The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Almost Human

Every so often a character in a movie, a book, a TV show, anything really, comes along that is just so despicable, so downright low that it is beyond easy to hate them. They tend to have no redeemable qualities at all, often performing acts so unspeakable it can be difficult to watch. For me at least, this is often balanced out because that character is the villain, an individual matched in screentime by some sort of hero. What about if there isn't a hero, and that villain dominates almost every scene? Put that all together, and you've got 1974's Almost Human.

By 1974, Cuban actor Tomas Milian had made quite a name for himself working in Europe, tending to stay within the western and crime genres for his parts. He was a perfect choice for a roguish individual who usually lived in that fine line between good and bad but often enough ended up making the right choice and saving the day. Often enough, but not every time. Working with director Umberto Lenzi for the first time, Milian delivers a performance in Almost Human that pulls out all the stops with a character so ridiculously evil that it borders on going too far over the top. But of all his roles, Milian picks 'Almost Human' as his best.

Working as a low-level hood for the mafia in Italy, Giulio Sacchi (Milan) panics during a bank robbery and kills a police officer trying to ticket his car. The mafia capo, Majone (Luciano Catenacci), does not appreciate any undue attention being called to him and his organization and lets Giulio go. Fed up with these small-time jobs, Giulio turns to bigger fish and finds what seems the perfect crime when he visits his girlfriend (Anita Strindberg) at work. Her boss has a young daughter in her early 20s, and Giulio decides there's millions of lire in it if he was to kidnap her and demand ransom. Working with two similarly low-level thugs, Carmine (Ray Lovelock) and Vittorio (Gino Santercole), Giulio goes about figuring out his plan for the kidnapping.

The story starts with Giulio panicking and killing a patrolling police officer and never stops from there. The body count begins to build -- I counted 15 people Giulio kills by himself -- as the crimes escalate and the kidnapping plan is put into execution. The transformation Milian's main character goes through is alarming, starting off as a thug who panics in a chaotic situation but degenerating into a sadistic killer who has little whim about killing anyone if it will benefit him. At one point, he even guns down a little girl with a machine gun. If that's not a character to root against, I don't know if there's one out there. Giulio is a brutal, bi-sexual, drug addicted murderer who you can't wait to see get his comeuppance. I put bi-sexual not as a judgement, just to add to the overall eccentricity of the character.

What makes this all more uneasy to watch is that the 'good guy' is nothing more than a crime thriller stereotype. Usually playing the role Milian takes here, Henry Silva is police commissioner Walter Gribaldi, a veteran officer trying to piece together all these crimes popping up. For one thing, it's nice to see Silva playing a good guy after a long line of psychotic lunatics, but the character has no development other than being a near-obsessed police officer. Even then, Silva isn't given much to work with in his scenes although he does come around in the end...the end you can see coming miles away. More was needed though to give the viewer someone to root for.

Where many other Italian crime thrillers added other elements to the main story, 'Almost Human' rises and falls on Milian's performance alone. And character dislike aside, this is a great performance for the actor although I disagree that this is his best overall. But other than Milian, there's not much to recommend. I can't place it, but I swear Ennio Morricone's score was used in another movie, and the action overall isn't meant to be exciting, but unsettling instead. It's a pulpy B-movie with plenty of blood and guts, gratuitious nudity, and an in your face style. Take away Milian in the lead, and it's a bad movie. With the performance, it's at least worth giving a mild recommendation.

Almost Human <----trailer (1974): **/****

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