• Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: June 22nd, 2021.
    Director: Vittorio Salerno/Mario Imperioli/Massimo Dallamano/Stelvio Massi/Vittorio Salerno
    Cast: Joe Dallesandro, Gianfranco De Grassi, Guido De Carli, Enrico Maria Salerno, Jean-Pierre Sabagh, Annarita Grapputo, Paola Senatore, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivan Rassimov, Maurizio Merli, Giancarlo Sbragia, Enzo Cerusico, Enrico Maria Salerno, Riccardo Cucciolla
    Year: 1975/1976/1976/1977/1973
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    Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 – Movie Review:

    Arrow Video’s Years Of Lead boxed set compiles five classic cop thrillers from the Italy of the mid-seventies in a boxed set that proves to be a fantastic example of just how good many of these films can be. While four of the five were released on Blu-ray by Camera Obscura in nearly identical presentations and the fifth, Colt 38 Special Squad, on DVD by No Shame Films, this set will give those who aren’t region free an opportunity to check out some of these movies in high definition for the first time.

    Disc One:

    Fango Bollente (The Savage Three):

    A fairly insane Italian cross between A Clockwork Orange and Falling Down, Vittorio Salerno’s Fango Bollente opens with an interesting scene of foreshadowing. In the laboratory of a faceless corporation headquartered in Turin, a computer programmer named Ovidio Mainardi (Joe Dallesandro) speaks to a lab technician about the rats living in a large, subdivided plastic box. The tech tells him that when there are dividers keeping the rats from getting too close to one another, they live peacefully but if the dividers are removed, they’ll attack one another. When the tech turns his back, Ovidio removes the dividers and sees that the tech was telling the truth. The tech then asks him if he saw which rat started biting the others first – there’s always one that starts it, he tells him.

    This scene of seemingly real rat on rat violence sets the stage for what’s to come. Ovidio and his two friends/co-workers Giacomo (Gianfranco De Grassi) and Peppi (Guido Di Carli) are easily bored. We see this at a soccer match when, just for kicks, they start a riot that leaves several injured. When they leave the stadium, they steal a Ferrari that they use as a getaway car only until they then decide to knock over two female motorcyclists and subsequently swipe their ride. They’re unhappy at their work where their manager scolds them for errors and where they live under the constant fear of being replaced by machines. Their home lives aren’t much better – Peppi’s apartment is overcrowded with a constant stream of relatives, Giacomo can’t stand the noise made by his neighbors and Ovidio shares his place with his wife (Martine Brochard), an ambitious doctor not beneath giving her supervisor a blowjob if it means landing that promotion.

    As these three become more and more disenfranchised with the world around them, their crime spree turns to murder, rape and more murder – leaving a tired and aging cop (Enrico Maria Salerno) working the case without any cooperation from his commanding officers.

    Co-written by Salerno and Ernesto Gastaldi, this is more than just eighty-five minutes of anarchy. The script is smart, clever enough to make sure we understand why these three young men are lashing out at everyone around them, even if we certainly understand in no uncertain terms that they’re wrong to do so. Anyone who has worked a day job, especially for a large company where you’re really little more than a cog in a much bigger machine, will be able to relate to some of what we see the three men experience here. This humanizes them, even as they’re clearly setup as antagonists rather than antiheros. The movie also makes some interesting comparisons between Ovidio and Enrico Maria Salerno’s world weary cop. Both are men unhappy with their lot in life and intent on changing it – the big difference is in how they go about doing that, with one man trying to disrupt and destroy and the other trying to set things right.

    The film is not short on suspense or strong content. There are a few bloody set pieces here, a rather nasty rape/murder and plenty of abuse hurled by our three leads at anyone unfortunate enough to cross them. This gives the movie a pretty unpredictable turn and that carries through right to the end of the film.

    Performances are pretty solid here. Enrico Maria Salerno isn’t stretching as an actor in this picture but he’s nothing if not dependable when playing a detective. Gianfranco De Grassi and Guido Di Carli are solid here as well, perfectly believable as the rat bastards that they’ve been tasked with portraying. Di Carli in particular has a really memorable scene where, as things are closing in on him, he essentially panics and breaks down. He’s got fairly manic eyes that are put to good use here. Martine Brochard is well cast as Joe’s wife. We see both sides of their marital problems – she’s driven and wants more in life and is willing to work hard and even offer up sexual favors to get it. He, on the other hand, lashes out, takes it out on others. There’s a very telling scene where the two of them go to her boss’ estate for a hunting party, the tension that exists between husband and wife in this scene is unpleasant and Joe Dallesandro really plays ‘angry’ well. He’s solid in the dramatic scenes but also pretty intense in the action scenes too, a perfect example being the scene where he gets into a brawl with a truck driver that he almost drives into (while an old man in a car in the other lane simply watches, not wanting to get involved).

