Color, 2012, 127m.
Directed by Mike Malloy
Cinema Epoch (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Considering the vast amounts of literal and digital ink spilled over the merits of Italian subgenres that flourished in the drive-in glory days of the '60s through the '80s, it's surprising how few actual documentaries have been made about them. Sure, we have more than our share of featurettes from DVD releases over the years and the occasional outstanding effort like, say, The Godfathers of Mondo, but we have yet to get feature-length studies of obvious targets like gialli, nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, cannibal films, post-nuke sci-fi films, and so on. Fortunately we now have one about a particularly rich strain of this cinematic period, the poliziotteschi. These violent Italian crime films lifted the aesthetic of intense, exaggerated violence and stark, archetypal characters established in spaghetti westerns and adapted it for the mean streets of modern day Italy, though the sheer number of them in the middle of the '70s caused a few to be misleadingly marketed as horror or sexploitation titles in America to give them a commercial edge. Today the films and their stars (many imported from America or elsewhere in Europe, as per the usual custom by this point) have earned a loyal following with many key titles still in demand for the special edition treatment.
Managing to tackle this intricate subject in just over two hours, Eurocrime! (which bears the lengthy subtitle, The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Rules the '70s) assembles a jaw-dropping array of interviews with many major surviving players from the era in front of and behind the camera. (One major name came in a little too late to make the original cut, but more on that later.) Among the actors you get Franco Nero, John Saxon, Henry Silva, Antonio Sabato, Fred Williamson, Luc Merenda, Joe Dallesandro, Richard Harrison, Chris Mitchum, Leonard Mann, John Steiner, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, John Dulaney, and Salvatore Borgese, with other faces including Claudio Fragasso, Enzo G. Castellari, Mario Caiano, and dubbing artists Ted Rusoff and Michael Forest. Coupled with very fast editing, brief animated sequences, and a barrage of fun trivia, the portrait that emerges is a freewheeling, go-for-broke string of films that originated as cash-ins on popular American films like The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Serpico, Bullitt, et al, but morphed to reflect the anxieties and turbulence of Italy with extremist guerrilla organizations and organized crime making headlines almost every day. Those forces occasionally bled over into the productions themselves, which makes for a few fascinating anecdotes from some of the actors.
You'll know what to expect from some of the more familiar names here (with Nero, Williamson and Saxon especially, who are always solid interview subjects) but some cool surprises pop up, most notably the rich and good-natured recollections of the often overlooked Harrison. Obviously some major names are no longer with us (most notably Maurizio Merli and Fernando Di Leo), but everyone gets their due here with what amounts to a solid crash course for beginners and a tasty banquet of riches for more seasoned fans. The end product isn't perfect (the main quibble being an overreliance on simulated "grindhouse" video scratching and scuffing that doesn't really fit the aesthetic of the genre), but it's an ambitious, affectionate, and wildly entertaining epic of a doc that covers the ground so thoroughly it's hard to imagine anyone ever being able to top it.
All of the interview material is nicely shot (usually against a black background) which means the bulk of the film looks just fine on DVD. The film clips are a bit more erratic, not surprisingly, but for the most part it's a sleek, satisfying visual experience with a solid stereo sound mix throughout. As for extras, you get a fun 14-minute bonus interview with the great, extremely colorful Tomas Milian (who could only be tracked down after production had wrapped) with highlights apparently condensed down from hours of chatting. The bit about how he came up with a Serpico imitation for one of his most beloved roles is especially great. Also included are two short deleted sequences, a bit about funny in-jokes thrown in by English dubbers and Michael Forest remembering the late Frank Wolff and a separate "legacy" segment about the influence of the films years later. Finally you get the (five-minute!) trailer and a random gallery of other Cinema Epoch titles.