Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Henry Silva, Woody Strode, Richard Conte, Gianni Garko, Jack Palance, Al Cliver, Harry Baer, Edmund Purdom, Gisela Hahn
Written by: Fernando Di Leo
Directed by: Fernando Di Leo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 410
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Don Fernando

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fernando Di Leo (1932-2003) was definitely among the lower echelon of Italian directors; he belonged with the genre directors rather than the Neo-Realists or the art house masters. He began by working a bit with Sergio Leone, but rather than making Westerns or horror films, he dove headfirst into the crime genre.

While he could be accused of borrowing heavily -- and obviously -- from films like The French Connection and The Godfather, Di Leo also brought a great deal of his own energy to his films, grinding out several dazzling, fast-paced, reckless, violent quasi-classics that would go on to be discovered by video renters everywhere (including Quentin Tarantino).

A fun box set, released in 2011 by Raro Video, collected four of Di Leo's works, and now a new Blu-Ray set ups the ante.

Caliber 9 (1972) may seem like the "purest" of the films, without any token Americans in the cast, and without any obvious borrowings from American cinema. Released from jail, Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) hopes to go straight. But the mafia believes that he stole $300,000 that is still missing, and they do not intend to let this drop. Eventually the police and a sexy nightclub dancer Nelly Bordon (Barbara Bouchet) get in on the act.

The title The Italian Connection (1972) is a fairly obvious reference, and Hollywood stars Henry Silva and Woody Strode are also on hand. They are sent to Milan to crack down on a small time thug Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) after a shipment of heroin goes missing. Silva and Strode have some fun scenes together -- and some suggest that they inspired the teaming of Travolta and Jackson in Pulp Fiction -- but the real star is Adorf, who surprisingly turns into a tough guy during an amazing chase scene.

Casting Richard Conte, who starred in The Godfather, must have seemed like a huge coup to Di Leo. In The Boss (1973) -- also known as Wipeout! -- he gets to play the "godfather," the leader of a crime family. Silva again stars as Lanzetta, a skilled hitman sent to rescue the sexy kidnapped daughter, Rina (Antonia Santilli) of a powerful don. Unfortunately, while a powerful war between the families rages, Lanzetta and Rina have become slavish sex partners, never leaving Lanzetta's junky apartment. This movie begins as Lanzetta uses a grenade launcher to wipe out a bunch of mob bosses as they enjoy a porn movie in a screening room.

Finally, there's Rulers of the City (1976), in which the young, cocky Tony (Harry Baer) uses his exceptional fighting skills as a debt collector for the mob. But he wants to do more with his life. Unfortunately, he tangles with an extremely powerful and fearsome gangster called "Scarface" Manzari (Jack Palance).

It's hard to call any of these films masterful, or even skilled. But what they do have is a kind of recklessness and a penchant for going a little further than one would expect. None of the films are ever less than entertaining, and at times, they're even amazing.

All four films in the set come with optional English or Italian-language tracks with subtitles. Viewers can choose to see the American stars speaking in their own voices while the rest of the cast is dubbed, or to see the American stars dubbed and the rest of the cast speaking their native language.

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