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Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection DVD Review

Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection cover art - click to buy DVD set from Amazon.com Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection

4-Movie Set Contains:
Caliber 9 (Milano Calibro 9) (1972)
The Italian Connection (La Mala Ordina) (1972)
The Boss (Il Boss) (1973)
Rulers of the City (I Padroni Della Città) (1976)

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Rulers of the City Non-Anamorphic)
Dolby 2.0 Mono (Italian, English) / Subtitles: English; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Running Time: 402 Minutes (6 Hours, 42 Minutes) plus 159 Minutes (2 Hours, 39 Minutes) of Extras
DVD Release Date: March 15, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.98
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Four Black Slim cases and Companion Booklet in Cardboard Box
See Below for Film Casts, Writers, Runtimes, and Release Dates

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If you're not from Italy or well-versed in Italian cinema, the name Fernando Di Leo may not mean anything to you. Born in 1932, Di Leo began his film career working on spaghetti westerns. He made uncredited contributions to the screenplays of the first two entries in Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's iconic Man with No Name Trilogy, assistant-directing For a Few Dollars More. Di Leo went on to write and direct his own films. Like early Leone, he cast hard up and indiscriminate American actors in his movies. Unlike Leone, his films didn't make it big (if at all) in the United States.

Still, Di Leo is highly regarded by those who know him, primarily for his entries to Italy's poliziottesco genre of crime action films. Among the filmmaker's acolytes are John Woo and Quentin Tarantino, the latter of whom supplies a quote to the box cover of the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection, which last week became the second U.S. release of Italian distributor Raro Video.

Ugo Piazza (Gastone Mochin) strikes back against his mob in "Caliber 9" ("Milano Calibro 9"), the start of Fernando Di Leo's Milieu Trilogy. Pursued by New York hitmen and his own don's enforcers, Milanese pimp Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) is out of his league in "The Italian Connection."

This 4-disc DVD set bundles four films Di Leo made in his 21 years of filmmaking, all of them making their US DVD debuts. Best-known among them is the Milieu Trilogy (1972-73), included in full here: Caliber 9 (Milano Calibro 9), The Italian Connection (La Mala Ordina), and The Boss (Il Boss).
Like Leone's Dollars Trilogy, there is no continuity among these three films, only kindred sensibilities, settings, personnel, and production era. The set's fourth inclusion, 1976's Rulers of the City (I Padroni Della Città), is right at home among them, as its gunman artwork indicates.

In this collection, Di Leo's tastes do not run much of a gamut. His films are populated by crime world underdogs, corrupt lawmen, and liberated young women in and out of skimpy clothing. The stories are motivated by revenge and the conflicting allegiances and deadly code of Mafia life. Violence is prevalent but not very graphic. Nudity is random but not often gratuitous. One of Di Leo's favorite scenarios is an uneven shootout, in which great odds are improbably defied. Di Leo's movies have a political current to them in ways that most American cinema does not.

For films that rely so heavily on physical conflict, modern viewers might object to fight scenes consisting of blows that clearly don't make contact and gunplay in which deadly shots are fired without clear visual confirmation of their impact. Those not accustomed to Italian cinema from this period may also be surprised or bothered by the sloppy dubbing. Per local practices, mouth movements and words are rarely in unison even in the original native language soundtrack as all lines were either recorded or re-recorded in post-production.

Stone-faced killer Nick Lanzetta (Henry Silva) and his unlikely love interest, don's nephew Rina (Antonia Santilli), anticipate trouble in "Il Boss" ("The Boss"). In "Rulers of the City", small-time crooks Ric (Al Cliver), Napoli (Vittorio Caprioli), and Tony (Harry Baer) team up against their local mafia kingpin.

With thin plots, long scenes, and distinctive (sometimes discordant) score, Di Leo's exploitative dramas are creative, stylish, and engaging. They are decidedly different from today's movies and, despite some similarities, American action flicks of the time. Contemporary in their sensibilities, these four films are quite dated but their gritty storytelling holds up better than the fashions and occasional misogyny. The films walk a line between trash and art, at times tilting one way or the other but ultimately they are able to be classified and defended either way.

