Color, 1975, 93 mins. 58 secs.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Luc Merenda, Mel Ferrer, Delia Boccardo, Tomas Milian, Michele Gammino, Paola Tedesco, Franco Giornelli
Fractured Visions (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), FilmArt (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Musrti (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The rise of the poliziottesco, or Italian cop crime film, led to a genre shift for a number of notable Italian directors who turned out some of their best work in the subgenre, such as Umberto Lenzi and Enzo G. Castellari. One who particularly flourished with only a handful of contributions was Sergio Martino, who took a break from his classic gialli in 1973 to make a stylish debut with The Violent Professionals, starring Luc Merenda. The director and star would reunite three other times throughout the decade including 1973's Torso, 1975's Gambling City, and the film at hand here, Silent Action, originally released as La polizia accusa: il servizio segreto uccide (or "The Police Accuse: The Secret Service Kills"). A particularly rough and cynical take on the political violence that was afflicting Italy in the middle of the decade, the film starts off as an intricate procedural film before exploding in the second half with some spectacular action scenes -- as you'd expect from that title. This would be Martino's swan song as far as pure poliziotteschi go, though the same year he also delivered the outrageous, genre-straddling cop/giallo hybrid, The Suspicious Death of a Minor, which was conspicuously Merenda-free.
In the summer and autumn of 1974, several Italian cities from Rome to Florence are jolted by the violent deaths of a string of military and government officials ranging from a major car crash to a staged suicidal gunshot to the head. The intrepid Inspector Giorgio Solmi (Merenda) gets tipped off to the suspicious connection between the epidemic of deaths by Maria (High Crime's Boccardo), a journalist and potential romantic interest who's just come back to Rome, so he looks into the most recent one, a man named Salvatore. A clue involving a suicidal call girl known as "La Tusina" (Watch Me When I Kill's Tedesco) and her employment by a brothel-running baroness leads to some hard questioning by Solimi and his partner, Lieutenant Luigi Capara (Confessions of a Police Captain's Gammino), which ends up roping in District Attorney Mannino (Ferrer) and the police captain, Sperli (Milian). Planted bombs, a trip to a raucous prison, and a high-velocity, multi-vehicle car chase are just a few of the consequences as Solmi works his way up a criminal chain that could be expose corruption in the highest levels of Roman civic power.
A finely honed crime thriller that starts off as a deliberate combination of investigation and character study but gradually works up a very strong head of steam, Silent Action is a solid example of what both Martino and Merenda could achieve at the peak of their powers. Regular Martino cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando does some excellent work here, particularly in the two big set pieces in the second half involving that extended car chase (a descendant of Bullitt and The French Connection if there ever was one) and a firepowered finale in the mountains that's far more epic than you might expect (with Martino himself providing a cameo in a helicopter that feels pretty grim given what happened later on his Hands of Steel). Composer Luciano Michelini provides a very representative score that shows off a catchy crime movie jam all the way through, similar in tone to his work on Gambling City and his most famous work on Secrets of a Call Girl.
Never one of Martino's more famous films (with the soundtrack far easier to find than the actual movie), Silent Action made its global Blu-ray debut in 2021 from U.K. label Fractured Visions as a limited 3,000-unit slipcase edition including an insert with liner notes by Eugenio Ercolani and Francesco Massaccesi, plus the soundtrack CD reflecting the contents of the Digitmovies release (25 tracks, 57m20s). The transfer is touted as a 2K restoration from the original camera negative, and it's a tough one to evaluate given that there isn't much precedent for this one on home video apart from a German-only 2013 DVD (as Die Killermafia) and an Italian-only one a year later (plus really underwhelming VHS releases from a handful of territories like Germany, Canada, Italy, and Holland). The film has a very earthy, drab look that's presumably true to the original intentions, and frequently soft and chunky-looking at times with a 50i AVC encode; it's basically somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of poliziottesco Blu-rays out there, but given the rarity of the title and the chance to see it in its original full scope presentation, fans should consider it an easy recommendation. Italian and English 2.0 LPCM tracks are included with English subtitles, either translated for the Italian or with just translations of on screen text for the English track. (Note that the language tracks have to be selected from the main or pop-up menus with the subtitles automatically adjusting.) The film was completely dubbed in post-production either way, with the Italian track kinda-sorta matching the actors for the most part; try both and see which one you prefer, as the English dub features a number of beloved and familiar voices from the era.
What pushes the release over into the essential category is the wealth of bonus features, starting off with the new audio commentary by Mike Malloy, director of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s. It's an interesting track that's more of an overview of the entire poliziotteschi renaissance that exploded with the popularity of directors like Martino, Lenzi, Antonio Margheriti, and Ruggero Deodato, as well as a flood of brain-melting soundtrack comps and standalone releases. He chats quite a bit about Merenda, Milian, and Martino, of course, contextualizing this film within the larger scope of their careers and also offering some personal accounts of how he discovered the subgenre and the impact it had on his own life. In "Directing the Strategy" (13m5s), Martino is articulate and energetic as always as he covers Milian's fixation with altering his appearance and vulnerability as an actor, his approach as a director, and his thoughts on crime films of the era from the likes of Stelvio Massi and Maurizio Merli. (As with the subsequent featurettes on this disc, the English subtitles don't turn on automatically so make sure you keep your remote handy.) Then "Luc Unleashed" (18m45s) features the actor recalling his time working with his director (and producer brother Luciano), from the initial experience on Torso through the bond they forged over their other films together as well as his impression on the "unrelenting" nature of looking at them now and his thoughts on this film in particular. In "Sergio and I" (18m34s), Michelini (sitting on a fountain with the soundtrack album on vinyl) explains how he got into music in his youth and got to see many facets of the Italian film industry, as well as one bit that will absolutely thrill fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm. He also chats about his musical influences including the impact of Morricone on this particular score. Then "The Age of Lead: Italy in the Seventies Between Fact and Fiction" (55m36s) has historians Francesco Biscione and Eugenio Ercolani, former student activist Giampaolo Ercolani, taking a deep dive into the terrorism and other real-life violence starting in 1969 that spawned these films, complete with tons of archival news footage and some fascinating analysis of the current events that shaped a decade. Then the archival "Luc Accusa: Merenda Uccide" (13m15s) features the actor speaking a lot more loosely about the making of the film trying to remember various aspects of Ferrer and Milian as well as his stunt work, including a particularly harrowing bit from the climax. Finally another DVD-era extra from NoShame, "The Milian Connection" (50m46s), has directors Marco Manetti and Antonio Manetti, actor Maurizio Merli (the son of, that is), and MC Flaminio Maphia's G-Max and Rude, as well as a briefly seen Castellari and Deodato, offering their appraisals of the persona and acting legacy that built up a cult following that still endures today.
Reviewed on March 16, 2021.