Color, 1983, 101 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Roberto Faenza
Starring Harvey Keitel, John Lydon, Nicole Garcia, Leonard Mann, Sylvia Sidney Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Mustang (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Though the successful wave of Italian cop films from the '70s had phased out by the time this New York-set thriller went before the cameras in 1983, you can still feel traces of it in the story of a crooked cop played by Harvey Keitel in what many now consider to be a dry run of sorts for his iconic role in Bad Lieutenant the following decade.
A masked creep is stalking the Big Apple and picking off cops, and two partners, Lieutenant Fred O'Connor (Keitel) and Bob Carvo (Mann), are in the thick of it when they're taunted by Leo (Lydon, a.k.a. The Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten and a singer for Public Image Ltd. at the time), a pale, ill-looking oddball who confesses to the crime spree. That turns out to be a bad idea since Fred and Bob have been funneling some ill-gotten money into a mostly empty Central Park pad as an investment, which serves as the perfect place for Fred to keep Leo captive. What follows is a scathing chamber drama as the characters vie for dominance and come to some harsh realizations that will leave more than a little blood on the floor.
Very well acted by the three leads, this film is fairly dynamic for what could have felt like a play on film (despite being adapted by Hugh Fleetwood from his own 1977 novel). It's also quite brutal at times, with the twisty games between Keitel and Lydon going into some pretty brutal territory including an extended stint with the latter bound and confined to a bathtub when he isn't being smacked around and otherwise mistreated. Also adding to the tension is a pounding, very dark score by Ennio Morricone, featuring some ideas that would later evolve quite obviously into Frantic and The Untouchables. Oddly, a rejected PiL theme song called, naturally, "The Order of Death" would go on to evolve into a song on their album the following year, This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get, which pulls its title from a line from this film. In turn, that song would go on to become the most memorable song used in Richard Stanley's Hardware a few years later.
Originally released in Italy as Copkiller, the film was retitled The Order of Death (the title of the source novel) in several European territories and Corrupt in the U.S. during its limited theatrical run from New Line. That latter title stuck when the film hit VHS from Thorn-EMI, and that dated fullscreen source was later pirated for a number of iffy budget multi-film collections on the bargain DVD circuit. A very dupey Italian DVD with no English-friendly options also turned up and is best avoided unless you're curious about the alternate, longer Italian edit of the film, which runs 110 minutes in PAL and was evidently 113 at correct film speed.
In 2017, Code Red brought the film to DVD in its standard English-language cut (featuring the Order of Death title at the beginning) with the first really decent transfer it's ever had on home video. The film still has an intentionally drab, underwhelming look, presumably on purpose, but it's much better here than the murky, fuzzy VHS days and looks about on par with a respectable 35mm presentation. The English DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds pretty decent with Morricone's thumping music benefiting the most (as well as a really strange "pop" song that keeps turning up). The one significant extra is an interview with Leonard Mann (18m45s), who calls Rotten "a fun guy" and then proceeds to go into detail about virtually every other film he made including the slasher favorite Night School. The original trailer is included as Order of Death (with some amusing squeaky PAL speedup) and bonus ones for Jive Turkey, Foxbat, Slaughterhouse Rock, and The Dark.