Sunday, April 09, 2006

Italian Crime time

Recently I watched Shriek Show's DVD of the Italian crime film SYNDICATE SADISTS (1975).

The film stars Thomas Milian as a roving, motorcycle riding fellow with his own moral code. Milian is one of my favorite bad-ass actors from European films of the 60's and 70's. As I began to explore the European cult films of that period 15 years ago I started running across him and it was always rewarding. He often plays nasty bad guys but, as here, he can play the hard nosed good guy to good effect. Milian has made several fantastic westerns but to me he seems more at home in crime movies set in contemporary times. Of course this film is basically a thinly desguised western, so take that for what its worth. Directed by exploitation specialist Umberto Lenzi this is a pretty good little movie if a bit sloppy in that low-budget Lenzi way. Milian plays a guy who breezes into Milan to see his old friends but gets caught up in a rivalry between two crime families. He's really uninterested in what's going on until his rent-a-cop buddy is killed and then he decides to do away with both sides of the problem. Milian's character has a past with these mafia groups and uses his reputation to gain information and set each side against the other.

One of the strangest things here is that Milian's character is named Rambo! In the DVD interview Lenzi states that this name wasn't pulled out of a hat either. It seems that the actor was looking to do a film in which he played a nicer guy than in his previous collaboration with Lenzi, the vicious ALMOST HUMAN. In that one Milian played what is possibly the most reprehensible scumbag you can imagine and he wanted to do something lighter. He came across a copy of the novel FIRST BLOOD while in America and asked to have his character named Rambo. Crazy! So that amazing scribe Ernesto Gastaldi cobbled together a script using that name and Lenzi's idea of updating A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS to contemporary Italy. More craziness! Rambo is a very likable guy in the film going out of his way to not only rescue a kidnapped boy but befriending him as well.

Luckily what ends up on screen is a pretty damned good little action movie. It's a little light on reality at times but it's very entertaining and no less than Joseph Cotton plays one of the crime bosses. This was near the end of Cotten's career and although he's supposed to look frail in the film I found it a shock to see him so sickly. Thank goodness he dubbed his own voice here as it adds some gravitas to his perfomance. Shriek Show's DVD is one of their standard half-assed jobs with some nice extras (interview with Lenzi and a commentary track) but the print of the film is very worn. I'm glad to have the chance to see this film but surely there are better elements available for DVD.

Oh, and regardless of the poster art used to entice paying customers, there is no scene in which someone takes a blowtorch to handcuffed people. There isn't even a blowtorch in the movie! Damned liars!

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