Though the case indicates none of these films was rated by the MPAA, in fact all but Caliber 9 received an R, as they should (and Caliber 9 would), both by 1970s standards and today's more lenient ones, for their plentiful violence, language, and sex.
 

Caliber 9 (Milano Caliber 9) DVD cover art in the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection Caliber 9 (Milano caliber 9)

Italy Theatrical Release: February 25, 1972 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Fernando Di Leo / Writers: Fernando Di Leo (screenplay), Giorgio Scerbanenco (book)

Cast: Gastone Mochin (Ugo Piazza), Barbara Bouchet (Nelly Bordon), Mario Adorf (Rocco Musco), Frank Wolff (Police Commissioner), Luigi Pistilli (Mercuri), Ivo Garrani (Don Vincenzo), Philippe Leroy (Chino), Lionel Stander (Americano), Mario Novelli (Pasquale Tallarico), Giuseppe Castellano (Nicola), Salvatore Aricò (Luca), Fernando Cerulli (Hotel Porter), Giulio Baraghini (Brigadier)

 
Caliber 9 opens with a number of individuals nonchalantly exchanging a parcel in public. When the bad guys end up without the money they're supposed to have, there are consequences; three of the people involved are put in a cave with dynamite and exploded. It is this world that Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) left behind and now, having served three years of his four-year jail sentence, is returning to. He is greeted on the outside by associates of "The Americano", a Mafia crime lord Ugo worked for until a botched robbery put him away. There is the issue of $300,000 US, which went missing in the operation and which The Americano and his men believe Ugo has hidden away.

Led by the hot-headed Rocco (Mario Adorf), Ugo's former cronies put pressure on him to return the money, but he denies having anything to do with its disappearance. The distrustful police commissioner is no help. Nor is Ugo's principled friend Chino (Philippe Leroy), who is looking after his blind godfather and won't get involved. Ugo, meanwhile, reunites and moves in with Nelly (Barbara Bouchet), his go-go dancer old girlfriend.
 

The Italian Connection (La Mala Ordina) DVD cover art in the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection The Italian Connection (La mala ordina)

Italy Theatrical Release: September 2, 1972 / US Theatrical Release: October 31, 1973 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Fernando Di Leo / Writers: Fernando Di Leo (story, dialogue & screenplay); Augusto Finocchi, Ingo Hermes (screenplay)

Cast: Mario Adorf (Luca Canali), Henry Silva (Dave Catania), Woody Strode (Frank Webster), Adolfo Celi (Don Vito Tressoldi), Luciana Paluzzi (Eva Lalli), Franco Fabrizi (Enrico Moroni), Femi Benussi (Nana), Gianni Macchia (Nicolo), Peter Berling (Damiano), Francesca Romana Coluzzi (Trini), Cyril Cusack (Corso), Sylva Koscina (Lucia Canali), Jessica Dublin (Miss Kenneth), Omero Capanna (Vito's Goon), Giuseppe Castellano (Garagaz), Giulio Baraghini (Gustovino), Andrea Scotti (Garo), Imelde Marani (Cloakroom Attendant), Gilberto Galimberti (Vito's Goon)

 
Two Italian-speaking mafia hitmen from New York (Henry Silva, Woody Strode) are hired to kill a Milanese pimp in a message-sending way. The pimp, family man and small-time crook Luca Canali (Mario Adorf), puts up more of a fight than anyone could expect, resisting both the American killers and the local enforcers of Don Vito Tressoldi (Adolfo Celi) who are cooperating with the trans-Atlantic orders.

That is about all there is in the way of plot in The Italian Connection, but it's enough to sustain our interest. The film is particularly arresting during two key set pieces: a prolonged, intense chase in car, on foot, and somewhere in between as an enraged Luca seeks vengeance on a van driver and a junkyard shootout finale that features a stray kitten. There are also plenty of dancing girls and partly nude hippie revelers.
 

