Alternative Titles: Il Grande Racket; Racket; Big Violence; Forajidos 77
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Enzo G. Castellari, Massimo De Rita, Arduino Maiuri
Starring: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Renzo Palmer
A toe tapping score introduces the film as a criminal gang terrorise a commercial neighbourhood all the while police Inspector Nico Palmieri (a strapping Fabio Testi – WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?; THE HEROIN BUSTERS; RINGS OF FEAR; CONTRABAND) watches on, waiting for his chance to pounce and bring some justice to the streets. Opening with scenes of mayhem and violence is nothing new for the genre and the film set’s itself up nicely with these opening sequences but it is not long before director Enzo Castellari’s style (and apparent love of multiple camera angles comes into play to provide something different.
After the brief introduction of Rudy (Joshua Sinclair – KEOMA), the English boss of ‘the racket’, we are treated to multiple angles of the same instance which although fails to provide any additional depth or understanding is a good excuse for some breathtaking footage as an internal catches the reaction of the Inspector as he is trapped inside his car which is repeatedly rolling 360 degrees down a hill. This scene is worth mentioning in itself not because of the usual distance shot of the car but for these cuts to an the internal camera as we see the poor Inspector turned upside repeatedly as glass shatters all around him.
Unsurprisingly hospitalised and now disillusioned with the (trope alert) impotence of the law, Palmieri seems almost beaten as he states when asked if he wants to go after the punks that did this to him “What’s the use …in 3 days they’ll be out and about again”.
Finally however our dejected Inspector reaches that stereotypical eurocrime turning point of admitting that if the law cannot do what is required and if the ends justify the means, then he is the man to take the law into his own hands and make a difference.
Setting about his plan to bring down the mysterious English boss, Palmieri uses some dubious methods which not only result in the release of the lackeys he does manage to collar but also in some gruesome repercussions for one unlucky citizen and his family. Once again reiterating the point that the law protects the guilty and not the innocent.
These initial failed attempts see Palmieri kicked off the case, or at least that is what is said but in practice it makes no difference to the film as he ploughs on with his mission propelling the film forwards and providing a handy little plot device to eschew the procedural aspects that sometimes bog down these types of films but has enough room to allow for the justification and organizational protection (although whether this is a good thing is another debate especially when we consider the tale of repressive power in Elio Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION – but let’s make like this film and sidestep serious political debate) that only being a member of the police force can provide.
From here the film is pretty unrelenting in terms of action as director Enzo Castellari is pretty much given carte blanche to indulge and he certainly makes the most of the opportunity as cars are blown up and violence rife. All of this action however comes at a price as THE BIG RACKET utilises its action for two purposes; the first is to entertain, and secondly to replace the need of a subplot or character relationships as it is actually through action rather than dialogue that these instances occur, such as the ways in which we an elderly pick pocket and a champion skeet shooter are introduced.
The introduction of the later occurs via a high octane and brutal gunfight. If the retaliation by the ‘racket’ to the earlier inconvenience caused by Palmieri and a meddling civilian was brutal, Enzo Castellari takes things up a notch for our new have-a-go hero as the tone suddenly shifts to slightly darker territory more akin to the sleazier entries in the wider genre, such as ALMOST HUMAN and RABID DOGS, and as powerful as it is the result is that it feels a little alien to the rest of the film.
Irrespective of this short lived tonal shift, a double crossing and sacking helps lead us to the formation of our vigilante squad and with the random roping in of an ex-mob hit man our motley crew go off to settle old scores in an explosive showdown.
Despite lacking the rugged looks and masculinity of contemporaries such as Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli, the athletically built Fabio Testi, fresh off a year which saw him star in the Lucio Fulci western THE FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE and the Tonino Valerii crime drama VAI GORILLA, puts in a solid performance as Inspector Palmieri.
If you are not familiar with his other performances then you may be forgiven for thinking that the star is a little two-dimensional, as his character lacks any form of emotional complexity or emotional engagement that would either test the actor or provide some additional depth to the narrative. However the actors loss is the films gain, with this lack of depth actually streamlining the film allowing for the momentum of the action to be maintained.
On the subject of the cast the film also features notable performances from a strong cast including Vincent Gardenia (DEATH WISH; LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS [remake]), the familiar face of Renzo Palmer (DANGER: DIABOLK; STREET LAW; THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST), as well as Glauco Onorato (BLACK SABBATH; VIVA! DJANGO) and Antonio Marsina (KEOMA; THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD; THE LAST BLOOD) amongst others.
After HIGH CRIME and STREET LAW, THE BIG RACKET is a successful return to the world of the vigilante for Enzo Castellari which is pretty close to being definitive of the genre. I say this because it makes a terrific introduction to the genre, displaying many of the hallmark tropes with its disillusioned cop, impotent justice system, well-choreographed entertaining fights and vigilante civilians standing up for justice all contributing to the mirroring of the chaotic and frequently violent Italian society of the 1970’s.
Overall however THE BIG RACKET is an entertaining watch from start to finish that promises and delivers everything a fan of the genre would want and despite not being quite up there with the best efforts of the genre it deserves to be in the collection of every fan of the genre.
As a bit of a side note, if rumours are to be believed THE BIG RACKET represents something of an oddity for the films of Enzo Castellari and the period in general due to the way that the audio was recorded first in Italian and then dubbed into English after, as opposed to the usual method of the other way around.
Allegedly this is because star Fabio Testi was unable to speak English. However, many directors at the time (perhaps most famously Lucio Fulci) would frequently have cast members speaking their lines in their native language because they knew that it would all be dubbed over anyway as the Italian industry rarely worked with live sound.
Meanwhile Enzo Castellari actually comes from a family of film makers with his father, Marino Girolami, also being a director who worked on VIOLENT ROME and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST amongst others.