This week three Italian films from the early 1970s that look at murder in its varied forms – as a political tool, as a living wage and as a way of life.
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
Despite his considerable achievements – and greater commercial success – with projects after this film, Bertolucci’s political thriller is still, in my opinion, his best. Jean-Louis Trintignant gives a marvellously uptight performance as Marcello Clerici, who just wants to blend in, to become one of the crowd, to give a semblance of ‘normal life’, even if the reality is anything but. His facelessness also facilitates his mission – he works for fascist organisation OVRA and is assigned to assassinate a prominent anti-fascist in exile in Paris. Georges Delerue’s haunting score and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography make this Bertolucci’s most effective, emotional work. Locations include Rome and Paris and the period setting – the late 1930s – is recreated perfectly. The exemplary cast features Gaston Moschin and Ezio Tarascio, and Dominique Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli perform a sexy tango in Joinville. The Conformist expands on ideas first seen in Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964), but with more coherence and greater resonance, both politically and emotionally. The chopped up, non-linear narrative is a trademark of editor Franco Arcalli, who also worked on Django Kill! and Once Upon a Time in America.
The good news is that The Conformist is being released in the UK on dual format Blu-ray/DVD in January 2012.
It is currently available in the US, on Region 1.
Violent City (Sergio Sollima, 1970)
This sees Charles Bronson at the zenith of his European-based popularity, before he finally broke into the US market in 1974 with the mega-hit Death Wish. ‘Hits’ are also on Bronson’s mind in this movie, as he plays Jeff Heston, a professional hitman who finds himself a pawn in Jill Ireland’s rise to mafia Godmother. This is easily the best of the films Bronson and his wife Ireland made together. The strong Euro-cast includes Michel Constantin and Umberto Orsini, and Telly Savalas shows up as a New Orleans crime kingpin and head of the billion-dollar ‘Organisation’. Violent City was shot on location in the US (including New Orleans) and the Island of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In the wake of The Godfather’s success, it was released, abridged, in the US as The Family. The excellent stunt work and car chases were staged by Remy Julienne, who oversaw the Minis in The Italian Job (1969)
Ennio Morricone provided the score, including the pulsating, whining, still-popular theme tune.
The Marseilles Connection (Enzo G. Castellari, 1973)
Also known as High Crime, Castellari’s cop movie is one of the finest examples of Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ (police films). Franco Nero played Vice-commissioner Belli of the Squadra Volante (Flying Squad) who attempts to sever the Marseilles Connection – a drug smuggling route from France to Genoa. Its obvious inspiration is The French Connection (1971) and Fernando Rey reappears here as gangster Cafiero. James Whitmore played Belli’s by-the-rules boss. Like Violent City and The French Connection, Marseilles Connection features a car chase – here cut to G & M De Angelis funky ‘Gangster Story’ cue which reappeared in many other films, including Violent Rome (1976 – Forced Impact) starring Maurizio Merli. Nero worked with Castellari on several occasions during this period, including the crepuscular western Keoma, a hokey sharksploitation movie The Shark Hunter (Guardians of the Deep) and a Death Wish vigilante flick, Street Law. Marseilles Connection is their best collaboration and one of the top cop movies of the 1970s. The trailer is a classic.
The Marseilles Connection is currently only available in the UK on videotape, but there are rumours that a DVD release is in the offing
It is also available on tape in the US as High Crime.
The De Angelis brothers’ score to Violent Rome, which includes the ‘Gangster Story’ cue, is available on CD.
If you’d like to read more about The Conformist, Violent City and The Marseilles Connection, and other films discussed here, they (and many more) are included in my book, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult.