Milano Calibro Nove

MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) BY FERNANDO DI LEO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Caliber 9; Calibre 9
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Writer: Fernando Di Leo (Based on stories by Giorgio Scerbanenco)
Year: 1972
Starring: Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Philippe Leroy, Lionel Sander

Synopsis:
Released after a three-year term in prison for a bungled robbery, Ugo Piazza plans to lead the straight life for a while. But no sooner is he back on the street than he’s picked up by a bunch of hoodlums under the employ of gang boss ‘the Americans’ – among them, the psychopathic Rocco – who are convinced that Ugo has stolen $300,000 from them. The gang forces Ugo to work for them in the hope that he will eventually lead them to their missing money.

Review:
Novelist Giorgio Scerbanenco is best known in Italy for his series of crime tales, including Milano Calibro 9, set in Milan, which when combined make up what is often referred to as the ‘black Milan’ universe.

It is this universe that lays the foundation for the film and its writer/director Fernando Di Leo accurately extends this bleak universe from the printed page to the visual screen with great aplomb.

Immediately MILANO CALIBRO 9 displays both self-assurance and intrigue as we witness an elaborate parcel exchange that begins outside of the city’s iconic Duomo and for the next five minutes plays out until a harrowing countryside explosion.  This opening sequence is arguably not just one of the best of the genre but one of the best committed to film!

Every element here blends perfectly, from the tension generating score courtesy of Luis Bacalv to the editing and the pacing of the frequent parcel exchange and the aftermath.

Almost everything you need to know about this sub-genre can be gleamed in the opening five minutes.

Credits over and we meet Ugo (Gastone Moschin), freshly released from jail for good behaviour after a robbery went awry, who is simply looking to start again. But crime boss The American won’t let him and sends his men to ask him to come visit him…or pay back the $300,000 he believes that he stole from him right before his robbery attempt and getting sent down.

It is here that we meet Rocco, the second in command for The American. This brash, greasy stereotypical Italian gangster stands in complete contrast to the silent, cold and patient Ugo and built on these two differences the two men wage a silent battle for supremacy.

One initial consequence of their difference sees poor Ugo forced to go to the Police Station in order to gain a temporary ID and it is here that we are introduced to the Comissario (Frank Wolff) and his new college Mercuri (Luigi Pistilli ) who provide an alternative angle to the films proceedings while breaking up the focus on Ugo’s life.

Fernando Di Leo however went on record stating that he would retrospectively have preferred to cut these two in order to bolster the action pacing of the film. Now while what he says is true, these two characters are ineffective in terms of policing and quite honestly superfluous to the whole film but despite this, their relative distance to proceedings, indeed they have very little really to do with the exception of perhaps one moment of tension, their constant theoretical debating of socialism and repression highlight the schisms between the old and the new. This is something which is mirrored in the criminal gangs themselves however here in the respect to the law, both debated approaches prove powerless to stem the tide of crime. Limited as they are in their narrow view and tied to specific ideological approaches which exclude the benefits of other thought. But MILANO CALIBRO 9 is not about social commentary and these debates are mere decoration at worst or a starting point for an external discussion at best.

So clearly not quite like Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST or Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION but through these conversations Di Leo does at least try to help frame the action within the context of the societal opinion of the time, not to forget also mentioning the perennial Italian north/south divide.

Back to the film and almost everyone believes that Ugo pocketed the money, from The American and his gang, to Ugo’s long suffering girlfriend Nelly (Barbara Bouchet) and the police themselves. The result of such widespread belief is that Di Leo finds the story in the life and action of our anti-hero who, perhaps predictably, is forced back into his life of crime in order to stay alive.

Now I say almost everyone because we are also introduced to the blind Don Vincenzo and his hitman Chino (Philippe Leroy). These two don’t care if Ugo did or didn’t steal the money as Ugo was one of them and it did not break any of the old guards rules. Despite his loyalty to the two the time inevitably comes when he has to choose between his new and his old employer.

The overall effect of all of this is that MILANO CALIBRO 9 feels like a personal story, no doubt in line with the stories held within Giorgio Scerbanenco’s novel, and because of this it distinguishes itself from the majority of its contemporaries while managing to create an emotional impact on the viewer.

