Color, 1975, 115 mins. 1 secs.
Directed by Carlo Lizzani
Starring Cinzia Mambretti, Cristina Moranzoni, Annarita Grapputo, Anna Curti, Daniela Grassini, Lidia Di Corato, Nicola De Buono
Raro Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), (DVD) (Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

During The Teenage Prostitution Racketthe wave of The Teenage Prostitution Racketdisturbing crimes plaguing portions of Italy in the 1970s including a rash of kidnappings, terrorist attacks, and underworld hits, one that didn't receive as much film attention was the sex trafficking market that was reported to be luring in numerous underage girls. Inspired by a series of news reports, director Carlo Lizzani, known for such films as Wake Up and Kill, The Hills Run Red, Requiescant, and Last Days of Mussolini, decided to round up a group of Milan residents (most non-actors) to tackle the subject in a motion picture. Less a traditional narrative than a snapshot of the conditions that could ensnare these girls into a lifestyle of crime and degradation, the film in its original 115-minute form feels akin to the popular poliziotteschi films taking over Italian cinemas at the time and certainly qualifies as a prestige drama thanks to its propulsive Ennio Morricone score (with a few extra bits from Revolver) and editing by regular Dario Argento and Lina Wertmuller cutter Franco Fraticelli. However, the handful of countries outside of Italy that ended up seeing it were given a doctored version without the director's consent featuring brief but tacky hardcore insert shots as well as other scraps of sexy footage originally omitted from the final cut. Nevertheless, Lizzani continued to dabble in more provocative fare like San Babila Ore 20: Un Delitto Inutile and Kleifhoff Hotel.

In Milan, apparently all men are predatory scum and older women are enablers as we plunge into the sordid world of modern prostitution situation. "How'd you like to tear off a quick piece, mister?" offers The Teenage Prostitution Racketa The Teenage Prostitution Racketscarf-covered granny to a milkman who's picked her up hitchhiking with her 13-year-old granddaughter, pawning her off for "less than a carton of cigarettes." The family tragedy continues with the most substantial storyline we see how a bloody factory accident leaves a 16-year-old Rosina (Mambretti) fleeing from a forced marriage into a world of smuggling and music cassette piracy before having to sell her body for a new pimp fiancé Salvatore (Del Buono), a.k.a. "Velvet," which leads to hardened cynicism and violence. Then there's rebellious upper class Gisella (Moranzoni), who's managed to remain a medically certified virgin through both cleverness and a paranoid interpretation of the facts of life that manages to fetch her top market value on the sex market. Then there's apparent good girl Daniela (Grapputo), whose engagement to Giulio brings out her wild side as she resorts to rebellion and blackmail. You also get to experience a dog named Otto used as hooker protection, a strip party for pervy photographers, underarm hair inspections, phone booth sex, and undie-flashing air bicycling for good measure. Then there's the brutal ending, which brings that whole pimping granny story thread full circle thanks to a carload of vindictive pimps.

The desire to make a serious social statement is at serious odds here considering each scenario involves a young woman showing varying degrees of skin as men huff and leer and mutter threats, not to mention dialogue The Teenage Prostitution Racketlike "She's really a born whore." Needless to say this probably made more money appealing to the prurient side of male audiences than issuing a stern warning to impressionable parents or young women, but it's exactly that weird disconnect that makes the film stand out so much now as a grimy combination of tearful young faces and jarring sleaze. Imagine a German schoolgirl report movie done it Italy with a lot more crime and way less comedy, and you'll have some idea of what to expect. The piecemeal structure is a bit more than the two-hour running time can really sustain (an edited 92-minute cut was apparently circulated at one point and may have played better), but there's definitely nothing else out there quite like it.

The Teenage Prostitution Racket first appeared on DVD in Italy from Raro Video in 2005 (under its original title, Storia di vita e malavita), featuring the The Teenage Prostitution RacketItalian track of Lizzani's cut in a dreary flat 1.85:1 transfer. Extras include a reel of those extra English-language bits of footage (hardcore and otherwise), totaling 11m5s at PAL speed, and a documentary called "Le Baby Prostitute" (34m9s) with Lizzani and co-director Mino Giarda (in Italian, no subtitles) chatting about how the film came about, scouting the Milan area for talent, and carefully used actors well over the age of consent to avoid any legal issues. A still gallery (4m4s) is also included, plus filmographies and bios.

The film made its U.S. home video debut in 2018 from Raro as separate Blu-ray and DVD releases, featuring only the English dub for some reason The Teenage Prostitution Racketin DTS-HD MA mono. The film looks soft and drab with evident waxiness, though it's considerably less battered and murky than the prior Italian release. This is also a different edit of the film, evidently the intended English export version as the PAL version ran 116m32s and this one comes in at 115m1s, with the pre-credit sequence from the Italian cut moved after the credits and some other editorial oddness going on. This includes dropping a sequence (never dubbed into English) around the 43-minute mark with Gisella distracted by her family's new color TV as a neighbor tries to make a move on her, as well as several significant chunks in the third tale that set up the pitch from Daniela (Grapputo) to Giulio about going to a brothel before marriage and playing a pivotal cassette tape in his car. Some other fleeting bits that were prepared in Italian are also missing, such as a couple of lines of dialogue in the hospital during the dog segment. Interestingly, the pillow talk scene at 55 minutes in is presented entirely in English for the first time and was always cut down in earlier non-Italian prints. The timecoded reel of bonus footage is also included here (abbreviated to 10m42s) as well as at the gallery and the featurette, now subtitled in English for the first time.

Reviewed on February 15, 2018.