Thursday, April 22, 2010

REDNECK (1973)

Renamed REDNECK for American release the translated Italian title of this film is WITHOUT REASON and that sums up the cruel actions of the two main characters, but this film could have been titled TWO IDIOTS ON THE RUN and been deemed accurately named. The plot is so basic that it can be summed up in a single sentence-Two men attempt to rob a jewelry store and get out of the country. Everything else is just detail and that is where this film gets things right. From the opening scene that rolls under the credits there is never any doubt as to the competence of the two thieves Mosquito (Franco Nero) and Memphis (Telly Savalas). Unable to even control a simply situation with a middle aged jewelery store clerk they kill the poor bastard within seconds of starting their robbery triggering the store’s alarm. Grabbing a couple of cases of goods they run out to their getaway car and then proceed to (almost comically) destroy the vehicle on the streets out of town. That they start off by ramming a hearse and dumping the coffin within onto their windshield is the perfect image pointing toward their eventual success or lack thereof. Gallows humor reoccurs throughout the film with a darker and darker tone each time.

The two crooks obviously had no idea of how to do what they set out to do and everything that gets in their way merely emphasizes each man’s true nature. Memphis becomes more violent, angry and craven eventually refusing to even accept blame for people being killed when he is the clear cause. Mosquito is little better even though he surely would have never become a killer like his companion. Nero plays him as a not too bright guy with some smooth talking skills and a crudely ingratiating personality that might have gotten him by in life with the right breaks. Cowardly in the extreme Mosquito is a n’er-do-well hanger on too timid to act on his own and too dumb to know when he should give up. Doing the right thing is never even an idea that floats through either man’s head. In the final analysis both men are opportunistic trash but Memphis embodies the worst kind of evil I see in the world around me all the time. He doesn’t set out to intentionally harm others but has such a petty, small view of life that his reaction to everything is to lash out in the stupidest ways. He’s a rabid dog, a selfish ‘redneck’ and society has to find a way to deal with his type before they kill children (“Why did he run?”) or ruin lives. (“I can always spot someone with potential.”) Mosquito is a pathetic, pitiable bastard deserving of contempt but Memphis is classic, clueless evil unaware of his true nature and convinced he’s in the right no matter what despicable action he takes. Singing or humming hymns each time that he is forced to think Memphis is like every ignorant redneck I’ve ever encountered. He’s steeped in Biblical words & phrases with none of the meaning behind those words ever registering on his thoughts. That his most repeated tune is the Christian supplication hymn ‘Just As I Am’ that acts as a call to accept Christ into your life illustrates his inability to think beyond the surface. He knows the song but understands nothing about what it means.

One of the most interesting things about REDNECK is that it keeps hinting at standard paths for a typical thriller to take and denying every one of them. It works hard to subvert expectations constantly and therefore becomes strangely unpredictable. Even little things like Memphis' trip to visit some prostitutes denies us what we expect - no nudity, no bump & grind- no sex at all. Instead we get a slap as the criminal morons discover what their efforts have gained them. The same with the rich old lady Mosquito so obviously is going to bed and rob. It doesn't quite work out the way he or we expect.

I was surprised to see young Mark Lester as their accidental kidnap victim. That kid keeps turning up in the strangest places. He was creepy as hell the year before this film in WHAT THE PEEPER SAW making Britt Ekland’s life hellish and he was in Curtis Harrington’s WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO as well. Who was this kid’s agent?

Overall this is a very solid but odd example of Italian crime movies of the 1970s. It’s not perfect but its dark & nasty story about loathsome men is fascinating and kept me glued to my screen even as it became more and more unpleasant. Both Savalas and Nero turn in excellent performances and the film never hits a wrong note. It's not pretty but it is well worth seeing.


Brian Lindsey said...

Having never seen this, I'm curious... Does the film try to pass European locations off as being American, or do Nero & Savalas play Italian crooks with U.S. nicknames?

Rod Barnett said...

No. The film takes place in Italy with Nero as the native guy and Savalas as a visiting American crook. Telly's presence in Europe is never gone into but they carefully acknowledge his status as an American citizen complete with southern accent. I suspect there may be some kind of Southern Italy commentary (i.e. homegrown rednecks) in the film but I'm not savvy enough about that country's ethic/class divisions to know.

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