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

During the ’60s and early ’70s, there was a cinema culture in Italy. People would get off from work and eat dinner at their favorite restaurant perhaps sitting outside. They’d go by the neighborhood movie theater to see what the new feature was playing since Italian TV was a mess and rarely showed movies. Many of these neighborhood theaters would change the film daily so they could keep people coming back during the week. This is not to be confused with the prestigious theater that would run Hollywood films for weeks and weeks. The smaller theaters showed Italian and European films that could be shuttled around town. After the movie, folks would get a drink with friends who saw the film with them. Eventually they’d go home since there was work the next morning unless it was already morning.

So what destroyed this dreamy lifestyle? Terrorism. Things were getting violent in Italy as militant outlaws and mobsters operated the major cities. One of their big money earners was kidnapping. And they were grabbing distant relatives of the rich fatcats so there was no telling when your dinner was going to be interrupted by gunmen. Blood stained the sidewalks. People weren’t too eager to dine al fresco. They stayed home and watch TV. And the TV channels were getting better was they finally got to broadcast major films. Cinema attendance dropped. Studios and producers had to make films that would reflect the dreams of the people taking shelter. They weren’t going to lull them back with sweet romantic comedies. They had to give the people the hero they needed in these troubled times. Thus the era of Poliziotteschi arrived in the wake of Giallo. These films were about criminals bringing horror to the city streets. The only person who can stop them is a cop willing to ignore the book and the system. Why? Because he realizes the system has been compromised with dirty fellow cops, city officials, district attorneys and judges. He refuses to back down as long as the criminals are on the street. Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 delves into a time when Italy was in more chaos than usual.

No, The Case Is Happily Resolved (1973 – 98 minutes) reminds us what can go wrong when you don’t confess that you witnessed a crime. Fabio Santamaria (La Dolce Vita’s Enzo Cerusico) just wants to fish and listen to the soccer game on his radio when he hears a woman’s screams. He spots Professor Eduardo Ranieri (A Cop’s Riccardo Cucciolla) chasing down a half dressed woman and beating her to death with a stick. Fabio is also spotted by the homicidal professor and flees the scene. At first he wants to tell the cops, but circumstances screw up his reporting it and he decides against it. This turns out to be a bad thing since Ranieri claims he witnessed Fabio kill the woman. Can Fabio prove he is innocent and the psychotic professor is the real killer? It doesn’t help that Fabio is rather gullible. This such a fine cinematic gem. Since there’s no English dub, it seems that the movie never made its way to England or America which is a shame. Why didn’t anyone try to make an American version?

Savage Three (1975 – 84 minutes) shows that it’s not merely harden career criminals causing violence in the street. Sometimes it’s the unassuming people who are capable of performing evil deeds out of a sense of boredom and wanting to cause chaos. Ovidie Mainardi (Andy Warhol’s Trash’s Joe Dallesandro) is bored by his job at a research lab. One weekend he goes to a soccer match with two of his equally bored buddies. They accidentally start a riot and the violence makes them feel better. Ovidie goes all bumper cars to get out of the parking lot of the stadium. The trio begin to engage in even deeper criminal activities. But nobody truly suspect them because they’re not gangsters, terrorists or political radicals. They’re just three guys working regular jobs which deal with the local police force. Are they ever going to get caught? Savage Three is a bit like Office Space if Mike Judge had made his characters more felonious and out of control. This is the grandfather to American Psycho and Fight Club. Dallesandro is perfect as the frustrated office guy who discovers his primitive urges are so addicting.

Like Rabid Dogs (1976 – 98 minutes) is similar to Savage Three in that it’s the clean cut kids that are the big trouble. Tony (Violence For Kicks‘ Cesare Barro) is a rich kid who gets his college buddies to join him as part of a crime spree. First they knock off the box office at the local soccer stadium and top it off by shooting a security guard to death. The trio aren’t only in it to get rich as they attack local prostitutes in gruesome ways. Inspector Paolo Muzi (Canne mozze‘s Piero Santi) is on their trail, but things go really bad when he foolishly allows his girlfriend to pose as a hooker for a stakeout. Director Mario Imperioli doesn’t hold back in his villains grotesque deeds.

Colt 38 Special Squad (1976 – 102 minutes) was directed by Massimo Dallamano who had made his mark in the Giallo era with What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? This is a hardcore badass cop action flick. Police Captain Vanni (The French Connection’s Marcel Bozzuffi) is coming down hard on a crime syndicate run by the Black Angel (Emanuelle Around the World‘s Ivan Rassimov). But things get extra nasty when the Black Angel sends a killer to the Captain’s apartment and say hello to his wife and son. The police commisioner decides they need to go beyond the law to deal with the Black Angel and his gang. He lets Vanni set up an elite squad of four men that are armed with .38 Cold Diamondback revolvers. They are fearless as they chase down criminals. Their first big act is to intercept a car full of outlaws with a hostage inside. This is done with a daredevil leap stunt that brings their escape to a sudden stop. The elite squad zips around Turin on motorcycles as the violence elevates with bullets and dynamite. Will the city be standing by the end of the film? There’s a chase that involves a car riding across a moving train. Grace Jones (A View to a Kill) pops up as a nightclub singer. This was the last film that Dallamano directed since a few months after it premiered, he died in a car wreck.

