Monthly Archives: August 2015




Arrow Films in the UK has released Fernando Di Leo’s ‘Milano Calibro 9’ (‘Milan Calibre 9’), a crime classic from 1972 and one of the best examples of the poliziottesco (‘Italian crime movie’) genre. Jailbird Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is released from San Vittorio prison in Milan after three years behind bars. He’s out for good behaviour, but what follows his release is anything but. Money-laundering Godfather ‘The Mikado’ (Lionel Stander) is convinced Ugo has hidden $300,000 he has stolen from the mob, but despite beatings and harassment, Ugo remains silent. The hoods on his trail – waiting for him to make a mistake and trip up – include greasy, sadistic blabbermouth Rocco Musco (Mario Adorf). As Ugo runs afoul of the mob and the police, he ends up on the Mikado’s payroll again, but eventually finds out that you can’t trust anyone – not even those closest to you.

Fernando Di Leo’s crime thriller masterpiece arrives on blu-ray and DVD in great shape, with superb colour and sound, and a wealth of extras. Also included in the package is a fully illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring an insightful essay ‘Film Noir, Italian-Style: Giorgio Scerbanenco, Fernando Di Leo and Milano Calibro 9’ by Roberto Curti, the author of ‘Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-80’. Arrow Films’ edition contains the English language track most fans of the film will be familiar with (with Lionel Stander dubbing himself and Mario Adorf dubbed with a squeaky, helium whine) and the original Italian edition (with Stander’s crime kingpin called ‘The Americano’, not the Mikado).

‘Calibro 9’ is, with Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘The Marseilles Connection’ (1973 – aka ‘High Crime’), my favourite 1970s Italian crime movie. Both films pack a considerable punch, emotionally and physically, and also have an underlying socio-political agenda amid the action. In Di Leo’s film, which adapted the work of Italian noir novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco, two police commissioners – one from the north of Italy, one from the south – discuss and argue over the north-south/rich-poor divide. The pair is played by actors well known to connoisseurs of Italian genre cinema – Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli– and while the scenes don’t drag, their authenticity, especially in the English language dub, is occasionally questionable. For example, would a Milanese commissioner of police ever use a phrase like ‘dangling dingleberries’? The film could do without these scenes, Di Leo reckons in retrospect, but they remained in the original cut of the film. With actors of the calibre of Wolff and Pistilli is supporting roles, writer-director Di Leo obviously fields a very strong cast. Gastone Moschin, the fascist agent from Bertolucci’s ‘The Conformist’ (1970), is superb as the stoic, tough nut Ugo Piazza, an immovable object who the Mikado’s ruffians just can’t break. Ugo ‘had it made’ but couldn’t resist biting the hand that fed him. Now that hand pummels him, in an attempt to find the whereabouts of the missing $300,000.

Compared to taciturn Ugo (an indeed everyone else in the film) Mario Adorf’s performance as Rocco is like a whirlwind. Smashing his way through life with zero regard for the pain, suffering and hatred he generates, he dominates the film. Adorf is one of the great European actors of his generation and the more films of his I watch, the more impressed I am by his skill. He was great in westerns – the crazy bandido in ‘Last Ride to Santa Cruz’ (1964), landgrabbing villain Santer in ‘Winnetou the Warrior’ (1963 – ‘Apache Gold’) and the bandit with a spur instead of an arm in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘The Specialists’ (1969 – ‘Drop Them of I’ll Shoot’) – but was equally at home in comedies, such as the caper ‘The Treasure of San Gennaro’ (1966) or the Oscar-winning drama ‘The Tin Drum’ (1979). Rocco’s two humourless henchmen, Pasquale and Nicola, were played by Mario Novelli and Giuseppe Castellano. Barbara Bouchet was Ugo’s go-go dancing girlfriend Nelly. Bouchet’s psychedelic dance routine (in a nightclub of the type that only ever appear in Italian crime movies) wearing a beaded bikini, is a visual highlight. Philippe Leroy gave a commanding performance as Ugo’s ally Chino, who’s a tough as they come, and Ivo Garrani played aged crime kingpin, Don Vincenzo, a once-important man, now blind and consumed by loneliness. Even the characters at the corners of Di Leo’s drama are given life, through professional performances from familiar faces.

