5. The Italian Connection (1972)
A heroin shipment has vanished between Italy and New York, and low level simp pimp Luca Canali from Milan is accused and framed for theft. It’s the second in director Fernando Di Leo’s Milieu trilogy (or quartet, depending on the DVD Marketer) and it’s his second best. Two American hitmen, David Catania and (played by Henry Silva and Woody Strode) are dispatched to Italy to make an example of this small time pimp and kill him. But it turns out some mob leaders know more than they’re catching on. During the manhunt, Luca Canali’s wife and daughter are murdered, leading him into the path of the unlikely anti-hero as he gets revenge on everybody connected to his false accusation.
You can’t really stress how good “The Italian Connection” (also titled “Hired to Kill” “Manhunt in Milan” and “Manhunt in the City,” “Black Kingpin,” “Hitmen,” and Hit Men,” and “Manhunt.” Once again, depending on the DVD/VHS distributor) is. Silva and Strode’s groovy hitmen characters inspired Vinent Vega and Jules Winnfield of “Pulp Fiction.” And Canali’s growth from simple simp pimp to an unlikely hell-bent revenge superhero war machine chad is epic to watch. You really feel for him. Filled with exhilarating chases and kinetic shootouts. No matter your race, nationality, or ethnicity, you’ll feel a connection to “The Italian Connection.”
4. Almost Human (1974)
Umberto Lenzi’s “Almost Human” documents the cruelties of unhinged goon Guillio Sacchi (played by Tomas Milian), a man who’s tired of being a small-time crook and decides to take on the role of a crime lord himself. He eventually becomes the most savage killer in Milan as he kidnaps the daughter of a rich business man, planning to retire when he gets the ransom money. But detective Walter Grandi, tired of his city’s rising death toll, steps up to the plate to bring Sacchi to justice. When the flawed justice system doesn’t allow Sacchi to be prosecuted, Grandi needs to work outside the law to exterminate Sacchi and his kind.
Perhaps the most contextually brutal of the genre, “Almost Human” is Lenzi’s masterpiece in directing and a masterpiece of writing from Ernesto Gastaldi. Tomas Milian gives a genuinely scary performance as the lead sociopath, and Henry Silva playing the surprising role of the cop gives a great performance as well. Ennio Morricone, as always, gives “Almost Human” a fantastic soundtrack. “Almost Human’s” nihilism caused it to be condemned by the critics of the 70s, but nowadays it seems to have more social commentary that most looked past, with themes of class and education separating the common citizen from the common criminal.
3. Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs (1974)
70s Italy had an epidemic of kidnappings, which is why the topic is expressed so much in poliziotteschi,and Mario Bava delivers the best kidnapping in the genre.
Master of Italian horror Mario Bava had just gone through some tough critical planning. His 1974 horror flick “Lisa and the Devil” did not do so well at Cannes, and “Bay of Blood” failed at the box office. So he decided to do something completely different- making a poliziotteschi movie. “Kidnapped” really stands out as odd in Bava’s already very odd filmography, as it does not feature the usual strange angles and vivid, dreamy colors his other movies wore. But it’s still a masterpiece.
“Rabid Dogs” is an adaptation of the Ellery Queen’s mystery magazine short story “Man and Boy” by Michael J Carroll. It takes place in real time, telling the story of four robbers who rob an armoured truck, but then their getaway car gets jacked up and one of them ends up killed. The three survivors, Doc, Blade, and Thirty-Two end up running into an underground garage, killing a woman, and kidnapping another woman, hijacking her car, and then hijacking another man’s car. This car belongs to Riccardo, who also has a sick child he’s trying to get to the hospital before it’s too late.
While this isn’t Mario Bava’s most stylistic movie, it still is a thrilling masterpiece that allows his actors to shine. It’s set mostly in the car and has a lot of great action and tension stemming from that, basically being a “Reservoir Dogs” type movie before “Reservoir Dogs.” Stevio Calprini’s soundtrack is pretty great too. The producer of the film, Roberto Loyola, declared bankruptcy while there were only a few scenes left to shoot. As a result “Rabid Dogs” halted production and was shelved. For years it was a lost film until several versions were released in the 90s, one of which was supervised by Bava’s son Lamberto (who was assistant director on the film), releasing the movie as “Kidnapped,” although most prefer the restored, unpolished Bava cut.
2. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
“Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion may be the best character driven entry in the genre, winning a well deserved oscar for best foreign film and Grand Prize at Cannes in 1970. It tells the story of an investigation of a citizen above the law, literally! It’s a film that was relevant in the 70s, and is even more relevant now.
A respected police inspector who’s the head of homicide kills his mistress and purposefully leaves clues to see if he is indeed a citizen above suspicion.
“Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion” has something for everyone. It’s funny, subversive, and intense at the same time, managing to be murder mystery, a classic giallo, a compelling drama, as well as a biting satire on the power of institutions. It’s nonlinear narrative was extremely innovative during the 70s and Gian Maria Volonte gives the performance of a lifetime.
1. Caliber 9 (1972)
Fernando Di Leo’s “Caliber 9” solidified the poliziotteschi genre, and is his magnum opus. One of the most perfect movies not only in the poliziotteschi genre, but in crime in general. Although influenced by Italian writer Giorgio Scerbanenco’s anthology book “Milano Calibro 9,” the script is mostly original. You never know where this movie’s going, and you enjoy the ride the whole time.
Gastone Moschin is Ugo Piazza, an ex-convict fresh out of prison, trying to live an honest life. After his release he’s cornered by Rocco (played by Di Leo regular Mario Adorf) and his Milan mob, who believe Piazza to be responsible for the disappearance of their American boss’s 300,000 dollars. Even Ugo’s girlfriend Nelly Bordon (played by Barbara Bouchet) thinks Ugo has the $300,000 stashed somewhere!
One can only rave about “Caliber 9’s” brilliance: great, raw atmosphere, an exceptional torture scene, the best shootout in all of poliziotteschi cinema taking place in an outdoor garden party, and Luis Balcov and Italian progressive rock band “Ossana” do an amazing job with the soundtrack that brilliantly accompanies this Italy on fire. It’s a beautifully violent clash of exploitation, John Huston, Nicholas Ray and Jean Pierre-Melville, all blended into perfection by Di Leo’s marvelous direction. Throw in the stunning performances by Gaston Moschin, Mario Adorf and Barbara Bouchet, and “Caliber 9” instantly becomes a film unmatched in its caliber.