Highway Racer (1977 – 101 minutes) is based on the true story of Armando Spatafora, a police officer who used a Ferrari 250 GTE as his patrol car. Maurizio Merli  was already a superstar of poliziotteschi films having played Commissario Betti in Violent Rome and Violent Naples when he signed on to play officer Marco Palma in Highway Racer. He is doing his best to bring in a bank robbery gang that all about high speed escapes. The problem is the police’s best car can barely pull over a milk wagon. Palma ends up wrecking his car and losing his partner during a pursuit. After a few more hits by the bank robbing police cars, Palma knows he needs to get more horse power to be able to bring these bad guys to justice. And he gets it with the finest car produced in Italy. Highway Racer is less about shoot outs and more about massive chase scenes and wrecks. This is the kind of film you’d expect Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds to make around this time. Highway Racer proved to be a massive hit since people couldn’t truly enjoy the massive car stunts on their tiny TV sets.

Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 is a fine introduction to the Poliziotteschi. The five films selected are more than the Dirty Harry, French Connection and Serpico clones. These five feature a bit more well rounded action than merely cop fighting against the system and the violence or the drug cartel. Most of them do feature cops who are so frustrated with how the criminals have better resources. No, The Case Is Happily Resolved is a massive warning to people who want act like they didn’t see a crime. This boxset is perfect for fans of Italian crime films and people who are waiting for the next season of Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy. You can see so much of Italy in these movies during the car chases. Although you might want to stay low in your chair in case of gunfire.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for No, The Case Is Happily Resolved, Savage Three and Highway Racers. The video on Colt 38 Special Squad and Like Rabid Dogs is 2.35:1 anamorphic. All the transfers are rather top notch for films from the ’70s. You’ll get to see a lot of Italy before the criminals mess them up with bullets. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono in Italian. The levels are fine for the intense soundtrack music. There are English dub tracks for Highway Racer and Colt 38 Special Squad. All the movies are subtitled in English.

Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice In the Years of Lead (20:17) is a visual essay by critic Will Webb about the genre. He speaks of the familiar themes and plot elements in the movies. He points out the familiar faces in front of the cameras and the filmmakers behind the camera. He speaks of the times that influenced the genre.

Rat Eat Rat (40:49) interviews Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard about Savage Three. Salerno takes about how nine directors and writers teamed up to form their own cooperative to make low budget films. Savage Three came out of this relationship.

The Savage One (40:56) sits down with Joe Dallesandro to talk about Savage Three. He talks about his first encounter with Andy Warhol and his “directing technique.” Paul Morrisey was doing the heavy work. This lead to Joe’s big break in underground filmmaking. He went to the set thinking Warhol somehow made soup and not merely painting them. This lead to him going to Europe and getting gigs in Italian cinema.

When A Murderer Dies (51:57) meets with cinematographer Romano Albani and historian Fabio Melelli on Like Rabid Dogs. There’s a talk about how this film wasn’t give a great video release until recently in Europe. Albani got into cinematography because his father was an electrician at a film studio. His visits to the set let him see the cinematographer was like a God. He landed his first gig in commercials when the janitor came up with a scheme to oversell his role at the studio.

It’s Not a Time For Tears (32:55) meets with assistant director Claudio Bernabei on Like Rabid Dogs. He got his first movie job working for director Mario Imperoli. He describes how great Imperoli was with everyone. He talks about how the film was influenced by a real murder case and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Like Rabid Dogs music sampler (6:01) are two tracks from the original soundtrack.

Introduction by composer Stelvio Cipriani (0:45) on Colt 38 Special Squad. Ciprinani plays his musical piece on the piano to get you in the mood.

Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes (25:48) has the composer Stelvio Cipriani talk about his career and work on Colt 38 Special Squad. He is by this piano to demonstrate his score elements.

A Tough Guy (9:31) interviews editor Antonio Siciliano about splicing up the action on Colt 38 Special Squad. He got his start with Massimo Dallamano on What Have You Done to Solange! He got a major break working with Dallamano. He talks about the director’s ability to fill a shot. Of course it helps that Dallamano was the director of photography of A Fist Full of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More.

Faster Than A Bullet ( 19:42) interviews historian Roberto Curti on Highway Racer. He relates the action back to the time when the Red Brigade was getting more violent. He point out how this film was one of the few of the genre not given an R rating.

Mother Justice (40:36) interviews director Vittorio Salerno on No, the Case is Happily Resolved. Speaks of coming out of the Spaghetti Western times and wanting to create modern crime films. Salerno speaks in Italian so the piece includes English subtitles.

No, the Case is Happily Resolved alternate ending (4:02) is the version the distributor ruled as too dark so they had them shoot a happier finale. I wish they’d been able to just give us the option to watch the film with this as the ending.

Trailers included for No, the Case is Happily Resolved (3:33) , Colt 38 Special Squad (3:31) and Like Rabid Dogs (3:49). All the movies sell the out of control violence.

Poster Galleries includes No, the Case is Happily Resolved, Colt 38 Special Squad, Highway Racer, Savage Three and Like Rabid Dogs.

Reversible sleeves featuring original artwork for all five films

Booklet featuring new writing by Troy Howarth, Michael Mackenzie, Rachael Nisbet, Kat Ellinger and James Oliver.

Arrow Videos presents Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977. Starring: Jean-Pierre Sabagh, Annarita Grapputo, Joe Dallesandro, Maurizio Merli, Giancarlo Sbragia, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivan Rassimov, Enzo Cerusico, Riccardo Cucciolla and Martine Brochard. Rating: Unrated. Boxset Contents: 5 movies on 3 Blu-ray Discs. Release date: June 22, 2021.

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