Friday, October 31, 2014

Eurocrime!: the Cool Part of the 1970s You Probably Missed

Do you want a congressman who can wage a one-man war against the mob? If so, Chris Mitchum is definitely your candidate in California’s 24th district. While not as famous as his father, Mitchum still had quite a career overseas that included the Italian cops-and-mobsters genre known as “poliziotteschi.” Originally inspired by American films like The Godfather, they were popular domestically, throughout Europe, and even in Asia, but never found a fraction of the spaghetti westerns’ success in the American market. Yet, the genre has developed a cult following among hip cineastes in recent years, which gratifies and/or amuses the poliziotteschi veterans in Mike Malloy’s documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films that Ruled the ‘70s (trailer here), now available on DVD from Cinema Epoch.

The poliziotteschi were actually meant to be dubbed. It was faster and cheaper to drop the sound in later than to record it live. As a result, the average poliziotteschi shoot was considerably louder and more chaotic than American actors were accustomed to. The dubbing was obviously not a hindrance for Italian audiences, who ate up poliziotteschi on a weekly basis, but it never worked over here. Of course, the spaghettis had been dubbed as well, but they used dialogue rather sparingly. Not so the poliziotteschi.

Nonetheless, they sure cranked out a lot of them. It all started with Franco Nero in Enzo Castellari’s High Crime, but when he passed on the follow-up, the similar looking Maurizio Merli was hired—and a star was born. Quite a few Americans found  regularly work in poliziotteschi, including Mitchum, John Saxon, Henry Silva, Fred Williamson, and Joe Dallesandro, all of whom remember the chaos quite fondly for Malloy. Except for Mitchum, whose heart belongs to the 24th District, they all say they would love to go back and start doing them again.

Their stories are about as crazy as you would expect, involving real life mafia encounters, dodgy safety precautions, and general run-and-gun filmmaking madness, sans permits. However, Malloy also explores the ironic cultural and political context of these films, largely focused on cops and vigilantes, but often produced by avowed Communists, during a period of violent leftwing terrorism conducted by the Red Brigades.

Throughout the film, Malloy hits the right notes, celebrating the good things about poliziotteschi (cars driving on stairs), while admitting their faults (frequent scenes of violence against women). Although Eurocrime! is considerably longer than you would expect, clocking in just over two hours, it moves along at breakneck speed. Malloy channels the poliziotteschi spirit quite cleverly, reusing an exploding car to introduce each segment, much like the waste-not-want-not films with their well-earned reputation for recycling action scenes.

Who knew Henry Silva was this funny? It’s true, Malloy has the proof in his interview segments. The DVD also features two deleted scenes that have great material, but maybe do not exactly match the tone of the rest of the film. The whole package is thoroughly entertaining, especially for cult film fans who will see the poliziotteschi as the forefathers of the 1980s Cannon action B-movies. Highly recommended, Eurocrime! is now available on DVD from Cinema Epoch, right in time for holiday shopping.