An enraged Luca Canali pursues a reckless van driver in the exciting chase scene at the center of "The Italian Connection." Mafia Don Corrasco (Richard Conte) conspires with corrupt police commissioner Torri (Gianni Garko) in "The Boss."
 

The Boss (Il Boss) DVD cover art in the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection The Boss (Il boss)

Italy Theatrical Release: February 1, 1973 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Fernando Di Leo / Writers: Fernando Di Leo (screenplay), Peter McCurtin (novel Il Mafioso)

Cast: Henry Silva (Nick Lanzetta), Richard Conte (Don Corrasco), Gianni Garko (Commissioner Torri), Antonia Santilli (Rina Daniello), Corrado Gaipa (Attorney Rizzo), Marino Mase (Pignataro), Howard Ross (Melende), Claudio Nicastro (Don Giuseppe Daniello), Gianni Musy (Carlo Attardi), Mario Pisu (Honorable Gabrielli), Vittorio Caprioli (The Official), Pier Paolo Capponi (Cocchi), Andrea Aureli (Don Antonio Attardi), Pietro Ceccarelli (Maione), Giulio Baraghini (Don Corrasco's Man), Sergio Ammirata (Gangster), Salvatore Billa (Theater Guard Sacco), Antonio Guerra, Giorgio Dolfin (Policeman), Andrea Scotti (Gangster)

 
The Boss (also known as Wipeout!) opens with a hitman sneaking into the projection booth where a gathering of men are screening some pornographic films. The hitman, Nick Lanzetta (Henry Silva), carries out a deadly mission with an explosive fire (recalled by Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds) and a grenade launcher. This massacre triggers a Mafia war, as Rina (Antonia Santilli), the loose collegiate daughter of Lanzetta's Don Daniello (Claudio Nicastro), gets kidnapped by the rival Calabrian family of mustachioed Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi).

Discussing the dilemma over with his elders and superiors (including The Godfather's Richard Conte), Lanzetta comes up with a plan to pay the steep ransom demanded by Cocchi's crew. Then, he takes matters into his own hands, securing power for himself while his fellow mafioso negotiate with a dirty police commissioner (Gianni Garko) and one another to make their own power plays.

As the stoic Lanzetta shacks up with the initially hostile Rina, you notice this film lacks the energy and investability of the trilogy's two previous installments. The film does improve with its climactic double crossings, but the "To Be Continued" that follows its satisfying conclusion would never be realized.
 

Rulers of the City (I Padroni Della Città) DVD cover art in the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection Rulers of the City (I padroni della città)

Italy Theatrical Release: December 3, 1976 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Fernando Di Leo / Writers: Fernando Di Leo (story & screenplay), Peter Berling (screenplay)

Cast: Jack Palance (Scarface Manzari), Al Cliver (Ric), Harry Baer (Tony), Gisela Hahn (Clara), Enzo Pulcrano (Beppe), Roberto Reale (Luca), Edmund Purdom (Luigi Cerchio), Vittorio Caprioli (Vincenzo Napoli), Rosario Borelli (Office Manager), Pietro Ceccarelli (Luigi's Bagman), Salvatore Billa (Luigi's Bagman), Peter Berling (Valentino), Raoul Lo Vecchio (Scarface's Goon), Giulio Baraghini (Scarface's Goon), Enrico Palombini (Captain Laverde), Spartaco Battisti (Sergeant), Fernando Cerulli (Scarface's Goon), Luciano Bottin (Ric as a Boy)

 
Rulers of the City (elsewhere called Mr. Scarface) pits Tony (Harry Baer), a nimble young mob loan collector, against feared crime lord Scarface Manzari (Jack Palance) and his formidable Mafia. Tony has it coming when he and a hired actor pose as tax auditors to earn a sizable bribe from Scarface's crew. Upon finding out, Scarface plots revenge, leaving Tony, disgraced former Scarface page Ric (Al Cliver), and amusing old school crook Napoli (Vittorio Caprioli) to team up on a defense.