    Quick in its pace, nicely shot on location in Turin and making good use of a fuzzed out guitar heavy score (though the main theme is fairly repetitive and overused), Fango Bollente is really solid stuff, a hard hitting polizieschi picture shot with plenty of style and performed by a very capable cast.

    Come Cani Arrabbiati (Like Rabid Dogs):

    Directed by Mario Imperioli in 1976, Come Cani Arrabbiati (which translates to Like Wild Dogs, which will no doubt draw parallels to Mario Bava’s similarly titled final film) starts with a ridiculously suspenseful scene that takes place at a packed Italian soccer stadium while a tense match is underway. Here we see a trio of men clad in black ski-masks pull of a daring heist in broad daylight. The fact that they robbed the place would be reason enough for the cops to want to bring these guys in, but once you add some cold blooded murder to the list of grievances, it’s no wonder tough as nails cop Paolo Muzi (Jean-Pierre Sabagh) takes this latest case so seriously.

    From here, we get to know these thugs a bit better – Rico (Luis La Torra) and Sylvia (Annarita Grapputo) both answers to their leader, the sadistic Tony (Cesare Barro), their college friend. Collectively they are on a tear, a literal crime spree across town. When they take a hostage and wind up killing her, things start to unravel in a bad way and Tony gets a taste for killing hookers. This inspires Muzi to coax girlfriend Germana (Paola Senatore) into going undercover as a streetwalker but his plan doesn’t quite work out the way he had hoped. Tony is a slippery devil, and he and his crew aren’t going to go down without a fight. They abduct Germana and rough her up, but Muzi and his men are closing in – but will they get there in time?

    This is the type of rough and tumble cop film that could only have come out of mid-seventies Italy! Chock full of all the sex and violence you could hope for it’s a trashy picture that movies at a quick pace and which does not shy away from bloodshed and nudity. The movie does have a fair bit of style to it, however, boasting some really nice camera work in a few scenes and impressive use of color throughout. The film also features a really memorable score that works really nicely alongside the copious car chases and action. It’s nasty, it’s violent and it flaunts political incorrectness almost like a badge of honor – but there’s some interesting social commentary just beneath the surface of Come Cani Arrabbiati that gives it some smarts too.

    Quite surprisingly, the nastiest character in the movie is Sylvia, who shows a real penchant for violence and a knack for sadism here. Annarita Grapputo plays the part well, and often without much in the way of clothing, and she tends to steal most of the scenes she’s in. Luis La Torra is fine here too but he pales in comparison to Cesare Barro, who plays things pretty close to over the top here, but by doing so crafts a pretty memorable villain. Jean-Pierre Sabagh as the ‘good guy’ in charge of bringing down these killers is also quite good in the role, playing the part with just the right amount of cool but not afraid to show his character as a bit unraveled when things hit the fan, particularly when the system he’s sworn to uphold works against him, rather than for him. Throwing the truly beautiful Paola Senatore into the mix doesn’t hurt things in that department either.

    Disc Two:

    Quelli della calibro 38 (Colt 38 Special Squad):

    Stylishly directed and well-paced by Massimo Dallamano (who helmed the excellent giallo What Have You Done To Solange? and who served as director of photography on A Fistful Of Dollars and its sequel), his last directorial effort, Colt .38 Special Squad brings Ivan Rassimov and Marcel Bozzuffi together for an interesting cinematic game of cat and mouse.

    Bozzuffi plays a cop named Vanni who, in the line of duty while busting up a crime ring, shoots and kills a man. Shortly after, the brother of the dead criminal, calling himself the Black Angel (Ivan Rassimov) shows up at Vanni's home and kills his wife in cold blood – a straight up revenge killing that leaves him a widower and a single father.

    Wanting to avenge his wife's death and bring the killer to justice, Vanni is given permission by the top brass to form the Colt .38 Special Squad, so named because of their high caliber fire arms. Vanni sees the four men under his supervision through some very specialized training where they learn how to handle their guns and how to ride motorcycles and once their training is over with, they're unleashed to wreak havoc in the criminal population of Rome with one caveat – whenever possible they're supposed to shoot to injure, not to shoot to kill.

