The Italian Connection (1972)

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*. This film is the second part of Fernando Di Leo’s Milieu Trilogy, three films that don’t have a lot in common aside from the fact that they’re all gangster movies. Mario Adorf, who is quite good, is carried over from Caliber 9, though he’s playing a different part.
*. I was actually surprised they didn’t try and work in more Milan locations. Aside from the canals there’s little here to distinguish the setting. And Milan is a city that lends itself to such treatment.
*. Of course the interiors just scream style. Italian films, even when they’re hopelessly dated, always look good in an attention-seeking kind of way. It’s more than just clothes. There are a lot of those crazy postmodern sculptures in Di Leo and Argento and other Italian filmmakers from this period.

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*. As with Caliber 9, this is a pretty straightforward crime film with a couple of noteworthy elements. The first is the pairing of Henry Silva and Woody Strode as Dave and Frank, the American hitmen sent to clean up the mess in Milan. Apparently they may have been the inspiration for Travolta and Jackson in Pulp Fiction (Tarantino is a Di Leo fan). They make an interesting odd couple, though not all that threatening. Silva in particular comes off as a bit lightweight.
*. The other part of the movie worth mentioning is the outstanding chase scene that has Adorf pursuing the guy who has run down his wife and daughter. This really is impressive, with the two cars racing alongside a canal and then culminating in a brilliant stunt where Adorf’s character, a pimp named Luca Canali, hangs on to the grill of a van and head butts his way through the windshield. Amazing! And it’s actually set up well when we see Luca head-butting a couple of guys, and even a wall  phone, earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone head butt a phone before.

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*. I have to quote from an interview with Di Leo where he was asked how he came up with the idea for the stunt where Luca smashes his head through the windshield. Here’s his modest answer: “Let me try and explain it logically. It’s like asking Michelangelo why he painted [sic] the Virgin Mary as a woman of the same age as Jesus Christ in the Pietà. Mother and son of the same age . . . a stroke of genius.”
*. For what it’s worth, Michelangelo’s own explanation for making Mary look the same age as her son is because he thought that women who remain pure don’t age as much.
*. Back to the movie. I think it was also a really interesting idea to make the hero such a sleazy type. Luca is basically just a pimp, and everyone else seems to despise him. In particular they call out his sexuality. His girlfriend/whore says he has no balls. The two thugs sent to hold him at the lumber yard call him a queer. The mechanic considers himself to be superior, since being a mechanic is “a real man’s job.” And yet despite all these sneers Luca always handles himself pretty well.

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*. Then again, aside from Dave and Frank he doesn’t seem to be up against a lot of A-list talent. Don Vito, who is himself a low-level godfather whose reach exceeds his grasp, considers all his flunkies to be worthless idiots, and in the event he is proven right. There’s one (unintentionally?) hilarious bit of dialogue when one of his captains tells him that he shouldn’t be too upset at the way Luca killed a pair of gang members because one of them was only given the job “because his mom begged me to give him work.” Now what are they going to tell her?
*. Unlike Caliber 9, the finale is disappointing. Di Leo tries hard to sell that showdown in the auto junkyard but it doesn’t work and seems really silly. Nevertheless, it ends the movie on a loud note and I’ll bet audiences at the time weren’t complaining. These weren’t big movies, but they did punch above their weight.

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