Caliber 9 (1972)

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*. Sometimes, all it takes is a little thing.
*. Up until its final moments, Caliber 9 is not a movie to take much note of. A spaghetti noir with some modish interiors and interesting locations (it was shot in Milan, so you get to see the cathedral and train station a couple of times, which is nice). A killer score by Luis Bacalov that ascends wonderfully. Barbara Bouchet as a go-go dancer in a beaded bikini . . .
*. Good stuff, but nothing that special. Then we get to the end and Rocco (Mario Adorf) sees Ugo (Gastone Moschi) enter the police station with a small handbag. And he drops his eyes to the handbag and then looks up at Ugo. And he knows. And we can see he knows. And we know that Ugo knows he knows. And they say nothing to each other, at least immediately, and their faces give nothing away.
*. I would happily sit through any movie for a moment like this. The noisy stuff, culminating in an absurd gunfight where one man with a revolver takes out an entire villa of baddies, is generic Eurocrime. I couldn’t care less. But how those actors sell that ending! You have to take your hat off to them.

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*. There are other points of interest to flag. From the get-go we know we’re in a place that’s sticky with religion. The façade of the cathedral looms over the opening money hand-off. Ugo is invited to sit on the right side of Rocco — just like, Rocco tells him, Christ the son. The fascist and communist cops argue over world views that see everyone or no one as inherently guilty. The Americano has a huge cross mounted on his desk. Appeals are made for forgiveness.
*. A lot of this is ironic, of course — Fernando di Leo was not a religious man himself — but it can only be invoked because we’re embedded in a culture where all these references, symbols, and arguments still mean something and are part of a common consciousness. A consciousness quite alien to Milan’s more contemporary sense of style.

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*. Is Bouchet’s apartment too modern? The fact that it’s all black and white, and that her dress matches the decor, I can take. But that bedside light! Words fail me.

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*. In 1972 Beirut was indeed a luxurious, cosmopolitan tourist destination you could imagine a gangster wanting to escape to. Now it’s a tragedy.
*. I wonder if Dario Argento borrowed the business of Luca’s head being slammed into the furniture for re-use in Deep Red. It’s certainly a striking act of violence.
*. Giallo noir? The POV shots are suggestive, as are all the red herrings we’re fed concerning the identity of the mysterious killer. And I for one will confess my surprise at the ending. Didn’t see it coming.
*. The dubbing, as always, is awful. Was it because of this that so much Italian cinema of the time emphasized close-ups? Faces had to do the acting. And the faces here are terrific. Adorf is perfectly untrustworthy with his pencil moustache and greasy locks. And Moschi? A stone-faced billiard ball to be knocked about the table until all the other balls are pocketed. But is he playing a deeper game?

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*. Some people are surprised and confused by the ending. Rocco switches allegiances with rapid intensity. But I find his adaptability a psychologically astute observation on Di Leo’s part. Rocco is a flunky. That’s all he is. He can’t think or act for himself. And he’s already said to Ugo that if Ugo has a plan to fuck over the Americano then “he’s a god.” So when he sees that plan come to fruition and the boss is dead, well . . . long live the boss!
*. This also explains his fury at Luca. Who is this pretty-boy punk in the grand order of things? He’s upsetting the organization’s hierarchy, and Rocco is nothing if not an organization man, someone who has paid his dues.
*. Overall I think this is a very good little gangster movie that teases us with excellence; a pure genre work that nevertheless has moments that are unique and unforgettable.

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