Our Grindhouse Tuesday show on August 16th salutes the late Fernando Di Leo, one of our favorite previously unheralded Italian directors, with two of his standout films in the “poliziotteschi”, or “Euro-crime” subgenre. A poliziotteschi was known for featuring working class loner characters on both sides of the law, beset by betrayals and bureaucracies, with nothing but wits, fists, and the occasional convenient gun to stay on top. The films were often shot on stolen locations in Italy, amidst real-life criminal activity and corrupt government behavior, providing extra gravity to their stories while offering immediate commentary on the society at large. And very often, American actors who were relegated to smaller character parts in Hollywood projects, were given larger, meatier starring roles.
The first feature is IL BOSS from 1973, initially released in America as WIPEOUT, and the third installment in what’s been called Di Leo’s “Milleu Trilogy” of thematically similar crime stories. Hitman Nick Lanzetta (Henry Silva) has just killed off almost all the members of the rival organization challenging his employers Don Carrasco (Richard Conte) and Don D’Aniello (Claudio Nicastro), who have held Sicily in their grasp for decades thanks to payoffs to Police Commissioner Torri (Gianni Garko). But Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi), the lone survivor of Nick’s massacre, wants revenge and he starts by abducting D’Aniello’s daughter, which launches more flexing of power and firing of bullets. A lot of people are going to die. And only one of these people can truly be The Boss!
BOSS was adapted from the 1970 novel MAFIOSO, the debut book by prolific action and western writer Peter McCurtain, who later penned the novelization of James Glickenhaus’ vigilante classic THE EXTERMINATOR. Di Leo’s adaptation included references to actual figures in organized crime and government so blatant that the cast and crew were constantly on guard against reprisals from the offended parties for years afterward. One scene, in which Don Carrasco meets with a cardinal, was a direct rebuke to the then Archbishop of Palermo, who had publicly asserted “the Mafia does not exist.”
Pier Paolo Capponi, playing the upstart criminal Cocchi, can be recognized from last month’s New Bev screening of COMMANDOS, and previously appeared with Henry Silva in Emilio Miraglia’s 1968 San Francisco-set poliziotteschi THE FALLING MAN. Gianni Garko has been a frequent Grindhouse Tuesday face, appearing in FIVE FOR HELL with Klaus Kinski and THOSE DIRTY DOGS with Stephen Boyd, and “MST3K” fans may recognize him as Sheriff Gordon in Lamberto Bava’s DEVIL FISH.
The crimes are somewhat lighter in the second feature from 1976, RULERS OF THE CITY, initially released in America as MISTER SCARFACE. When Rick (Al Cliver), a minor underling of disfigured criminal Manzari (Jack Palance), runs up a gambling debt with bookie Luigi (Edmond Purdom), Manzari beats up Rick and insults Luigi by paying the debt with a bad check. Luigi’s underling Tony (Harry Baur) befriends the seemingly luckless Rick; together they hatch a plan to defraud Manzari out of millions’ more money, enough for them to be their own men. But the plan works too well, sparking intragang violence. And there’s more than just a money issue between the young men and Manzari…
RULERS was the last film by Di Leo’s own production company, Daunia 70; he would only direct a few more movies before effectively retiring in 1985. German actor/novelist Peter Berling, a favorite of Herzog, Fassbinder, and Scorsese, collaborated with Di Leo on the screenplay, as well as appearing in a minor role. Reportedly, the scene of Harry Baer’s street pursuit was an inspiration for depicting Steve Buscemi’s jewel robbery escape in RESERVOIR DOGS.
Star Al Cliver has appeared in multiple films by grindhouse legend Lucio Fulci, including ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND, and MURDER ROCK. His co-star Harry Baer has appeared in multiple films by the prolific and flamboyant director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, including FOX AND HIS FRIENDS and THE THIRD GENERATION, and still appears in German productions today. English actor Edmund Purdom was recently seen at the New Bev in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS playing Cesare Borgia, and his credits range from the Michael Curtiz epic THE EGYPTIAN to the horror classic PIECES. In addition, he was a regular English dubbing artist for several overseas films; if you listen carefully during IL BOSS, you’ll hear his voice during the opening scene!
Italy was a rough place to live in the ‘70’s, but it spawned some of the most kinetic and entertaining action cinema of the era, so come join us for this tribute to Fernando Di Leo and get all the benefits of the period without any of the graft!