Film Reviews

Rogue Cops and Racketeers – Blu-ray Review

A two-disc Blu-ray presentation from Arrow Video, Rogue Cops and Racketeers features two films from Italian director Enzo G Castellari.

Disc one brings us 1976’s The Big Racket. This is a crime drama starring Fabio Testi as Nico Palmieri, a cop working to bring down a mob threatening and extorting shop and restaurant owners. Along with their threats come violent crime and sexual assaults, something presented graphically on a couple of occasions in the film. This film was not passed by the BBFC until 2002, and then with 14 seconds of cuts. This version appears to be uncut, as the bonus features talk about the scenes that caused the controversy, and those scenes appear here. It is a fine film, though tough to watch, and somewhat dark in its choices, with victims utterly humiliated during the course of the crimes.

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The disc features an audio commentary with David Flint – editor of The Reprobate Press – and Adrian Smith of Movies and Mania. They are good at contextualising the film as part of Italy’s Years of Lead, a period of deep social unrest between the 1960s and 1980s.  It is broadly a light-hearted chat, with a highlight being their laughing at the ‘small village’ in the film, that just happens to have the Coliseum in the background. They are excellent value on the character work, and some of the tropes – such as the smarmy lawyer – that is present on screen.

They are just as good on shot choices which are unconventional; for example, a quick six shots for the first reveal of Rudy, the film’s bad guy. They also have strong information on how shots are achieved, particularly the shot of Nico inside a car being rolled off a cliff early in the movie. There is historical context for the movie business as they are able to cross reference actors to other projects such as those by Dario Argento. Serpico, Bullit, Get Carter and Dirty Harry are mentioned as influences, helping to contextualise what we are watching – the cop as an anti-hero. They address complaints that the film was ‘fascist’ and ‘vile’ as oversimplification and taking it as face value – easy pigeonholing – and they address these in context of Castellari’s whole career. They do call out where the film is inappropriate or exploitative, however, making this a very balanced conversation.

Other extras include ‘The Years of Racketeering’, a newly recorded (2021) interview with Castellari, who is clearly still proud of the work. He talks of the world in which he made the film, the violence of the times. He has a good memory for techniques utilised in filming scenes and how he collaborated with his actors. There’s also ‘Violent Times’, similarly shot last year, which is 19 minutes of conversation with Fabio Testi. He speaks of his first impressions of Castellari – as a former boxer who talked about art. He talks of Italy’s problems around this time, and how they were being presented in cinema. He provides memories of his background as a stuntman, and how close the stuntmen on this film were. Overall, he has fond memories of a harmonious shoot.

‘Angel Face for a Tough Guy’ is an interview with Massimo Vanni, who played a villain, and is far too long at 43 minutes. There is lots of talk about the filming, including Testi and the stunt work, after he tells us about meeting the director. ‘King of Movieola’ is a 28-minute interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci, and it is by far the most interesting, as he talks about his craft, and how the director liked to shoot: lots of takes, a huge amount of film, lots of slow motion, and how he would edit this. ‘The Great Racket’ is a 45-minute appreciation of the composers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, by Lovely Jon, a music collector. It is a career retrospective and a very welcome feature. The disc is rounded out by a trailer and an image gallery.

Disc two brings us the following year’s The Heroin Busters. This features Testi with British actor David Hemmings and focuses on undercover work to bring down an international drug smuggling ring. With Hemmings and Testi working for different agencies and their paths only crossing occasionally, this film feels thin and disjointed by comparison, but it is a far lighter watch than The Big Racket, and the extras reflect this. The audio commentary, for example, features the same people as on disc one, with a similar energy, but as they are commenting on less harrowing events it feels a little more playful and lighter. It was recorded just after the last one, and they note they may repeat some things. They are finding more humour in proceedings this time, though they remain strong on historical context, noting this is more in the Euro Crime genre.

The remaining bonus features mirror those on disc one, with the interviews shot at the same time, and only differences being they are talking about a different film. For completeness, they are: ‘Endless Pursuit’, a new interview with co-writer/director Enzo G. Castellari (24 minutes). ‘Drug Squad’, an interview with actor Fabio Testi (16 minutes – good again on drug use in Italy at this time, and how the story came from a cop friend). ‘The Drug Dealer’, a new video interview with actor Massimo Vanni (21 minutes – again, we can’t see the point, though it is funny how quick they all are to say they know nothing at all about drugs). ‘How They Killed Italian Cinema’, a new video interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci (21 minutes, and probably the best interview of the bunch).

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There’s also ‘A Cop on the Set’, an interview with retired poliziotto and criminologist Nicola Longo, the on-set advisor and on whose stories the film was based, to the point the character was nearly named after him. ‘The Eardrum Busters’ is a a new appreciation and career retrospective of composers Goblin – a prog band of the era – by Lovely Jon (38 minutes, and similar to the feature on disc one, but this score is better, adding to the allure of this feature). Again we round out with trailer and image gallery,

This is a fine set for two relatively so-so films (more so The Heroin Busters). The films look like period pieces, such is the quality of the restorations, and the set is curated well, giving us a thorough feel for events and people, and taking time to interview people that are now well into old age but retain a sharp set of memories for their work in this era. The films are simply not strong enough to draw in anyone not already familiar with them, though the set does a decent job of lifting a veil on an era of Italian cinema – and life – with which British audiences may not be familiar. Overall, this is a set for for existing fans and film historians only.

Rogue Cops and Racketeers is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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