Thug City Chronicles' sat in the 'Saved' portion of my Netflix queue for months, and all the while I waited for it to become available. A four-movie collection, I really only wanted to see one of the four -- 1972's The Italian Connection -- but four movies on one disc? Yes, please. I'll give a bunch of Italian crime movies a chance any day of the week. In other words? Expect a wave of those reviews, starting today with 1972's Caliber 9.
Fresh out of prison three years into a much longer sentence thanks to a general pardon, ex-con Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) is looking to go straight and leave his criminal past behind. Too bad for Ugo though because he's immediately approached by former partner, Rocco (Mario Adorf). Apparently Ugo was up to no good before he was sent away, hijacking $300,000 meant for an American drug dealer, but no one was ever able to find out if he did it, and if he did, where he hid it. Everyone wants their hands on the money, especially Rocco's boss, mob kingpin dubbed the Americano (Lionel Stander). Ugo just wants to put it all behind him, and he's got a plan to get out clean.
I grew up watching and continue to watch spaghetti westerns as I can find them. It's a natural jump then to Italian crime movies. Instead of the wild west setting, we get city-scapes full of hired guns, mob bosses, killers, hookers, and anything the criminal underworld can offer. The time is obviously different, but just about everything else is similar. It's a nasty, filthy world where you can be killed for the change in your pocket, and your killer? He won't think twice about it. Writer/director Fernando Di Leo specialized in these movies and knew exactly what the audiences wanted. Watch the opening six minutes HERE, and tell me you're not curious about the rest of the movie. Talk about a real, legit shocker of an opening.
And what would that be exactly? These movies have a distinct look, a shoot from the hip, rogue filmmaker type of feel. A B-movie for the 1970s if that makes sense. The style is part of the appeal from the bad 1970s suits and haircuts to the Italian cities serving as a backdrop. There's a look to the movies that's hard to explain (some of that probably due to the average to below average quality of the DVD). Like the spaghetti westerns, the soundtrack -- here from Luis Bacalov -- is key, an eclectic mix of spaghetti western themed singing, electric guitar, big orchestras and psychedelic 1970s rock. Listen to a very good, very catchy sample HERE. The music and style is aggressive and in your face. So what else do you need?
Those nasty characters, ranging from an anti-hero to the filthiest of villains, and this one's got it all. Moschin is a perfect anti-hero as Ugo, the stoic, nearly silent ex-con who wants nothing more to do with the world he's a part of. He just wants out and to get back with the girlfriend who sort of waited for him, Nelly (Barbara Bouchet), who also happens to be an exotic/belly dancer. Adorf hams it up like nobody's business as Rocco, the possibly psychotic thug who always gets his way. Adorf especially gets a bad dub, hamstringing his character. Stander is oddly menacing with Mario Novelli and Giuseppe Castellano as two of his hired guns working with Rocco. In small but essential supporting parts, Ivo Garrani and Philippe Leroy play Don Vincenzo, a former don now blinded, and Chino, his bodyguard. Lots of particularly nasty characters, and it doesn't end well for most of them in this blood-stained criminal underworld.
The finale especially doesn't disappoint, two major plot points being revealed. The ending is appropriately dark because if nothing else, I've learned European audiences weren't demanding Hollywood happy endings. So with all that said, I can still only give 'Calibre' a slightly above average score. The story drifts too much in the midsection, and thanks to the dubbing, I wasn't always sure what was going on. On top of that, whole scenes with Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli's police officers talking about crime and its impact on society are out of place and bring the story to a screeching halt. Still, the positives are there. A good Italian crime flick that could have been great.
Caliber 9 <---trailer (1972): ** 1/2 /****