Torre Branca

[Torre Branca, Sempione Park, Milan]

The powerful score was composed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It’s partly traditional orchestral arrangements, but Bacalov also collaborated with Italian prog-rock band Osanna on the soundtrack. Bacalov had worked with the band The New Trolls to great success on Maurizio Lucidi’s thriller ‘The Designated Victim’ (1971) and in fact the song ‘My Shadow in the Dark’ from Lucidi’s film accompanies a scene between Ugo and Nelly in ‘Calibro 9’. ‘Milano Calibro 9’ was photographed by Franco Villa in an autumnal, inhospitable Milan, with interiors at DEAR Studios. Di Leo shot on the streets of Milan and also in such authentic locations as the Milano Centrale railway station on Piazza Duca d’Aosta and on the canals and bridges of the Navigli district (both of which have now been renovated since the film was made). The pre-titles sequence, the greatest opening scene of any Italian crime movie, introduces twitchy hood Omero Cappana walking through Sempione Park in Milan, towards a cash drop-off. The hood is revealed in the opening shot of the film, as the camera pans down Torre Branca (Branca Tower), an iron panoramic tower in Sempione Park. The top of the tower is a viewing point – did De Leo film some of the title sequence’s cityscape panoramas across Milan from the top of here? The scene is accompanied by a mellow flute motif, not unlike one deployed by Bacalov in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django’ (1966) where it too is a prelude to a savage burst of violence. The action then proceeds to Piazza Del Duomo (Duomo Square) in Milan where the cash handover, a strange game of pass-the-parcel, begins. The music develops from the flute melody, to staccato piano, relentless strings and eventually explodes into a full-throttle prog-rock jam, as violence explodes on the screen. When the hoods find out they have been duped in this cash exchange, they take horrific revenge on the double-crossers. Be aware, Di Leo’s film is very violent, and just as it begins with an act of extreme savagery, it ends with one too, in a scene that’ll pin you back in your chair.


‘Milano Calibro 9’ was the first of three crime films from Di Leo, sometimes referred to as the ‘Milieu Trilogy’, and was followed by ‘Manhunt’ (1972) and ‘The Boss’ (1973). In ‘Manhunt’, two New York hitmen (Henry Silva and Woody Strode) arrive in Milan to rub out a small-time pimp, Luca Canali (Adorf again). Canali’s wife (Sylva Koscina) and daughter are deliberately run down in the street and during the incredible chase that ensues, Canali head-butts the windscreen of a speeding van, smashing through the glass and attacking the driver. Adolfo Celi played the sinister crime boss behind the carnage. In ‘The Boss’, which is set in Sicily, Henry Silva played Lanzetta, a mafia hit man who in the film’s opening scene obliterates a rival don and his crew in a cinema with a grenade launcher. In retribution, Lanzetta’s boss’s daughter is kidnapped by hoods disguised as student radicals, which escalates the gang war. Both films are worth checking out, but aren’t quite up to the calibre of the first in the trilogy, which remains the high-watermark for Italian crime cinema.


Special Features:

  • Brand New 2k restoration from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Newly-translated subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • ‘Calibro 9’ 2004 making-of documentary with interviews with director Fernando Di Leo, stars Barbara Bouchet, Philippe Leroy, composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov and others
  • ‘Fernando Di Leo: The Genesis of the Genre’ documentary charting the filmmaking career of the director
  • ‘Scerbanenco Noir’: a look at the work of Italian crime writer Giorgio Scerbanenco, author of the original ‘Milano Calibro 9’ novel
  • Gastone Moschin audio interview
  • ‘Italia Violenta’: Matthew Holness, writer and star of cult television series ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’ offers an appreciation of ‘Milano Calibro 9’ and the Italian poliziottesco sub-genre
  • US and Italian trailers (which feature alternate takes and unused footage)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
  • Fully-illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring ‘Film Noir, Italian-Style’ by Roberto Curti (author of ‘Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-80’).

The Blu-ray/DVD edition of ‘Milano Calibro 9’ is available now, in Region B/2 format, rated certificate 18







The BFI has released a three-disk Blu-ray set of Robert Rossellini’s celebrated ‘War Trilogy’. The three films, Rome, Open City (1945), Paisà (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1948) are among the jewels in neorealism’s crown. Set in Italy during the German Occupation and its aftermath, the first two films depict Italy wartorn and almost on the brink of capitulation, while the third looks at a post-war Germany shattered by the conflict. Rossellini had made three fascist propaganda films during the war: The White Navy (1941 – detailing hospital ships), A Pilot Returns (1942 – the air force) and Man of the Cross (1943 – the Eastern Front). But in the immediate post-war period his War Trilogy told a very different story of the war, often from a civilian perspective. The Allies invaded Italy, first in Sicily in July 1943 and later the mainland in September of that year. As the liberators fought their way northward, the Germans exacted terrible revenge on their one-time allies.


ROME OPEN CITY Set in the winter of 1943-44, Rome, Open City depicts the hunt for Giorgio Manfredi (Marcell Pagliero), a resistance leader in Rome. Another member of the resistance, Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), is due to marry widow Pina (Anna Magnani), but on their wedding day the Gestapo and Italian fascists raid their apartment block. Later SS Major Bergmann (Harry Feist) captures Manfredi and also orders the execution of a priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi), who has aided the resistance. Rome, Open City is a powerful film about the German occupation, made on location and with a strong sense of authenticity. The ‘Open City’ epithet is a reference to Rome being declared an ‘open city’ on 14 August 1943, meaning that the defenders had abandoned all efforts to protect the city. This tactic was intended to safeguard the civilian population and the historical landmarks from street fighting and aerial bombing (Paris had made the same declaration in 1940, as did Brussels and Oslo). Rome, Open City headlines Anna Magnani’s star-making role and established Rossellini on the international stage as a leading light of the neorealist movement. Mangani’s death scene, outside her house in Via Raimondo Montecuccoli in Rome, is among the most famous moments in international cinema. The BFI’s release is a newly-remastered presentation of the film. Also included on the disk is Children of Open City (2005, 51 mins) a documentary about the making of the film with Vito Annicchiarico (who played Pina’s son in the film), and an illustrated booklet by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough.


