nadia

Claudio Undari: Dario, Di Maggio Thug (as Robert Hundar)

Bruno Corazzari: Ettore, “Cinese” Thug

Marco Guglielmi: Marchetti

Gabriella Giorgelli: Uncle Tanzi

Gianni Musy: Nicola Proietti

Gianfilippo Carcano: Il Professore

Claudio Nicastro: Fazi

Witten by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Dardano Sachetti, & Umberto Lenzi, from a story by Sauro Scavolini

Directed by: Umberto Lenzi

Synopsis: After he’s legally declared dead when notorious criminal Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto puts a hit contract on him, retired police detective Leonardo Tanzi decides to take him down under this ruse. Learning Maietto was recently paroled and entering a partnership with American expate gang boss Frank Di Maggio, Tanzi begins to incite suspicion and paranoia between the two.

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In 1977, the Euro Crime sub-genre still had pep in it but a lack of new ideas was slowly creeping up upon the writers. Many of the problems that plagued the country of Italy at the time still existed, but the determination of the police force and government officials seemed to put criminal and terrorist activity into a standstill, so the public hadn’t the same fears of only a few years earlier. Umberto Lenzi, along with screenwriting stalwarts Ernesto Gastaldi and Dardano Sachetti fashioned a really interesting and different script based on an early treatment by Sauro Scavolini. Unlike its predecessors, this film is a more straightforward fare with little surprises or subtext, but how Lenzi and his cowriters intertwine exciting action with good story make up for this lack of genre classics. With the protagonist cop allowing the gangster who ordered his murder to believe he succeeded so he can bring him to justice without alerting him or his cohorts, Lenzi puts a unique spin on the age-old cop and gangster film. The cop’s use of his being legally dead to turn the man who wanted him dead against his American partner and vice-versa to prevent the biggest criminal cartel Rome’s ever seen makes for an equally cool subplot to co-inside with the main story.

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An interesting note that most viewers won’t notice until seeing interviews with Umberto Lenzi and Euro Crime expert Mike Malloy is that Maurizio Merli has no physical interaction whatsoever with costars Tomas Milian and John Saxon. Merli and Milian had previously worked together with Lenzi on the genre classic Roma a Mano Armata (Rome Armed to the Teeth), but the two men’s constant clashes on set eventually led to a very physical altercation (which will be discussed more in depth with that’s film’s review later this year). As such, Merli refused to even be on the same set or location with Milian and their scenes were shot separately, very cleaver editing making it look as if the two men were in the same scenes. Saxon, who had worked with Merli on the 2nd and 3rd entries in the Commissario Betti Trilogy, recalled years later that Merli was something of a prima donna and always flaunting his status as Italy’s newest action star, but because Saxon’s Italian film work was strictly to supplement what he lost in taxes, the actor’s memory of why he and Merli didn’t share scenes is hazy.

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Maurizio Merli, in one of his last really good roles of the genre, does his usual tough guy flare as Leonardo Tanzi. After earning a well-deserved retirement, Tanzi appears to be enjoying a life ease in the newspaper business, though he still gets ask to give his opinion on certain cases. When his old enemy The Chinaman tries to have him rubbed out for putting away a few years earlier, Tanzi decides he’s in a perfect position to take down the notorious criminal for good. While his former superior insists he leave the police work to the active police, Tanzi has a score to settle and won’t be satisfied until it’s finished. Tanzi spends the majority of his time checking out leads and asking of any particular goings on into any unusual activity among the underworld. He does agree to take some side cases, including saving an old friend’s daughter from porn racketeers, which results in a very interesting fight scene between Tanzi and the sleazebags, and foiling a heist. When he discovers a plot to take over the local crime regime by the Chinaman and an expatriated American gangster, Tanzi decides to play the duo against each other, and have them take each other out.

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Tomas Milian, also in one of his last great roles before he slid into bawdy comedy roles in Italy, does a good intimidating job as Luigi Maietto aka the Chinaman. Little is said of Maietto’s exploits and reputation, but it’s made clear from other characters, including Tanzi himself, that he’s one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. He manages to cause a stir among colleagues and new blood on the streets when it’s believed his ordered contract from prison to permanently eliminate Tanzi has succeeded, Maietto is offered a partnership with exiled American crime boss Frank Di Maggio. Usually a loner in his own right, Maietto agrees to a deal: Maietto will be the muscle when hesitant clients don’t feel the need to pay Di Maggio, and Di Maggio will give Maietto a nice chunk of the profits. When members of Maietto’s crew begin to believe a cop may have gone rogue to avenge Tanzi’s murder, Maietto starts to wonder if Di Maggio and an unknown third party are setting him up so he won’t become a force to be reckoned with in the various crime syndicates. Milian’s usual Method Style acting isn’t on display as much as is his usual foray, but he’s still able to put his talents to well use in the character’s mannerisms.

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John Saxon, an Italian-American character actor, gives one of his many overseas performances as Frank Di Maggio. An expatriate (unknown if he’s escaping or was thrown out) from America who went on to build a small, but successful, criminal empire, Di Maggio is constantly looking to expand and make himself one of the most feared men in Italy. Upon learning of the Chinaman’s release from prison and his apparent successful elimination of Leonardo Tanzi, Di Maggio decides to form a partnership with the Chinaman and make the two of them the most feared criminal masterminds in the city. Unbeknownst to either man, Tanzi successfully thwarted the Chinaman’s hit, and begins to bring the two men down by ruining several of Di Maggio’s planned criminal activities and making the expate gangster believe he’s being double crossed by his new partner. Having never met Tanzi or had personal dealings with the man, Di Maggio has absolutely no clue that Tanzi is behind all of his problems.

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While average by many standards of the genre, the film still has enough of the classical elements to make it an enjoyable ride for enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Umberto Lenzi thought the only thing wrong with the film was the title. Apparently, the original trailer had the film under the title Insieme per una Grande Rapina (which literally means Together for a Great Robbery), but the producers wanted a title that sounded like Sergio Leone’s Il Bouno, il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the recent delinquent youth crime film Liberi, Armati, Pericolosi (Young, Violent, Dangerous), and so changed the title to what it’s now known by. The title really has no connection whatsoever to the film and really was just a cash in on the current fad of the times. Lenzi, up until his death, always maintained his stance that the film would’ve found more success when originally released had the working title been made permanent. The acting is quite good, the story is well paced, and the music is the usual fare fans expect from Euro Crime. Not the best made or the most influential, the film is still entertaining and loads of fun to watch.

(Like always I do highly recommend this one as fun little gem to rediscover and enjoy. The action set pieces are nicely done and offer a nice mix of suspense and action. The performances, especially from Tomas Milian, are what to expect from a police action film, but are always very well done and believable. The Blu Ray from the UK company 88 Films and their Italian Collection line offers up a fine quality audio and visual transfer that are crisp and and balanced. The only slight negative is that the translated subtitles of the Italian audio seem to run on together towards the end of sentences. Other than that, the Blu Ray is highly recommended.)

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Buying options

The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist (Blu-ray) – The Italian Collection 17



Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics