(Italy - 1984)
Directed by Fernando Di Leo. Written by Nino Marino and Fernando Di Leo. Cast: Henry Silva, Harrison Muller, Woody Strode, Carole Andre, Debora Keith, Danika, Hector Wells, Loris Bartock, Serge Doran, Adrian Jeffries. (R, 91 mins)
In recent years, there's been a resurgence of interest in poliziotteschi--Italian crime films of the 1970s, the subject of the recent documentary EUROCRIME!--and in particular the work of Fernando Di Leo (1932-2003), one of the most prominent figures in the movement. Di Leo began his career as a screenwriter on spaghetti westerns like NAVAJO JOE (1966), HATE FOR HATE (1967), and BEYOND THE LAW (1968), but it was the politically-charged crime thrillers that he wrote and directed in the 1970s that have cemented his place in genre history. Four of his best-known films were collected in Raro USA's acclaimed 2011 DVD and Blu-ray box set FERNANDO DI LEO: THE ITALIAN CRIME COLLECTION. Compiling Di Leo's essential "Milieu Trilogy" of CALIBER 9 (1972), THE ITALIAN CONNECTION (1973), and THE BOSS, aka WIPEOUT! (1973) with the bonus film RULERS OF THE CITY, aka MISTER SCARFACE (1976), the first Di Leo set made an airtight case that the filmmaker, with his recurrent themes of nihilism, corruption, and Italy in chaos, his ability to stage an exciting action sequence, and his expert use of actors (so long as you don't count the impossibly Irish Cyril Cusack as a NYC Mafia don in THE ITALIAN CONNECTION), was deserving of respect and serious study.
SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1974), which has since had a couple of airings on Turner Classic Movies, the decent but unspectacular KIDNAP SYNDICATE (1975), and the disappointing NAKED VIOLENCE (1969), a controversial film in Italy in its day that's interesting for Di Leo completists, but is more of a giallo and really has no business in a set representing Di Leo's crime films. Di Leo's cynicism and his view of society and humanity as inherently and irredeemably evil reached its apex in 1978's TO BE TWENTY, which spends about 85 minutes being a fluffy, lighthearted sex comedy about the wild and wacky misadventures of two nubile teenage girls...who end up getting viciously gang-raped and slaughtered in the final five minutes when Di Leo smacks the viewer upside the head by abruptly turning it into THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (the film was also released in a differently-edited version that completely eliminated Di Leo's intended shock ending). Di Leo scripted Ruggero Deodato's excellent polizia LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN (1976), but after TO BE TWENTY, his career more or less fizzled. He explored some more LAST HOUSE-type territory in 1980's MADNESS and did a couple of hired-gun TV gigs, but by the middle of the decade, he eventually retired from filmmaking altogether after the little-seen 1985 actioner KILLER VS. KILLERS, aka DEATH COMMANDO. He gave interviews for some Italian DVD releases before his death in 2003, some of which made their way to the later US-released Raro sets. Though he was largely a typically genre-hopping journeyman, the polizia explosion in the early-to-mid 1970s helped Di Leo carve a niche for himself, very much the same way that Lucio Fulci found his true calling with the cinematic zombie outbreak in the early 1980s.
Cannon, who released it in the US in 1984. It opens during the Vietnam War as a band of soldiers led by Kirk Cooper (Henry Silva) rescue some refugee children who all seem to be dressed in conspicuously early '80s attire. Cooper and fellow soldier Mike Martin (Harrison Muller) are shocked when their buddy Polo (Woody Strode) sends them on their way and tells them he's staying behind as he promptly deserts and vanishes in the jungle. Years later, Cooper is a big shot with the CIA and gets some intel that Polo is running a complicated drugs-weapons-prostitution empire centered in the fabled Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia. He's getting help from both the KGB and the Mafia, and Cooper sends top agent Martin into dangerous territory to eliminate Polo's operation and settle some old scores.
|Silva, Di Leo, and Strode in better days, during the|
filming of THE ITALIAN CONNECTION
THE FINAL EXECUTIONER (where he's dubbed by gravelly-voiced Robert Spafford) being revoiced and recycled into 1989's very similar THE BRONX EXECUTIONER, probably without the actor's knowledge or financial benefit. Both Silva and Strode fared much better as a pair of NYC hit men hunting down an Italian mobster in Di Leo's THE ITALIAN CONNECTION, and they also worked with the director separately, with Silva starring in THE BOSS and KILLER VS. KILLERS, and Strode appearing in the lighthearted LOADED GUNS (1975). In the late '90s, Xenon Home Video, a company largely focused on "urban"-themed fare, tried to cash in on the burgeoning, I'M BOUT IT-inspired rapsploitation scene by re-releasing THE VIOLENT BREED under the absurd new title REAL SOULJA, with a now-top-billed Strode prominently displayed on the box art.
guest on THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW. Like his older sister, actress Nadia Cassini (PULP, STARCRASH), Muller Jr.'s short-lived acting career was spent almost entirely in Italy, with only a bit part in the Christopher Reeve flop MONSIGNOR (1982) and a supporting role in the 1983 Pia Zadora bomb THE LONELY LADY allowing him the slightest whiff of a Hollywood breakthrough. Muller found a niche in low-grade Italian ripoffs like the post-nuke offerings 2020: TEXAS GLADIATORS (1982), WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD (1983), SHE (1985), and THE FINAL EXECUTIONER. He also co-starred in the 1983 CONAN ripoff THE THRONE OF FIRE, produced by Spagnuolo, who spent a good chunk of the 1980s unsuccessfully trying to turn Muller into an action star. Muller took a few years off after THE VIOLENT BREED and THE FINAL EXECUTIONER (though released in 1985, the insane SHE was shot in 1982), and returned in 1989 with pair of back-to-back Spaguolo productions that teamed him with none other than SHAFT himself, Richard Roundtree. MIAMI COPS, directed by the legendarily incompetent Alfonso Brescia (Al Bradley) and released in the US by Cannon, tried very hard to be an Italian ripoff of MIAMI VICE, keeping its fingers crossed that however few viewers it mustered wouldn't notice that many of its exteriors were actually shot in the decidedly un-Miami-like Detroit. GETTING EVEN, directed by Leandro Lucchetti and released by Menahem Golan's doomed post-Cannon outfit 21st Century, had Roundtree and Muller going after a serial killing Vietnam buddy, trailing him from NYC to Thailand, which gave Spagnuolo the perfect excuse to recycle a long action sequence in Polo's compound from THE VIOLENT BREED, intercutting it with badly-integrated new footage of Roundtree standing by himself lobbing grenades. Spagnuolo even went so far as to cast Debora Keith in GETTING EVEN simply because she was in the footage he was borrowing from THE VIOLENT BREED (it's worth noting that these are Keith's only two film credits). After these last two action duds, Muller pulled a Mark Gregory and fell off the face of the planet, his legacy buried near the bottom of the VHS Glory Days scrap heap, his films remembered only by the most ardent devotees of the justifiably obscure and the deepest cuts in the bottomless back catalog of '80s Italian exploitation ripoffs.