FERNANDO DI LEO’S MILANO CALIBRO 9 FROM ARROW FILMS UK
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, 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.
MILANO CALIBRO 9
- 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
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