    While out on town one night the squad members witness a dine and dash and they give chase. One thing leads to another and one of the crooks ends up being shot dead. This brings some hot water down on Vanni who in turn has to ramp up enforcing the rules within his own team, but things don't change fast enough and before you know it, Vanni's boss shuts them down. This makes tracking down The Black Angel tricky, especially when Vanni's boss sees that he has too much personally vested in it and pulls him off of the case for good.

    When The Black Angel strikes again, this time with some carefully placed bombs that kill even more innocent civilians, Vanni knows that he has no choice but to secretly reform the squad and deal with this vicious killer on his own level. With their guns loaded and ready, they head off to track him down and put a stop to him before even more people wind up dead.

    While this isn't the most ingenious of storylines, it's made completely plausible thanks to the two solid lead performances from Rassimov and Bozzuffi. Completely sinister and believably malicious in his intent, his character is tricky enough and flat out mean enough to make for the perfect chase. Bozzuffi has a rough, surly quality to him that makes him well suited for his own part, but he manages to retain a world-weariness (mostly thanks in part to his facial features), that allows us to understand and sympathize with him. After all, he has just lost his wife and is understandably pissed off at the man who took her from him in the first place.

    Some great car and motorcycle chases (there's a car chase in here that rivals the one in The Big Racket - those who have seen that one know it's tough to beat!) keep the action coming along at a good pace, while some gritty and violent shoot outs create a tense and gritty atmosphere that works well in the movie's favor.

    Poliziotto Sprint (Highway Racer):

    Also known as Highway Racer, Stelvio Massi’s 1977 film Poliziotto Sprint revolves around a cop named Marco Palma (Maurizio Merli, minus his trademark moustache!). He and, to a much lesser extent, his sandwich loving partner love nothing more than chasing down bad guys in high speed pursuit chases. We see one such chase go wrong when the bad guys outwit him and he wrecks his car. Nevertheless, after an ass-chewing from his boss, Maresciallo Tagliaferri (Giancarlo Sbragia), they’re back on the streets and up their old tricks again. This time, Palma’s pursuit of some bank robbers gets his partner killed.

    Just as he’s about to hand in his badge and call it quits, Tagliaferri realizes that the man behind a spate of recent robberies just might be his old nemesis, ‘il Nizzardo,’ a French criminal named Jean-Paul Dossena (Angelo Infanti) who he personally helped to stop years ago. Tagliaferri knows that Palma has what it takes, he just needs more training – and so he dusts off the old Ferrari sitting in the garage and gives him just that. Soon enough, Palma says goodbye to his girlfriend, Francesca (Lilli Carati), for a while because it’s time for him to go undercover and infiltrate Dossena’s gang and inform Tagliaferri as to the plans of their next heist.

    If you’re into car chases, then this is the movie for you, because man oh man are there ever a lot of car chases here. Most of them are pretty fun to watch, frequently taking place on the narrow streets of Rome, with cops and robbers weaving and bobbing their way through traffic in some scenes that definitely do look legitimately dangerous. While you might need to suspend your disbelief a little bit when a bulky Citroen goes head to head with Merli’s Ferrari, that doesn’t take away from how well choreographed the stunt driving is in this picture, and that’s where the bulk of its action and suspense comes from. Production values, overall, are quite good. The cinematography is top-notch and the score works well (and at one point sounds like it’s borrowing from Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida!).

    As to the Merli-factor itself, he’s solid here. He doesn’t go around bitch-slapping everyone like he does in a quite a few of his other cop roles, but he brings that searing intensity that you want from him to the part. When he’s chasing down bad guys behind the wheel of his car, he’s very much got ‘the look’ that you expect and that counts for a lot. Giancarlo Sbragia makes for a pretty decent boss, getting appropriately pissy with him when he breaks protocol, as cop-bosses are wont to do in cop movies, but of course, having enough faith in him to help him see all of this through. Angelo Infanti is more than good as the main villain in the film, playing the part with a surprising amount of style and class and doing a very fine job of it at that. Lilli Carati isn’t given all that much to do in the picture but she looks great doing it.

    Though the story might be a little on the predictable side and the first half of the movie might meander a bit, Massi and company do a really solid job of ramping things up in the second portion of the film, delivering a tense and tightly wound thriller well worth seeing.

    Disc Three:

    No, The Case Is Happily Resolved (No Il Caso E Felicemente Risolto):

    Vittorio Salerno’s directorial debut, the oddly titled No, The Case Is Happily Resolved, was released in 1973. The film starts off with a pretty grisly scene wherein a man named Fabio Santamaria (Enzo Cerusico), out in the sticks to enjoy some quiet time and some fishing, witness a half-naked woman chased down and beaten to death by a man with lead pipe.

