Color, 1972, 97m.
Directed by Clark Worswick
Starring Tony Page, James Reyes, Vera Visconti, Leah Marlow, William Paxton, Bob Bonds
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
Picked up for a 1973 theatrical release by Cinerama but unseen for decades, this indie crime-revenge drama finally comes back to the public via a limited Blu-ray from Code Red. Oddly enough, by this point the film is more famous for its trailer (which has kicked off almost every Code Red release for years) than the actual feature itself, which many people doubted would ever see the light of day in home theaters.
Italian-American New York cop Joe Fortunato (Prince of the City's Page) has a big problem. Seven years ago his father was killed by the mob, and ever since then (seemingly every day) his mother has been wailing and screaming at him to kill the perpetrators. His uncle Tony (Paxton) feels the same way, urging Joe to disregard the law and honor the family name at any cost. A violent incident on the docks gets Joe's gun and badge confiscated, which pushes him further to the edge and into the cross hairs of high-powered mobster Carlo (Reyes), who's so paranoid he won't even let his daughter (a young, pre-Sopranos Toni Kalem) go on a field trip. Along the way he hooks up with a sneezing junkie, complete with a graphic shooting up scene, and manages to drive Carlo nuts by harassing him with a double-barreled shotgun and turning the organization upside down.
Rough, scuzzy, and definitely memorable, this early entry in the '70s cycle of New York crime films is seething with atmosphere and solid performances by people who don't seem too far removed from the characters they're playing. Lest you think this is a standard urban revenge story, it also has a few surprises up its sleeve including a big 90-degree plot turn after the one-hour mark that breaks from the usual template in a big way. The basic electronic score works well, too, thumping away repetitively during the lead up to tense scenes but then going quiet for most of the action. Plus for classic rock fans you get an appearance by Mountain's Leslie West as one of the mob goons! All in all, it's a worthwhile little action film that would have probably gotten a higher profile with stronger distribution.
Unfortunately, time hasn't treated this film well since it played in theaters; it never got a home video release of any kind until the Code Red release (sold via Diabolik or through the label's store), which had to be pulled from two 16mm prints since no other elements appear to have survived. This is the definition of an "it is what it is" transfer; it's certainly watchable enough and has enough texture and detail to satisfy, though it's presented completely open aperture with what appears to be some built-in matting on the sides. That isn't really a compositional problem for the vast majority of the film, but you can spot a couple of slight pan and scan adjustments around the 20-minute mark where it was presumably filmed more spaciously at 1.85:1. This is all that remains though, and contrary to the back of the packaging, it isn't 1.66:1. The DTS-HD MA mono English audio sounds fine for what amounts to a fairly flat and sometimes scratchy track. Extras include two trailers and a TV spot; the first one is matted far more heavily on the top and bottom than the main feature itself.