The Film (4/5)
Aldo (Joe Dallesandro) is an American from New York trying to make it on the streets of Naples in the tried and true moneymaking scheme of cigarette smuggling. When that goes south, he tells off the local mafia boss Don Enrico (Raymond Pellegrin) and moves on to Rome. He upgrades from cigarettes to accidentally stealing a huge stash of heroin from good old Don Enrico. Luckily for Aldo, he’s shrewd enough to hold the heroin hostage long enough to get what he wants. It also doesn’t hurt his situation that his girlfriend Luciana (Stefania Casini) is completely okay with his chosen profession and helps him out all the time.
Next, Aldo moves on to blackmailing dudes who visit the local gay pimp -it’s a long story, don’t ask or just watch the movie- and finally gains some momentum. Before long, he’s running a protection racket on local businesses. This doesn’t make Don Enrico too happy and their tensions escalates into an all-out war. Is Aldo tough enough and ruthless enough to come out on top?
While not as action-packed as some of its brethren with their famously eye-popping stunts, this Italian crime film from director, co-writer, and -by all accounts- professional crazy person, Pasquale Squitieri, is quite a well-balanced affair. He mixes the melodrama, the angst of the main character, bleak tone, and brutal violence into a dynamic potboiler that really clicks as it moves along. Don’t worry, this film’s setpieces aren’t too low key as there are some rather dangerous looking stunt work and some bloody squibs onscreen for you action hounds.
Not just another pretty face (seriously though, he’s a hot dude), Dallesandro is perfect for this role. He starts off a truly pathetic nobody with a twinkle in his eye and ends up being an incredibly dangerous somebody when a little good luck comes his way. It’s always a joy to see Stefania Cassini on screen and The Climber is no exception. Like the film itself, her performance is very dynamic as Luciana is both tough and vulnerable. I also liked veteran French actor Raymond Pelegrin as the mafia don who can’t believe he’s being bested by this young upstart until it’s too late.
The Climber looks quite impressive on Arrow Video’s release. This film is very colorful and their presentation just pops on the screen. The soundtrack and the dialogue are well-balanced. From the occasionally bombastic rock from composer Franco Campanino blasting away to some tense, quiet dialog scenes, it’s all gravy. Both the Italian and the English language tracks are excellent.
There is only one extra on the disc but it is a good one! There’s a lengthy interview with Joe Dallesandro about working in Europe during the 70s. It’s really, really good and only endeared the man to me more. He has some great stories to share but what I came away from the interview is how down to earth the guy is. And I really dig his voice now that it’s a badass gruff old man voice. This is pretty ironic for me because I used to really dislike his voice (especially how it clashed so much with the European accents and period dialogue in Flesh for Frankenstein). I even got a laugh from him talking about being disappointed with the fact that he was dubbed by another actor in most of his foreign films and coming to the conclusion: “maybe they didn’t like my voice”. This release also comes with an essential essay from Roberto Curti, author of Italian Crime Filmography, who puts The Climber into the context of where it stands in Italian genre cinema.
I was only vaguely aware that director Squitieri -who passed away in February of this year- even existed until Arrow released The Climber. He was something of a wildman and considered a renegade of the Italian film industry; a possible explanation as to why this feels so ahead of its time. While the gangster elements on display are by no means new, I couldn’t help but think of De Palma’s Scarface which this film pre-dates by nearly a decade. The constant escalation of criminal behavior perpetuated by Aldo and his sheer cold-bloodedness while remaining a complex character make this a tense thriller and essential viewing for Euro-crime film fans.