The Film: 5/5
Ever since Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood blew away many an impressionable mind back in 2008 with its insightful and blunt honest appreciation of Australian exploitation cinema some of the best documentaries related to film have focused on obscure sub-genres of low-grade B-movie making that haven't been terribly popular since the dying days of VHS, like American Grindhouse and Hartley's own Machete Maidens Unleashed. The latest is Mike Malloy's passionate and highly entertaining Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The '70s, and at an exhausting and robust 127 minutes, this is not so much a film as it is a master class on one of the last prominent eras of international populist outlaw filmmaking. Just like in a class I was taking notes and learning much in such a short amount of time.
As its title implies, Eurocrime! pays loving tribute to the ultraviolent "poliziotteschi" - police and gangster films made in Italy - that brought extreme levels of sex, sadism, bloodshed, misogyny, and anti-authoritarian attitudes (not to mention enough J&B Scotch to give every member of the U.S. Marine Corps permanent liver damage) to theaters and grindhouses all over the world throughout the 1970's. Malloy assembled comprehensive interviews with twenty of the genre's greatest living contributors into a detailed oral history that begins with the fading popularity of spaghetti westerns and concludes with Italian crime experiencing a rebirth via home video and fan appreciation in the form of underground film magazines. The director, with the assistance of a supremely talented editor who also goes by the name of Mike Malloy (wonder if they're related?), then structures the final product into a series of chapters that address a series of topics relevant to the genre of Italian crime cinema. Despite this scholarly approach, Eurocrime! features not a solitary dull moment as each participant has plenty to say about their experiences making the films and their informed opinions on their political and social appositeness.
With the exception of actress Nicoletta Machiavelli (Dirty Weekend) the line-up of interview subjects is predominantly male, but seeing as how Italian crime flicks were male-dominated and their female characters only present to get naked or be brutalized this makes a sad kind of sense. We get fresh interviews with the stars (Henry Silva, Franco Nero, Luc Merenda, John Saxon, Fred Williamson, Antonio Sabato, Richard Harrison, Christopher Mitchum, Joe Dallesandro, Leonard Mann, John Steiner, Salvatore Borghese, John P. Dulaney), filmmakers (Claudio Fragasso, Enzo G. Castellari, Mario Caiano), stunt players (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua), and finally the English language dubbing performers (Michael Forest, Ted Rusoff). No one holds back with their comments and Malloy's film doesn't shy from addressing the genre's moral and logical pitfalls and the sordid influence of the escalating crime rate and pressure cooker political tension in Italy in the 1960's and 1970's.
The beginnings of the "poliziotteschi" are not shocking when you consider their nation of origin; they were designed to capitalize on the worldwide success of classic American films such as Dirty Harry, The French Connection, and especially The Godfather. Italian crime film protagonists were usually split between rogue cops who refuse to play by the rules and gangsters out for vengeance and the consolidation of power, and both played into the most common theme in poliziotteschi of one man taking on the entire world. The early films made by directors such as Castallari, Fernando Di Leo, and Umberto Lenzi (the latter of whom was infamous for his on-set tyrannical behavior) were smash hits and spawned multiple copycat features. This was pretty typical of the Italian film industry as anyone who has seen an unofficial Django sequel or Zombie 5: Killing Birds could tell you and it only served to prove that the business of making movies in that country was just that and little else. But that didn't stop absurdly talented filmmakers from infusing their action thrillers with plenty of high-octane excitement and pure balls-to-the-wall storytelling motivated by colorful anti-heroes whose choice of firearms were often smarter than their dialogue.
The spaghetti western had ruled the Italian box office in the 60's but the writing was on the wall the moment they started being made with a humorous slant - the most prevalent death knell of an Italian film genre. Many of the same writers, directors, actors, and other personnel involved in the production of those westerns found career salvation when financiers and audiences began to clamor for homegrown action dramas equal to those capturing the hearts and minds of critics and audiences back in the U.S. Some of those actors had actually hailed from the States originally but were forced to relocate to Europe when the old Hollywood star system became a thing of the past and it was abundantly clear that infrequent work in television just wasn't going to pay the bills. The hunger for fresh celluloid product to sell to the masses was motivated by Italy's lack of television viewing options (TWO channels) and many of the Italian crime films were produced as if they were being cheaply manufactured in a crumbling factory. Scripts were pretty disposable, dialogue and plot difficulties were patched over with post-production dubbing, and the action scenes were often filmed in a improvisational manner with little attention paid to securing the proper clearances from local authorities. Sometimes those speeding police cars you saw in a chase weren't even aware they were in a movie.
The filmmakers and money men knew these movies had to have a special appeal to get audiences into the theater seats and show up their American counterparts big time. Hence the increases in violence, action, and sexual content. Bullets tore holes through human flesh and painted the scenery with gallons of bright red plasma. Women were stripped naked, abused and defiled, and occasionally made to appear like they enjoyed the downright hateful treatment. Actors eager to prove themselves to the machismo-charged Italian crews would willingly perform their own stunts only to find themselves put into life-threatening situations without the benefit of a stunt coordinator or standby first aid team. Italian stuntmen like Dell'Acqua and the legendary Remy Julienne were like gods on these productions as they were excited and prepared over the prospect of having to fling themselves out of a fourth floor window or run across the roof of a moving train. It was fearless and irresponsible, and moviegoers around the world couldn't get enough!
Real crime families in Italy like the Cosa Nostra and the Camorra often played roles in these features on both sides of the camera and their law-breaking tactics make for some hair-raising tales. Making the films on location often exposed cast and crew to the dangers presented by the leftist terrorist group the Red Brigade, but any potential loss of life was viewed as an acceptable risk. The persistence of horrific misogyny in Italian crime films is addressed as best as possible, as is how important American theatrical distribution was in keeping the genre alive well into the 1980's as the market began to dry up and the Italian film industry moved on to mass-producing Indiana Jones and Mad Max clones (and what generally happens to clones of clones?). The highs and lows, the good times and the bad, the joys of filmmaking and the fear of death, it's all discussed at great length and then some in Eurocrime!, and ultimately each of the interviewees has come to embrace the genre in spite of its sizable flaws. Malloy's documentary inspires us to do the same, with the only flaws being some crude and unnecessary animated inserts and flat narration.
Cinema Epoch's DVD presentation of Eurocrime! benefits from a solid 16:9 video presentation and a English 2.0 audio track that thankfully lacks in distortion and sounds very clear and audible. The interview portions of the documentary were shot on high-definition digital video so naturally they come across as the strongest beneficiaries of this transfer. The archival film clips vary in quality as most of them have not been restored, but the majority look good and carry few traces of permanent print damage. No subtitles have been included other than the burned-in English subtitles for the Italian language interviews.
The highlight of the modest supplements selection provided for this release is an interview with Italian movie icon Tomas Milian (15 minutes) that was conducted after Eurocrime! was finished because the actor could not been reached until then. Milian's observations on acting and the international film industry are candid and refreshing, making this a terrific complement to the main feature. Two minor deleted scenes (7 minutes), a trailer (5 minutes), a full-motion slide show of other Cinema Epoch releases, and disc credits round out the extra features.
Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The '70s is one of the best movie documentaries I've seen in years, with a surprising assortment of interview subjects and a wealth of intelligent insight into a genre of exploitation cinema that deserves a little more love and respect than it gets. This DVD from Cinema Epoch comes highly recommended in spite of its lack of substantial bonus features.