The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Italian Connection

Yes, I'm pretty cool when it comes to watching movies. Because I've got an odd memory for movies I'd like to see, I have an ever-growing list of films (literally, I've written down a list) I stumble across at Netflix, Amazon, IMDB, Turner Classic Movies and on and on. Usually I limit it to harder to find movies that aren't readily available, movies you're glad you find and usually by accident. I stumbled across 1972's The Italian Connection years ago and was finally able to find a halfway decent, watchable copy.

A low-level pimp, Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) has gotten on the bad side of the wrong people. An American mob boss has put a hit contract on the pimp, claiming that he helped steal millions of dollars worth of heroin as it was being shipped. The boss has hired two American hired guns, Dave Catania (Henry Silva) and Frank Webster (Woody Strode), to kill Luca and to do so slowly, painfully and graphically as a message to anyone else doing the same thing. The hired guns head to Italy to hunt Luca, but the pimp isn't even aware he's in trouble. Has someone been setting him up?

This was a movie that was worth the wait in an odd way. Part of director Fernando Di Leo's unofficial Italian crime trilogy, it's gritty, low-brow in most instances and entertaining in almost all instances. There's just something oddly appealing about the forthright nature of these Euro crime movies. They don't seem to care that at some point in the film, they will almost certainly insult or offend someone. Gratuitious violence, random bits of nudity, the definition of politically incorrect, and the best part is that Di Leo and Co. just don't give a damn. Either you like it or you don't. Simple as that. If you do, sit back and enjoy. If not? No skin off the Italian director's back.

One of the same appeals here for me in these Italian/European crime flicks is a similar feeling I have watching spaghetti westerns. When things weren't always going well in the U.S., many American actors -- some past their prime, others rising stars -- headed to Europe for these audience friendly cult favorites. A German-Italian actor, Adorf really seems to relish the part here as Luca, a pimp but gosh darn it! Just an all-around nice guy! All he wants to do is hang out with his daughter and be civil with his ex-wife (Sylva Koscina). Now that wouldn't be an interesting movie to watch, would it? No, not at all, so we've got to piss off Luca and give him a reason to go on a murderous rampage. With a part that could have been too exaggerated (like his part in Caliber 9), Adorf does a good job of keeping the character grounded in some sort of reality. I only knew him through Peckinpah's Major Dundee, but another solid intro to Adorf.

Years ago when I found this movie via IMDB, it was because of the rest of the cast -- no disrespect to Mr. Adorf. Silva and Strode as American hit men taking it to the road? How can you go wrong? Not surprisingly, Silva is the more showy of the duo, a hard-drinking, hard-living, womanizing killer. Strode is just the opposite, all business with no distractions. Moral of the story though, they work well together as a killing duo. In fact, the story suffers when they're not around, and unfortunately through the middle portions, there is a lot of those situations. A whole movie could have been devoted to them, and I'd be cool with that. Also look for Thunderball co-stars Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi as an Italian mob boss and the hit men's tour guide of sorts.

Building the story, Di Leo seems to revel in lulling you to a point at least. The first 45 minutes are painfully slow at times as characters, setting and background fall into place. The last 45 minutes are an adrenaline rush, one crazy action sequence after another piled on top of each other. Watch one of the truly adrenaline-pumping chases HERE, via car and on foot. The finale too lives up to expectations, Luca playing cat and mouse with Dave and Frank in a junkyard. A flawed crime flick, but a good flawed crime flick and highly entertaining.

The Italian Connection <---trailer (1972): ***/****

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