Rulers of the City (1976)

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*. In the 1970s it was common for second-tier (I’m being charitable) American actors to star in low-budget movies made in Italy. What was there not to like? The work was hardly onerous, and you got top billing. Also: Italy!
*. So I don’t blame Jack Palance for doing nothing more here than showing up and getting a paycheque. Palance had the hard-ass villain part down pat (did he ever play anything else?) and simply stands around for most of this movie with a cigarette holder. He even makes an early exit, getting killed, in a perfunctory manner, at the very beginning of the final shootout.
*. That said, Palance may be the best thing about this very run-of-the-mill poliziottesco (a bastard Italian word for crime film). The director Fernando Di Leo had done better work in the genre (see my notes on his Milieu Trilogy: Caliber 9, The Italian Connection, and The Boss). Here he has a simple and quite worthless story to tell about a young aspiring hood who rips off Palance’s “Scarface,” forcing a showdown.

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*. The opening is pure Leone, and effectively so. But after this it all becomes very silly and I had a strong sense that Di Leo didn’t care very much. As with Palance, I think he was mailing it in. On the DVD there’s a “making of” featurette where other members of the cast and crew reminisce about how he shut things down every day at four o’clock because he didn’t want to work at night.
*. Mister Scarface is actually a better title. Palance is hardly the “boss of the city,” given that he can’t locate Tony, who is cruising around town in a red dune buggy, or catch the old man who is calling him from a payphone right outside his office.
*. There are a couple of curious touches. One of these is the way Tony is imagined as a kung-fu warrior, complete with killer, chop-socky sound effects. Another, even more bizarre, is the unmistakeable gay vibe to the relationship between Tony and his silent blonde friend Rick, who are overseen by what appears to be a queen-ish figure named Napoli. There’s something going on here that Di Leo must have been aware of, though whether he had a point or was just introducing another light comic element to a movie that already had enough, I don’t know.
*. Otherwise this is an unexceptional, lightweight effort with nothing much to recommend it.

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