Though slow to get going, Rulers picks up and becomes quite enjoyable as Di Leo's lighter, later take on organized crime.

Before Pulp Fiction's Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, there was the interracial hitman team of Frank Webster (Woody Strode) and Dave Catania (Henry Silva) in "The Italian Connection." Though not enhanced for widescreen displays, Jack Palance's (Mister) Scarface is presented with fine picture quality.

VIDEO and AUDIO

All four films are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios of 1.85:1 widescreen. Three of the four are enhanced for 16:9 displays, with non-trilogy Rulers of the City oddly letterboxed instead. In general, the colors are kind of pale and the movies look a little older than their American contemporaries. The video is a bit soft, but mostly clean. Picture is especially great on The Boss, which is marred only by some softly-focused shots. Despite being non-anamorphic, Rulers looks almost as good as the rest, shining aside from the rare hair on the edge of the frame.

The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtracks are dated and none too crisp, but you hear what you need to and the English subtitles have very few grammatical errors. As mentioned earlier, the sound is never perfectly synched to the picture, an Italian cinema design and no fault of the DVD (save for a bonus feature, covered later). English dubs are thoughtfully offered as well, should you want them, but they largely serve to raise your opinion of the clumsily-constructed original Italian. A couple of lines appear to be muted on The Boss, which otherwise boasts better sound quality than its company.

French actor Philippe Leroy recalls one thing he questioned about "Caliber 9", in which he played the character of Chino. Writer/director Fernando Di Leo is all over these DVD's bonus features in some of his last interviews before his 2003 death.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Carrying 2004 copyright dates, all video extras are presented in 1.33:1 and in Italian, with either burned-in or player-generated English subtitles (the former are less grammatically sound).

As the earliest and most reputable of the four movies, Caliber 9 gets the best bonus features, beginning with three substantial documentaries.
First, an untitled piece (29:40) looks back at Caliber 9, with remarks from Di Leo himself, producer Armando Novelli, editor Amedeo Giomini, composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov, essayists, filmmakers, and actors Philippe Leroy and Barbara Bouchet. It's a really thorough retrospective.

"Fernando Di Leo: The Genesis of the Genre" (38:30) reviews the director's entire career with plenty of clips and commentary. Touching upon topics like morality, sex, and his films' treatment of cops and women, cast members, collaborators, and, most of all, Di Leo himself sound off on his work, putting the featured films into the context of his complete filmography. As Di Leo passed away in December 2003 (acknowledged at the start and end of this piece), his thoughts in this and the set's other interviews represent some of his last.

A writer himself, Andrea G. Pinketts sounds off on what he likes about Di Leo-adapted author Giorgio Scerbanenco in "Scerbanenco Noir." The cast assembled for the penultimate scene of "Caliber 9" appear in this image from the photo gallery, enhanced by a Gastone Moschin phone interview. Late Italian actress Francesca Romana Coluzzi is interviewed in low light in the featurette "Roots of the Mafia."

The disc's third and final documentary is "Scerbanenco Noir" (26:07) on Italian author Giorgio Scerbanenco, whose stories were adapted into Caliber 9. It's as relevant here as anywhere, but watching writers discuss one of their own at this length is perhaps inevitably a bit dull.

A Photo Gallery (3:26) is less notable for its visuals than for what accompanies it: a phone interview with Caliber 9 star Gastone Moschin, who shares memories about his director, his co-stars, and the experience at large.

Included on all four DVDs are: a Director Biography (7 screens on Di Leo's career), a Director Filmography (4 pages of credits), and DVD credits.

Italian Connection is joined by the 2004 retrospective documentary "The Roots of the Mafia" (20:35). By way of interviews with Di Leo, his collaborators (including actress Francesca Romana Coluzzi), and historians, we learn about what is taken from Scerbanenco's writings, how certain scenes came about, his cast members, and how President George W. Bush is like a mafia boss.