This impact is further enhanced through the choice of audible cues, strong performances and fleshed out characters that allow for personal and relationship development that appear believable.

Of course no crime film could get by without some level of betrayal and MILANO CALIBRO 9 has it in spades and yet it does not seem overused. This is because of how it is dealt with, some are secrets only unveiled to Ugo and us, the viewer, at the same time and others show us the information ahead of time making us complicit in the deceit and even if we wanted to warn Ugo we are powerless to stop the inevitable so we can only scream at the screen and pray he can find his way out of it.

By the end of Milano Calibro 9 not only do you feel sympathy for our anti-hero Ugo but you certainly warm…or at least begrudgingly respect Rocco. A testament to the terrific character development this film allows.

Everything I have said makes this a great film but it would be remiss of me not to mention the shot choice and cinematography (see the way in which the faces are lit while travelling in a car at 1hour 9minutes) courtesy of Franco Villa. Utilising a wide variety of outdoor shots that show us the black Milan, from the foggy streets to the grey industrial areas and the bars this Milan has succumb to the trappings of gang crime.

So if you are still undecided about whether you need to watch this film I will leave you with this statement. MILANO CALIBRO 9 is a gripping crime film that packs an emotional punch as much as a physical one.

Di Leo has brought to life real characters in a gritty, brutal and engaging story and that start…worth the price of admission alone.

LIVE LIKE A COP DIE LIKE A MAN (1976) BY RUGGERO DEODATO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Uomini si nasce poliziotto so muore; Brigada anticrimen; Het recht in eigenhand; The Terminators
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Writer: Fernando Di Leo
Year: 1976
Starring: Marc Porel, Ray Lovelock, Adolfo Celi, Franco Citti, Silvia Dionisio

Synopsis:
Fred and Tony are members of an elite ‘special squad’ of undercover police in Rome, Italy which thrive on living dangerously with their license-to-kill.

Review:
LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN comes from a story by Alberto Marras (MEET HIM AND DIE), Vincenzo Salviani (THE DEVILS HONEY) and genre legend Fernando Di Leo (MILANO CALIBRO 9; THE BOSS) while it is directed by the notorious Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST; CUT AND RUN; PHANTOM OF DEATH; THE WASHING MACHINE) so for any first time viewer it is understandable that expectations are high for this quasi-buddy cop movie.

Therefore it is almost an anti-climax when it starts with a subdued opening as Fred (Marc Porel – DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING; THE PSYCHIC; THE SISTER OF URSULA) and Tony (Ray Lovelock – OASIS OF FEAR; THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE; VIOLENT ROME; MURDER ROCK) cruise the streets together sharing one motorcycle while a song that could be on almost any light drama plays through. Interestingly it was star Ray Lovelock singing this track, titled Maggie. These opening minutes of LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN are certainly quite misleading but do serve to mark out the relationship between our two leads as intimate with their emotional bond represented by their literal physical proximity.

As the song plays out, it overtaken by the roar of the bike engine and the action begins; a handbag is snatched by a couple of thieves on a motorbike…well almost as the poor female victim had just left the bank and had her bag handcuffed to herself for security with the result being a botched and brutal robbery attempt. These sorts of crimes are presented as a common occurrence in Italian crime films of the decade, and certainly the country struggled with criminal violence throughout this period – rather worryingly motorcycle led crime is seemingly resurgent in cities such as London now due to the flexibility and quick getaway opportunities the smaller vehicles provide.

Rather unfortunately for our young thugs all of this action takes place right in front of Fred and Tony, still yet not identified to the viewer as law enforcement, leading to a ridiculous wheelie, the commandeering of a(nother) motorcycle – after all our heroes cannot share one for a chase can they – and the start of what can only described as a frantic, exhilarating chase complete with quick cuts, POV shots and tight editing.

In fact with something this good you almost don’t want it to end and seemingly neither did director Ruggero Deodato as the sequence becomes almost all encompassing showing us not just the successful weaving in-and-out of traffic but also an error or two, in one case resulting in the patio of a café getting trashed. By the end of this sequence the focus has shifted away from the criminals’ behaviour and become more about the amoral attitude of our supposed law enforcement, something that is tackled verbally by the Police Captain later, who seems unconcerned about the lack of due process. In his mind seemingly the unquestionable authority of the law and the resultant actions are clearly necessary so that wider society can flourish.

