Caliber 9 (1972) - 7.5
Aka - Milano Calibro 9
There isn't a shred of sympathy or pity in this first film in the Italian
crime trilogy (milieu trilogy) from Fernando Di Leo (the other two being
The Italian Connection and The Boss). This film is ruthless and has a heart
of stone with no tears being shed for the many dead. The lack of romanticizing
the subject is refreshing. There are no heroes; just men who chose a life
of crime and murder. Within that world there are supposed to be rules but
not many. One is you don't steal from your boss. That has consequences as
we see in the opening scene.
The American (Lionel Stander) as he is referred to has a money laundering
operation. This being 1972 it is still manual - runners transport the money
that the wealthy want to get out of the country from hand to hand to throw
off the cops till it gets to its final destination. When it does this time
it is nothing but blank paper. They gather up three of the runners, none
admit to the theft and so you put them in a cave and blow them up with dynamite.
Lesson taught. This display of gang rules leads to the main story. Ugo Piazza
(Gastone Moschin) an everyday sort of thick necked middle aged thug gets
out of prison after three years. He is standard issue in the ranks of the
gang - does what he is told - kills who he has to kill - doesn't think too
much for himself - but he knows the game he is in. As soon as he steps outside
the prison gates he is accosted by the loud mouthed Rocco (Mario Adorf) and
his fellow tough guys who accuse Ugo of having stolen $300,000 as a laundry
runner and then got himself put in jail intentionally for a failed robbery.
He denies it. They beat him. But don't kill him. Eventually, he will go for
the money they figure.
The film revolves around Ugo, the gang pressuring him to give up the money
and his denials to everyone through multiple beatings and threats. To his
hitman friend Chino, to the American and to his old girlfriend Nelly, full
time dancer, part time prostitute. He swears he didn't take it. The girl
is played by Barbara Bouchet who was very familiar with the Giallo films
but also bounced back and forth between Europe and Hollywood (Miss Moneypenny
in the 1967 Casino Royale), She is as sleek as a Maserati, has cheekbones
so sharp they could cut diamonds and has the warmth of a cobra. Ugo just
takes it all with a taciturn fatalistic acceptance. The audience is in the
dark as much as the people around him. If he didn't steal the money, who
did? He tells Nelly that he will find out and clear his name - in the ranks
of the crime family. When another package of money goes missing, all hell
breaks out. Terrific hard hitting plow straight ahead crime film that never
rests or relents. It has a wonderful driving score from Luis Bacalov.
Before Di Leo got into directing he was behind a lot of scripts - a lot of
them being Spaghetti Westerns. A few familiar titles in the genre - Johnny
Yuma, Navajo Joe, God Made Them . . . I Kill Them - but by the 70's that
genre was slowing down and the crime genre was in full throttle. So he shifted
to crime with a number of films in that decade but these three are from what
I have read considered his best.
The Italian Connection
(1972) - 7.5
Aka - Manhunt
Aka - La mala ordina
The second in the Fernando Di Leo crime trilogy. All three of these are terrific
- gritty and violent with amoral men going about their work as if they are
King Dicks in a world where they can't be touched by the politicians or the
cops who have been bought. And civilians just stay quiet. They only have
to fear each other. Gang against gang or you become a pawn to be sacrificed
by your own group. Unlike the other two, this one has a sympathetic main
character that you begin to cheer for. Sure he is a lowlife pimp with a string
of girls, but as far as we can tell he treats them well and he is a happy-go-lucky
guy with a huge smile and a pat on the back for everyone. He could just as
easily have sold cars, but he chose to sell women instead. He can be tough
too - you learn to be tough in that trade - smack around customers who get
out of hand or other pimps who encroach on your territory but basically everyone
loves Luca Canali (Mario Adorf). Still someone wants him dead.
Corso (Cyril Cusack) who is one of the big crime bosses of Milan calls for
two killers from America. We are still number one at something. He has a
something that needs to be done. Find Luca Canali and kill him in such a
manner that everyone knows who did it and why it was done. An example for
others who stray from the rules. Luca apparently stole a big shipment of
heroin. The two killers are two of the best played by Woody Strode and Henry
Silva with their mission kill button on. Silva likes playing with the girls
a bit while Strode never cracks a smile or an ounce of interest in anything
other than doing his job and going home. A total professional.
Corso assigns an employee Eva (Luciana Paluzzi - Thunderball) to show them
around town - strip clubs and party people - lots of casual nudity in this
one. First they visit Luca's boss - Don Vito Tresoldi (Adolfo Celi - also
Thunderball) and tell him they want Luca delivered to them alive. Tomorrow.
Easy. Everyone knows Luca. A lousy pimp. But as it turns out with with the
survival instincts of a cockroach. Soon he is doing the killing. Very good.
Tense and on a rollercoaster. There is one great chase from foot to car to
foot in which Luca gets on the hood of the car and cracks the windshield
with his head. But he has no clue why they are trying to kill him - someone
has set him up. He has to pay. Also, in the cast is Sylva Koscina as Luca's
The Boss (1973)
Aka - Il Boss
At night a man gets out of a car carrying a long case with him. He moves
down an alley in the shadows to a door that he opens and steps inside. Once
inside you see his face and his cold dead eyes. Henry Silva. And you know
someone is about to be killed. That is what Silva usually does in films.
In this case he walks into a projection booth where down below a group of
men are watching a porno film. He opens the case and takes out a hand grenade
launcher and kills everyone. The people down below were the heads of a local
Mafia branch in Sicily. A Mafia war is underway.
An Italian Mafia war pitting two groups against one another and a system
rife with corrupt cops and politicians. Nobody is good here. Or honorable.
Everyone is scheming, everyone is willing to kill a friend, a mentor, a boss
in order to survive, to move up the ladder, to please the bosses up in Rome.
Promises are empty words. Loyalty is a currency to be spent. Everyone is
expendable. The film is led by two American actors who have both had their
share of crime films. The great Henry Silva who has played professional killers
more than a few times and Richard Conte, a terrific tough guy presence in
films going back to the 1940's playing both crooks and cops always with a
sense of style and swagger. One of the corrupt cops is played by Gianni Garko,
who back in the 1960's took on the role of Sartana a few times in Spaghetti
Conte plays Don Corrasco, the head of the group that committed the mass killing.
Silva is Lanzetta, his number one killer. In response to the killings the
other group kidnaps the daughter of the number two man and Lanzetta is ordered
to get her back. She is actually having a good time indulging in group sex
and drugs and is a little pissed when she is rescued in the middle of a threesome.
The other two don't complain. They have holes in their head. Lanzetta takes
her back to his apartment and enters into a week of sex with her. Actress
Antonia Santilli spends much of the film exposing her breasts to admiring
eyes. Mine anyways.
It gets messy, people are being killed and the Boss up north wants it cleaned
up. Wants the killings stopped. Find a scapegoat and be done with it. Well
played out with a good portion of violence, sex, tough talk and betrayals.
There is also an excellent score by Luis Bacalov. Directed by Fernando Di
Leo with a few well-respected crime films to his credit. At the end it says
To Be Continued but as far as I can tell there was no follow-up.