The original Italian movie poster that became the box cover image for this DVD collection is seen in the brief photo gallery for "La Mala Ordina" ("The Italian Connection."). Actor Howard Ross remembers how Di Leo eased actress Antonia Santilli into her nude and underwear scenes in "The Boss." A now middle-aged Al Cliver's lack of Jack Palance stories doesn't hinder his function as the primary interview subject of the "Rulers of the City" retrospective.

Also on Italian Connection's disc is a black & white photo gallery (more accurately, a slideshow) (1:50) of posters,
film stills, and behind-the-scenes shots.

On The Boss, we find "Mafia Stories" (23:18), whose soundtrack is inexcusably out of sync by about 45 seconds. While that isn't as big of a deal as it would be in a native language piece, it's still a glaring and baffling error. This featurette is comparable to the others on the set, only with less participation from Di Leo (whose comments are recycled from the earlier retrospectives). In addition, we hear from actors Gianni Garko, Gianni Musy, Pier Paolo Capponi, and Howard Ross, and producer Armando Novelli, who recall the film's violence, themes, and production experiences.

Accompanying Rulers of the City, "Violent City" (15:30) primarily features the recollections of actor Al Cliver, along with some remarks from editor Giomini and weapons expert Gilberto Galimberti, and more repeated Di Leo assertions.

Go-go dancer Nelly (Barbara Bouchet) shakes what she's got in the "Caliber 9" DVD main menu montage. Mustachioed Calabrian mafioso Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi) offers a sinister smile to a man not long for this world on the main menu for "The Boss."

Note that there is a lot of nudity in the bonus features. In excerpting his life's work, the Di Leo documentary reveals how sexually charged some of his films not included here are (particularly Avere vent'anni, a.k.a. Being Twenty). (Of those that are here, "The Boss" is most graphic.) Even Barbara Bouchet, who remains obscured in Caliber 9 itself, is seen nude in behind-the-scenes photos in the film's doc and Moschin interview slideshow.

Each main menu excerpts score and scenes from the film, most notably Nelly's beaded bikini dancing on Caliber 9 and the big car chase of Italian Connection (cross-cut with dancers). Submenus are static, silent, and unremarkable.

Each of the four DVDs is packaged in a fragile slim black case whose front cover is adapted from original poster artwork. Alongside the movies, Raro has included an illustrated softcover companion book consisting primarily of Luca Rea's 2001 interview with the director. In this revealing chat, Di Leo recounts his start and the then-common practice of stealing ideas. The opinionated director proceeds to weigh in on the Italian film industry as it stands and competing with television, before proudly assessing his own films and ultimately linking Rulers of the City with the trilogy, affirming this box set's decision to do the same. Tucked inside the booklet is a bookmark with an image from each of the set's four films.

Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) shoots up at a heap in the memorable junkyard shootout that concludes "The Italian Connection."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The 1970s crime films of Fernando Di Leo are an interesting slice of Italian cinema. Though a bit crude technically and bleak morally, these movies nonetheless engage and compel as more than just historical curiosity and Quentin Tarantino inspiration. Faintly resembling American action of the time from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, Di Leo's filmmaking may be antiquated and vulgar by today's standards but it still packs a unique punch with inspired sequences, complex characters, and taut storytelling.

Thanks to Raro Video, Americans can now see and enjoy Di Leo's movies more easily than ever before. This 4-movie collection may just be porting over what the studio already released in Europe, but it's a satisfying set with solid English subtitles, fairly good picture, and substantial bonus features. While I wouldn't go as far to recommend this to someone who's not already a fan of the era and genre, those who are and are open to rough Italian dubbing practices ought to give this a look.

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Reviewed March 23, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1972-76 Cineproduzioni Daunia 70, Overseas Film Company, and 2011 Raro Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.