While most of the brutal justice at the hands of a lead characters in Poliziotteschi are due to them being failed by the legal system and their superiors (pretty much any Maurizio Merli character for instance falls into this group) here our officers methods are actually condoned by their superiors if not necessarily endorsed although admittedly this tolerance is pushed to the limit. Even so it makes for a rather unsettling situation especially in comparison to films such as THE CONFORMIST by Bernardo Bertolucci and INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION by Elio Petri earlier in the decade that show that what civil repression and unchecked power can do when exploited and abused by those in authority.

As LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN plays out however this would be just one aspect of Fred and Marc’s character traits that are certainly at odds with ideas of freedom, equality and due process. With these films from a bygone era it is easy to either view attitudes from a modern rather than contemporary perspective but similarly it is easy to dismiss clearly unacceptable behaviour as being simply how things were.

The argument that it was a different time and therefore cannot be judged by today’s standards is one to take note of but in more recent times it has been bandied around in relation to reports often of a sexual nature and this clearly is relevant here through the sexist and misogynistic attitude displayed by our anti-heroes.

Admittedly there is an argument in one case for the complicity of the female police secretary – although this then may lead to an off-topic discussion of implications and fear of speaking out – as they frequently beg her for sexual gratification only to be repeatedly knocked back through humour and intelligence as she proves more than a match for their advances. The same cannot be said for the sister of one of the criminals in the film, a nymphomaniac, who undergoes a rather inappropriate form of questioning…twice, later in the film.

However this opinion that we are forming of Fred and Marc is once more further complicated through the closeness of their bond and level of comfort with each other. This element lead Roberto Curti when writing in his book Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 to state that “their misogynist attitude suggests a subterranean homosexual complicity” and this is certainly an opinion I subscribe to, at least to a certain extent.

Their overtly macho posturing and attitude is betrayed by their bond of brotherhood although whether this is sexual, which I would argue not, there is a case to be made for it on an emotional level blurring the lines in how far this platonic love goes.

As a viewer we quickly come to the realisation that Fred and Tony are arrogant and semi-obnoxious, while it is hard to tell if they mean well or get a kick out of their legalised macho bullshit, although from the dialogue in the film it does seem the latter. But when their colleague is gunned down outside of their office, complete with a death fall that has to be in contention for the world’s slowest, they have an added impetus to hate crime and rack up the bodies with this pivotal event helping provide the catalyst for the remaining story.

LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN is structured like so many other eurocrime films, with an underlying story arc complete with a big boss being broken up by several minor or unrelated crimes in order to build context, character, and help drive the narrative forward through action set pieces in order to maintain attention and keep focus – some of these set pieces however are delightfully over the top and exactly what you want to see in a film of this type

One thing that helps place the film in the upper echelons of the genre however is its use of clever story direction as LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN is able to subtly shift tone and feel, with for example one sequence playing out more like a heist movie yet the holistic overall feel of the film remains consistent and coherent, never once breaking the viewers belief in the world or disrupting the flow allowing for an enjoyable and often entertaining experience.

However for whatever reason the film does seem to run out of steam towards the end and while still providing a competent ending it does appear somewhat flat compared to several earlier moments.

Essentially a brutal and amoral Italian Starsky & Hutch, LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN is a decent watch and a strong entry in the genre thanks to the  hugh level of skill of all those involved both in the cast and crew. It does not shy away from character flaws, for better or worse, and interjects some genuine humour into the film allowing it to keep the viewers’ attention without the need for constant violence.

Despite all these positives it is a shame that all of the women, with the exception of Silvia Dionisio come across either as victims of violence or morally corrupt but perhaps that is the point as very few paragons of virtue exist even on the male side with those who do not indulge in excessive behaviour often complicit in enabling it.

Through researching this film it was noted that there was due to be a sequel however due to personal differences between Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock this never really got going. If this was the sole reason then it certainly would have been interesting had Al Cliver, who had just finished working on Ruggero Deodato’s WAVE OF LUST (1975), got the gig as originally mooted.

Version Reviewed:
I reviewed this off of the 88 Films blu-ray release which offers English language audio as well as Italian language with English subtitles. Extras include a trailer and stills gallery along with the now expected reversible sleeve and a neat little poster artcard.