Film Reviews

Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers (1973-1977) – Blu-ray Review

If you’ve never heard the term “poliziotteschi”, then the fine folks at Arrow Video have a new boxset for you that will introduce you to this particular subgenre of Italian crime movie. These films generally featured graphic violence (tick), car chases (tick), heists (tick), gunfights (tick), and in the case of these specific films, lots and lots of nudity. The main characters were your archetypical “one man standing alone” types, standing up against a corrupt system in search of JUSTICE.

Even the title of this box set, Years of Lead, has a specific meaning. The “Anni di piombo” is a term used for a period in Italy from around 1969 until almost the end of the 1980s, which featured a rash of incidents of political terrorism from both the far-left and the far-right. This is reflected in the five films on offer here, where often the characters will immediately assume that the crimes have some kind of political motivation.

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On offer here are Vittorio Salerno’s Savage Three and No, the Case is Happily Resolved; Mario Imperoli’s Like Rabid Dogs; Massimo Dallamano’s Colt 38 Special Squad; and Stelvio Massi’s Highway Racer. Both Savage Three and Like Rabid Dogs deal with disenfranchised and disillusioned youth lashing out in acts of random violence. Special Squad and Highway Racer focus on renegade cops going to extraordinary lengths to bring down the criminals while No, the Case is Happily Resolved looks at class struggles and expectations as an innocent man is framed for murder by an upstanding, well-respected Professor.

Savage Three follows three young men, all of whom are intelligent, have good jobs and plenty of prospects, and who spend their days inciting riots at football stadiums, stealing cars and committing random acts of violence and murder. While the police officer looking into the case is convinced that these are acts of political terror, another officer begins to suspect that there is something more random and nihilistic at work.

Like Rabid Dogs features another trio of protagonists. This time it’s two men and a woman, rich boy Tony, his friend Rico and their girlfriend/partner in crime Silvia. Their escapades run the gamut from armed robbery and kidnapping to vehicular manslaughter and murder. The police believe Tony is involved, but they can’t definitively prove it and with his father being a wealthy businessman there’s pressure to drop the case entirely.

Colt 38 Special Squad features, you guessed it, a special squad of police. All armed with colt 38s. The gun really doesn’t factor too heavily into the plot, but it sounds good. This one IS all about terrorists, though not politically motivated ones. Here the special squad is up against a band of thieves who plant bombs throughout Turin to try and blackmail the city into handing over millions in uncut diamonds.

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Highway Racer, on the other hand, is car porn. Or car sadomasochism. Here the police are pitted against another band of crooks led by ace driver Jean-Paul Dossena who uses cars to both execute their escape and confuse the police. Standing against them is detective Tagliaferri and police driver Palma in his souped up Ferrari who sets out to infiltrate the gang and foil their latest heist.

No, the Case is Happily Resolved is a rather odd addition to this lineup. There’s not really any car chases, or shoot outs, or gratuitous boobies jostling in the breeze. Compared to the other four it’s very low key and sedate following a fairly shocking opening. Out fishing, Fabio Santamaria ends up witnessing a murder, committed by Professor Ranieri. Initially reluctant to approach the police for fear of his life being turned upside down, by the time he does come forward it’s too late, the Professor has already blamed him for the murder!

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The restorations are Arrow’s usual high quality and the special features are more than generous as befits a five movie set. There’s interviews with writers, directors and actors, trailers, poster galleries, a new essay by critic Will Webb, and even a music sampler for Like Rabid Dogs. No audio commentaries, but perhaps not entirely surprising considering where and when these films were made.

This set is a hell of an introduction to an interesting subgenre of crime movies, and any giallo fans should give this one a look as well. Of the five films I personally enjoyed Savage Three and Highway Racer the most, but they’re all great examples of the genre, even if No, the Case is Happily Resolved is a bit of an odd addition to this group of otherwise overtly violent and hyperbolic stories.

Years of Lead is out now on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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