• Climber, The

    Released by: Arrow Films
    Released on: May 15, 2017
    Directed by: Pasquale Squitieri
    Cast: Joe Dallesandro, Stefania Casini, Raymond Pellegrin, Benito Artesi, Ferdinando Murolo, Tony Askin, Giovanni Cianfriglia, Lorenzao Piani
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    American-born Aldo (Joe Dallesandro) is a petty thief living in Naples. When he decides to steal from Italian mobsters headed by Ciriaco (Benito Artesi), his friend is murdered and he’s captured and beaten. He manages to plead his way out of the situation, but he only makes matters worse when he steals drugs for them and is betrayed. He then decides to create his own gang, not just to steal but also to exact revenge on his enemies. His plan works, at least, for a while, and he moves up the criminal ladder until he’s top dog. Along for the ride is his gorgeous girlfriend, Luciana (Stefania Casini, Dallesandro’s real-life girlfriend at the time).

    The Climber has been compared to—and called a precursor of—Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), which features a similar tale of a low-rent hood climbing his way up the mafioso until he becomes its head. It seems a little doubtful, however, that De Palma ever saw this film or, if he had, was moved by it enough to rip it off under the name of another classic. Rather, The Climber and its brethren seem inspired by the innumerable crime films churned out by Hollywood during the 1930s, many of which featured the likes of Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson, and a pre-horror Boris Karloff. These included the original, pre-Code gangster classic Scarface (1932), about an Italian-American Chicagoan whose rise through the city’s criminal echelon is beaten only by his fall. Scarface was a major success for producer/co-director Howard Hawks and releasing company United Artists, and it had more than its fair share of imitators.

    There’s little that we here at Rock! Shock! Pop! could say about director Pasquale Squitieri that isn’t said better by film historian Roberto Curti in the liner notes for Arrow’s Blu-ray and DVD release of The Climber. Suffice it to say, Squitieri made his films on low budgets, often forced to work quickly and in real locations before having to move on to the next shot. The result is a seedy realism that brands his pictures in much the same way that Frank Henenlotter’s presentation of New York City in his early films is a distinguishing mark. Fabio Testi was apparently tested for the role of Aldo, but his heritage precluded him convincingly portraying New York street trash, a role tailor made for Joe Dallesandro.

    Dallesandro began his career as a model for Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild, a company that published magazines and short films aimed at titillating gay men. It wasn’t long before Dallesandro was discovered by pop artist Andy Warhol and underground filmmaker Paul Morrissey. He starred in several films for the two men before breaking somewhat big in Flesh (1968). This was followed by Trash (1970) and Heat (1972), forming an unholy trinity of trashy arthouse aesthetics. Dallesandro was next cast in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973, aka Flesh for Frankenstein), shot in 3D and on location in Italy. He quickly followed it up with the superior Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974, aka Blood for Dracula). Having firmly established himself as a star in Europe, he made Italy his home base for the next several years, starring in a host of films across the lower continent and for such notable directors as Louis Malle, Serge Gainsbourg, and Walerian Borowczyk, among others. Among the films he shot there was The Climber.

    The Climber was a failure upon its original theatrical release in Italy and received scant notice elsewhere, but in the years since, its reputation has grown. Effective cinematography that aims for realism over surrealism and a tenacious, violent approach from its director makes The Climber an effective entry in an Italian subgenre that has produced ample classics. In retrospect, that it’s taken this long to find its audience is a shame.


    The Climber comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow with a brand-new MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition reflecting the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film is placed on two separate discs, one a BD50, the other a standard DVD. Per the liner notes in the booklet, “All restoration work was carried out at L'Immagiane Ritrovata, Bologna. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution on a pin registered Arriscan and was graded on Digital Vision's Nucoda Film Master.” But while the DVD looks good, the Blu-ray looks exquisite in a 1970s grainy sort of way. The film was made on an extremely low budget using mostly natural lighting, which means that interiors are darker and grainier than exteriors, but don’t be fooled into believing that’s a bad thing; it most definitely isn’t. While clarity and detail range (daylight shots tend to be sharper), The Climber has a very filmic look, despite the lack of defects such as dirt and debris, which reflects its time and place of origin. Detail looks best in the sunlight, where the battered cars of a junkyard, the weathered buildings of Rome and Naples, and the foliage of the Italian countryside show off their unique beauty. Check out the tablecloth during a lunch sequence or the foliage during a motorcycle ambush to see examples of detail that really pops. Colors tend toward the natural rather than the artificial, a description that can be applied to every aspect of the image. Grain is foundational and organic but never blown out or distracting.

    Squitieri’s violent and gritty imagery is perfectly complemented by Franco Campanino’s score, which is emphatic and entertaining, as well as a couple of ‘70s soul songs. The film comes with a couple of tracks: The first is a lossless Italian DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, the second a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track. In the former, Dallesandro speaks English but is dubbed by another actor regardless; in the latter, most of the other actors speak Italian but are dubbed into English. As the liner notes state, “The original Italian mono and English language soundtracks were transferred from the original optical sound negatives using the Sondor OMA/E with COSP Xi2K technology to minimise optical noise and produce the highest quality results possible. There are times in which audio synchronisation will appear slightly loose against the picture, due to the fact that the soundtracks were recorded entirely in post production. This is correct and as per the film's original theatrical release.” Much of the dialogue is recorded a bit low—no doubt during the creation of the original track in 1975—which will require some people to watch with the optional English subtitles turned on. These subtitles are in British English (Arrow is a British company that releases products in both the British and American markets). The sound transfers are quite good, with only minor issues as described above.

    This release does not feature the high number of extras that often come with Arrow’s releases, but those that are provided make up for the sparsity. First up is “Little Joe’s Adventures in Europe,” a new interview with star Dallesandro, recorded in 2017. While Dallesandro does discuss The Climber, he touches on his time with Warhol’s Factory and the innumerable other European film appearances he made throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He shares some fascinating anecdotes about Warhol, Morrisey, Squitieri, Casini, and others, as well as about various film shoots.

    Also included is a full-color, 16-page booklet featuring a list of the film’s primary cast and crew members, a page about the restoration process used for the film (detailed above), and various stills from the film. Best of all, however, is that it features an essay about The Climber. Titled “Paradise Lost,” it’s written by Italian film historian Roberto Curti, author of Italian Crime Filmography 1968-1980, Italian Gothic Horror Films 1957-1969, and Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker, among many others. Curti not only knows he’s stuff, but he knows how to present it, too. His writing is beautifully rendered, authoritative, and distinctive. (Note that, according to Arrow’s webpage, the booklet is included only with the first pressing.)

    Finally, rounding out the physical extras, Arrow has included a “reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon.”

    The Climber’s 107-minute running length is divided into 12 chapters for ease of access, with a 13th chapter taking the viewer back to the main menu screen.

    The Final Word:

    The Climber is an entertaining slice of Italian crime cinema. It’s a gritty and violent look at one man’s rise to the top of the Naples criminal underworld, not unlike the two versions of Scarface (1931, 1983), though with a lot more grit. Arrow’s release features a new 4K transfer that retains the seedy look of the original film without sacrificing what makes BD so superior. There are two important extras, one a new interview with star Dallesandro, the other liner notes written by Italian film expert Roberto Curti. Given the relatively inexpensive price this is going for on Amazon, it would be a shame for fans of crime cinema to give it a pass.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Hadn't noticed this one yet. Thanks
    1. Mark C.'s Avatar
      Mark C. -
      My favorite release of 2017, Thanks again Arrow for releasing this rare film.