PAISÀ My personal favourite of the trilogy, Paisa is perhaps Rossellini’s greatest film. Here the grit and sorrow of neorealism combines with newsreel combat footage to moving effect. The six-episode film is set during the Allied campaign to liberate Italy. It begins in Sicily in 1943 and concludes in the Po Delta in the winter of 1944. In the first episode, Carmela (Carmela Sazio), a young Sicilian woman, acts as a guide to a GI patrol on a nighttime patrol. When GI Joe (Robert Van Loon) attempts to show her a photo of his sister, he strikes a light and a German sniper kills him. Later the GI’s think Carmela is responsible for Joe’s death. Episode two is set in Naples. Orphaned street urchin Pasquale (Alfonso Pasca) steals the boots off drunken American military policeman Joe (Dots Johnson). Later the MP meets Pasquale again and when he sees Pasquale’s squalid living conditions and those of other Neapolitan civilians, he realises why the orphan needs to steal boots. In Rome following the Anzio landings, Sherman tank crewman Fred (Gar Moore) hitches up with a prostitute. He drunkenly remembers that six months ago, on his first arrival in Rome, he met a wonderful Roman girl called Francesca. He is too drunk to realise that the woman he is with is Francesca, who has been compelled to become a ‘working girl’ to avoid starvation. The film continues with an episode set during the German retreat north through Tuscan. In Florence, British nurse Harriet (Harriet White) and Massimo (Enzo Tarascio) attempt to cross the River Arno: she to contact her lover, Guido Lombardi who is now heroic partisan leader Lupo (Wolf), he to see his wife and child whose house is caught up in the fighting. Traversing rooftops and rubble, and avoiding fascist snipers and patrols, they make contact with partisans in the German occupied zone. In the next story, at the Gothic Line three US chaplains – Captain Bill Martin (William Tubbs), Captain Feldman (Elmer Feldman) and Captain Jones (Newell Jones) – seek shelter in a Franciscan monastery in the Apennines. The chaplains give the monks Hershey bars and their supplies of tinned food, but the monks’ attitudes change when they discover that two of the chaplains are not of the ‘true faith’, but are Jewish and Protestant. In the final episode, anti-fascist partisans and American OSS operatives fight the Germans in the Po Delta, south of Venice. This episode is the most actionful and climaxes with a battle between the partisans and German gunboats on the delta. Paisà depicts the stark reality of war and its wider impact on society in a way that makes Hollywood and British war films of the period look inauthentic in comparison. The BFI’s presentation of Paisà includes Into the Future (2009), a 30-minute visual essay on the War Trilogy by film scholar Tag Gallagher, and an illustrated booklet written by Gallagher.


GERMANY YEAR ZERO Set and filmed in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s defeat, Germany Year Zero (1948) follows a German family, the Köhlers. The father (Ernst Pittschau), a widower, is infirm: the victim of a weak heart and poor diet. His daughter Eva (Ingetraud Hinze) works at night as a prostitute and his eldest son Karl-Heinz, an ex-soldier, is in hiding and fears being carted off to a prison camp. The film’s principal protagonists, the Köhlers’ youngest son Edmund (Edmund Meschke), falls in with gangs of petty thieves and street kid urchins, and hawks wares on the street for his old schoolteacher, Mr Henning (Erich Gühne). Rossellini’s documentary-like style and good performances ensure the degradation of post-war life in ruined Berlin is palpable. Piles of real Berlin masonry, as photographed by Robert Juillard, are the haunting backdrop to the story. The BFI edition is a restored print and includes a booklet with writing on Rossellini by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Paul Fairclough. The disk also features Rossellini’s 1948 film, L’amore: Due storie d’amore, a two-part film starring Anna Magnani, which runs 77 minutes. The first part, A Human Voice, is a screen adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix humaine while the second, The Miracle, was based on a story by Federico Fellini, who was also the film’s assistant director and appears in the film as a shepherd. The three films are available on Blu-ray as a limited edition numbered boxed set or as individual DVDs. The extras are comprehensive and enlightening. These are superb presentations of three key Italian films and as a set are essential purchases for anyone interested in post-war world cinema.

Blu-ray product details: RRP: £49.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1193 Certificate 12 Variously in Italian, German and English language, with optional English subtitles/ 301 mins / BD50 x3 / 1080p / 24 fps / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit) / Region B/2 All three films are in 1.33:1 screen ratio Individual DVD releases RRP £19.99 Region 2