Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

Fernando Di Leo’s Anti-Mob Movies

‘Kidnap Syndicate’

Fernando Di Leo, the godfather of the poliziotteschi (Italy’s brutal take on the crime thriller genre of the seventies), dismantled the anti-hero glorification of the mafia in the Milieu Trilogy—Caliber 9 (1972), The Italian Connection (1972), and The Boss (1973)—with an unflinching portrait of its corrupt values. There was no criminal code for these mercenary mafia soldiers and self-serving bosses, merely greed and survival (as discussed in yesterday’s Keyframe story on Di Leo). For his next bout with organized crime, Di Leo cast his lens beyond the insular mob world to the culture at large and found that corruption seeped into every level of law and order. While it’s not quite accurate to call Shoot First, Die Later (1974), Kidnap Syndicate (1975), and Rulers of the City (1976) a trilogy in their own right, together they offer a companion series to his mob trilogy where victims of the mafia’s indifference to civilian lives take on the syndicate. Not of idealism, mind you, simply out of vengeance and rage.

Shoot First, Die Later stars Luc Merenda as a hotshot cop on the Milan strike force. Young, good looking and always at the center of big, splashy cases, Domenico Malacarne is the department poster boy for police heroism and he kicks off the film with a ferocious car chase that rivals The French Connection. (It’s the first of two riveting sequences coordinated by French stunt driver Remy Julienne, both among most impressive car chases I’ve seen in seventies cinema.) Little does the media or his own father, a modest and idealistic career cop in a sleepy station in a Milan suburb, know that he’s on the take. Not until a request from the mob puts him in a compromising position and his father in the cross-hairs of the mob.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

The Mafia Worlds of Fernando Di Leo

Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection (RaroVideo)

Caliber 9 (aka Milano Calibro 9) (1972)
The Italian Connection (aka La Mala Ordina) (1972)
The Boss (aka Il Boss and Wipeout!) (1973)
Rulers of the City (aka Il padrone della citta and Mr. Scarface) (1976)

Caliber 9 (1972), the earliest film in the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection quartet of Italian gangster pictures, opens on a scene like something out of a spy thriller—packages passed from hand to hand until the trade-off in the subway, and then the swaps back until the new package is brought back home—but quickly descends into a sequence of startling brutality, all the more brutal because the characters who are systematically tortured and murdered (blown up by dynamite in a cave in the hills, like something out of a perverse melodrama) are not guilty of the crimes they are suspected of. They are simply expendable.

The debut mob movie from writer/director Fernando Di Leo, a veteran screenwriter of spaghetti westerns who came to Caliber 9 (1972) after directing a handful of giallo and sexploitation pictures, establishes the sensibility of his gangster films to come: a hard, unfeeling brutality, a pitiless expediency and an understanding of who is expendable, who is untouchable, and what happens when those rules are broken, as they invariably, inevitably are. This set limns the boundaries of the Italian mafia movie in four rough, tough, pitiless films of greed, ambition, revenge, corruption and the lie of the criminal code.

These are hard, stripped down, lean narratives, where the complicated webs of alliances and betrayals are laid out with clean storytelling lines of force and set in motion with a pitiless momentum. Not that they move at a machine-gun pace, but the plots and schemes tumble out of the control of everyone involved and the reverberations of every attack—success or failure—has consequences that ripple through the underworld.

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