Grades: Caliber 9: B+; The Italian Connection: B+; The Boss: B; Rulers Of The City: B-
During Italian cinema’s boom years of the ’60s and ’70s, producers specialized in cranking out action films that could export easily, even if that meant tackling genres that weren’t exactly locally grown—like Westerns. Writer-director Fernando Di Leo worked with Sergio Leone on the earliest spaghetti Westerns, then tried his hand at a variety of genres, having his greatest successes with erotic dramas and the two-fisted crime pictures known as poliziotteschi. Unlike the Westerns, the best Italian crime movies came packed with insider detail, since they originated in the home of the mafia. Di Leo’s gangster films, especially, had a leftist bent, taking on political corruption while standing up for the low-level grunts in the organization. And of course they were heavy on the exploitation elements, with lots of punch-ups and gyrating strippers.
The nicely put-together Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection box set features the three movies that make up Di Leo’s gritty “milieu trilogy”—1972’s Caliber 9 and The Italian Connection, and 1973’s The Boss—along with the lighter-toned 1976 film Rulers Of The City. The trilogy is linked in theme, not plot. In Caliber 9, Gastone Moschin plays an ex-con whose former associates try to squeeze him for the $300,000 they believe he stashed before he was arrested. The Italian Connection stars Henry Silva and Woody Strode as American hit men sent by their New York bosses to kill good-natured pimp Mario Adorf, to prove a point about who really controls the business. Silva returns (playing a different character) in The Boss, which sees him igniting a gang war and navigating through the wreckage he created to gain power. And then Rulers Of The City (a.k.a. Mr. Scarface in the States) has Jack Palance as a crime lord trying to hunt down upstart employee Harry Baer.
None of these movies are masterpieces, but they have a lived-in feel and some thrilling action sequences—especially The Italian Connection, in which the hulking Adorf gets so enraged that he leaps onto a speeding van and starts smashing the windshield with his forehead. Luis Bacalov did the score for all but The Italian Connection, and as always, his work is thrillingly innovative, combining old-world elements with screeching progressive rock. But mostly, Di Leo’s films are distinguished by his perspective on power, which criticizes the easily voided “codes of honor” among crooks and the indifference of an on-the-take police force. In Di Leo’s world, men make their own way, learning to trust only their blood relations, their closest friends, and their clenched fists.
Key features: A 30-minute documentary overview of Di Leo’s career, and brief documentaries on each individual film, with interviews Di Leo shot shortly before his 2003 death. (Additional note: Each of these movies features both Italian and English audio tracks, and the English dubs are often better, with more flavorful translations than the subtitles.)