    After the murder, he and Eduardo Ranieri (Riccardo Cucciolla) – the culprit – locks eyes before Fabio wises up to what’s actually happened and makes a run for it. He manages to get to his car in time to escape but rather than go to the cops with what he’s seen, he opts instead to keep quiet so that neither he nor his wife, Cinzia (Martine Brochard), wind up in any trouble. Meanwhile Eduardo, a well-connected university professor, uses this to his advantage and goes to the cops himself to report Fabio as the killer!

    From here on out, Fabio basically finds himself in a very Hitchcockian race against time, trying to figure out how to prove who the real killer was all while evading the police out to lock him up for a crime he didn’t commit.

    While it’s hard not to see the Hitchcock influence here, Salerno does a fine job of making this material his own, never aping the style of ‘The Master Of Suspense’ and instead putting some interesting local flavor into the picture. The Italian locations are beautifully photographed by prolific cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi (who not only shot a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns and quite a few Italian cop pictures but also lensed Jungle Holocaust!) and the whole thing is set to a quirky but really engaging score from Riz Ortolani. The political climate of early seventies Italy is also reflected throughout the movie in the way that a system that has clearly become corrupt affects the events that transpire in the picture. Augusto Finocchi’s script is actually quite clever in just how this plays out in the movie – it does occasionally play to predictability in this regard but more often than not, avoiding spoilers and being intentionally vague here, the twists are genuinely surprising.

    In the middle of all of this are Cerusico as the wrongly accused man on the run and Cucciolla as the devious murderer who put him in this position in the first place. Both men deliver really strong work here. Cerusico plays Fabio with the appropriate amount of nervousness and paranoia in a few key scenes, really working that aspect of his character’s being into a performance that is a lot of fun to watch and entirely in keeping with what Salerno was obviously going for here. Cucciolla is every bit as good and though his character is obviously quite different he too delivers some legitimately engaging acting. Supporting work from Martine Brochard as Fabio’s poor wife is also noteworthy, not just because her turn here is strong but also because she’s absolutely gorgeous (it’s no wonder Tinto Brass would use her, even after she’d aged a bit, in movies like The Voyeur and Paprika).

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

    Arrow brings each film to Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p, each framed in its proper widescreen aspect ratio. For the four films that were released by Camera Obscura, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference in the picture quality between the two releases – which is fine, as those discs looked very good. Colt .38 Special Squad, not surprisingly, is a big step up from the old No Shame DVD release, which looked fine for its day but obviously used an outdated transfer by modern standards. Either way, picture quality is solid across the board here. There’s very little print damage anywhere during any of the five movies, they’re in great shape. Colors are handled very nicely and look quite accurate while skin tones appear nice and natural throughout as well. We get nice black levels too, and there are no noticeable issues with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts with grain appearing naturally throughout each movie and resolving without any problems.

    Savage Three, Like Rabid Dogs and No The Case Is Happily Resolved get 24-bit DTS-HD Mono tracks in Italian only, while Colt 38 Special Squad and Highway Racer get 24-bit DTS-HD tracks in Italian and in English. Optional English subtitles are provided for each film in the set. Audio is clear for each film, with the levels nicely balanced and clear dialogue. There’s some nice depth to some of the effects and the score noticeable here and there, though understandably range is limited by the limitations of the source material here.

    Extras are spread out across the three discs in the set as follows:

    Disc One:

    Fango Bollente (The Savage Three):

    Extras for this film include two featurettes, the first of which is Rat Eat Rat, a forty-minute pieces that interviews both director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard about the film. Salerno talks about working with Dallesandro as well as the other actors, how this film came to be, what inspired the picture and yes, comparisons to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Brochard, interviewed separately, speaks about her character, her thoughts on the film and her experiences on set. This is pretty in-depth and well put together. The second featurette is The Savage One, a forty-one minute interview with Dallesandro where he talks about how he got his start as an actor, churning out films for Warhol and The Factory, working with Paul Morrisey, winding up in Europe and then eventually making films in Italy for a while. He has some seriously great stories here and isn’t one to hold back, which makes this as entertaining as it is interesting.

    We also get a digital version of the film’s Italian theatrical poster included on the disc alongside menus and chapter selection options.

    Like Rabid Dogs (Come Cani Arrabbiati):

    There are a few featurettes included here, starting with a fifty-minute long piece called When A Murderer Dies. This is an interview with cinematographer Romano Albani with input from interviewer/film scholar Fabio Melelli. Here they talk about Albani’s working relationship with director Mario Imperioli and what it was like collaborating on this film with him. They also talk about some of the other people that Albani worked with over the years on various projects, so it’s as much a career overview as it is a specific look back at Come Cani Arrabbiati. Either way, it’s very interesting and well put together. A second featurette is also included here, a half-hour long piece called It's Not A Time For Tears that is a talk with Come Cani Arrabbiati’s assistant director Claudio Bernabei. He too talks about working with Imperioli but also talks about learning his trade through some collaborations with none other than Joe D’Amato. Like the first piece it’s as much a look at Bernabei’s career in general as it is a film-specific piece but Bernabei’s got some great stories here, definitely take the time to check out both of these interviews.

    Extras for this film also include a theatrical trailer, a music sample and a still gallery as well as the requisite menu and chapter selection options.

    Disc Two:

    Colt 38 Special Squad:

    Extras start off with a brief introduction to the film from Stelvio Cipriani who did the score for the film. He sits at his piano and speaks in Italian (subs are available in English) to kick things off nicely. He also shows up again for a twenty-five minute video interview entitled Always The Same Ol’ Seven Notes. Again, sitting at his piano, he talks about his work on the film and plays back some of the more familiar cues used in the score throughout the film for us, breaking to talk about what he thinks about the movie on this disc and some of the many other projects that he has been attached to throughout his lengthy career in the Italian film industry.

    A second interview is included in the form of a ten-minute sit down chat with Antonio Siciliano, the film's editor. Entitled A Tough Guy, this segment allows Siciliano to wax nostalgic about his work with Massimo Dallamano on this film as well as how he feels about the movie and the actors used for the lead performances. It's a pretty interesting discussion, though not as thorough as it could have been.

    This disc also contains a theatrical trailer and a still gallery as well as menu and chapter selection options.

    Poliziotto Sprint (Highway Racer):

    Aside from a still gallery, the disc also includes a twenty-minute featurette entitled Faster Than A Bullet wherein film historian Robert Curti speaks about Stelvio Massi’s work on the film, how the political situation in Italy around the time that the film was made creeps into the picture, Maurizio Merli’s career and passing, Lilli Carati’s work as a Miss Italy contestant and then as an actress in respectable films and then later adult pictures and quite a bit more.

    A poster gallery, menus and chapter selection options are also included.

    Disc Three:

    No, The Case Is Happily Resolved (No Il Caso E Felicemente Risolto):

    Extras on disc three start off with Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice In The Years Of Lead. This is the only new extra in the set and it's a visual essay from critic Will Webb that goes over some of the themes that recur throughout this run of films from the seventies. Over the span of twenty-minutes, Webb talks about 'the new criminality' that the politicians can't beat but the 'the inspector' can, with a simple hand gun. He covers the ultra-macho aspects of the movie, the influence of regional politics on these movies, the use of new technology and methods to give the cops the advantage they need and how corruption is a factor in pretty much every one of these movies. He covers the use of violence in the films, how the perpetrators are often young people looking for thrills and quite a bit more.

    This last disc also includes a forty-minute documentary called Mother Justice that interviews Salerno and actress Martine Brochard that covers a lot of ground only touched on or omitted completely from the commentary (so as such, this turns out to be just as valuable an addition to the supplemental package). Salerno gives us some great stories about his early days as a writer before discussing his directorial debut, casting choices, Augusto Finocchi’s script and what it brought to the movie. Brochard shares some stories about working with Salerno as a director, working with her fellow cast members in the picture and other interesting anecdotes about her career in front of the camera. Great stuff and very much worth watching.

    Also found on the disc is the alternate (happy) ending that the distributor’s made Salerno use for the film’s theatrical run, an Italian language theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    As Arrow has only provided a test disc for review we can’t comment on the packaging or any physical extras included with the retail version of this release. Additionally, the commentary tracks that were included on the Camera Obscura releases, as well as a few of the bonus features on the No Shame DVD of Colt 38 Special Squad, haven’t been carried over to this set.

    Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 – The Final Word:

    Arrow’s Blu-ray release of The Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 presents five excellent films in very nice shape and with a decent selection of extra features. Those movies are a blast and they’re very well represented here. Highly recommended

    Click on the images below for full sized Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      .38 is NOT high-calibre, it's actually kinda puny compared to .45, .357 and 9mm