Roma Therapy 5

This week all’Italiana, three great Italian films which feature memorable villains – a loco bounty hunter, a comic book super-thief, a black-clad murderer – and a trio of timeless Ennio Morricone scores.

The Big SilenceThe Big Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1967)

Corbucci’s snowy western, largely shot near the ski resort at Cortina D’Ampezzo, is perhaps the best non-Sergio Leone Italian western. Jean-Louis Trintignant starred as mute gun-for-hire Silence, who lets his Mauser Broomhandle machine pistol do the talking. But it’s the despicable villain, Loco, a cowled killer stalking in a winter wonderland, that you’ll remember. He’s played by madcap Klaus Kinski in one of his finest performances. The memorable supporting cast includes Vonetta McGee, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega. Morricone composed the emotive music which is quite unlike his ‘Dollars’ trilogy scores and compliments the chilly setting perfectly.

It’s available on DVD in the UK and in the US.

It is worth seeking out the UK Eureka! release from a few years ago, which also features the Italian language cut of the film, with newly-translated English subtitles.

Morricone’s soundtrack CD also features Un Bellissimo Novembre.

DiabolikDiabolik (Mario Bava, 1968)

This comic book masterpiece is Fellini-meets-Bond, in a wild collision of pop art visuals, groovy outfits and futuristic gadgets. John Phillip Law plays masked thief Diabolik, who with his bombshell lover Eva (Marisa Mell) steals from the rich to keep it for himself. His colourful underground lair, with its fleet of E-type Jags, is a sight to behold. This may be Bava’s best movie – it’s certainly his most consistent and pacy. Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi and Terry-Thomas crop up in support.

It is available on DVD in the UK and the US.

Both releases feature highly informative, entertaining commentary tracks, with Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas in conversation with John Phillip Law.

As all fans of the film know, two different English language audio dubs of Diabolik were prepared: one for theUS market, one for international release. The alternative English language dub is still available in the US on VHS tape.

Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his most sought-after with collectors, as it has never had an official release, though there have been bootlegs. The title song, ‘Deep Down’, sung by Christy, is included on the excellent 1960s vocal compilation ‘Canto Morricone’, which also contains ‘Se Telefonando’ by Mina.

The Bird With the Crystal PlumageThe Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970)

Argento’s directorial debut is an astonishingly assured murder mystery. From its opening gallery murder scene, with a witness trapped helplessly between automatic glass doors like a fly twixt double-glazing, this one never lets up. Tony Musante played Sam Dalmas, an American writer in Rome, who is the star witness to the gallery attack. Suzy Kendall was his girlfriend Julia and Enrico Maria Salerno played Inspector Morosini, who thinks that Sam isn’t telling him everything. With his passport confiscated, Sam turns amateur sleuth which leads to both his and Julia’s lives being endangered. The visuals, in widescreen Cromoscope, are breathtakingly shot by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor). Morricone composed a bold, avant-garde score, which echoed his work with experimental group Nuova Consananza.

The definitive version of this film is Anchor Bay’s Region 1 release, available in the UK and US.

Morricone’s score is available on CD with two more Argento movies, Cat O’nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet

To read more about The Big Silence, Diabolik and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, check out my book, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult.

My spaghetti western book Once Upon a Time in the Italian West includes an in-depth discussion of The Big Silence, and Corbucci’s film also features, alongside 33 other important movies, in my Kamera Guide to Spaghetti Westerns

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