In an interview with Stacy Keach included on Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray disc, the film’s co-star describes Maurizio Lucidi’s STREET PEOPLE (1976) as (quote) “escapist entertainment”, which is most certainly an apt assessment of the film, whose main drawing card was—and still is—ex-Saint portrayer Roger Moore, who had, at that time, been enjoying newfound re-fame as the latest James Bond. Based on a story penned by no less than six writers, including Italian director Maurizio Lucidi and Randall Kleiser (future director of GREASE  and THE BLUE LAGOON ), the film also evokes interest thanks to co-screenwriter Ernest Tidyman, whose scripts for both William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) and Gordon Parks’ SHAFT (1971) really put him on the map as a bankable writer. Although STREET PEOPLE never reaches the heights of those two undisputed American classics, this predominantly-Italian production shot on location in and around the San Francisco bay area enjoyed a healthy presence on home video during the ’Eighties thanks to Vestron Video’s prolific VHS / Beta videocassettes, which, without fail, turned up in virtually every video rental outlet during that time.
In what seems like an unlikely casting choice, Roger Moore stars as Ulysses, an English-educated Sicilian lawyer working for his uncle Don Salvatore “Sal” Francesco (Ivo Garrani), a powerful mob boss living in Frisco. In his attempt to do (quote) “something nice” for the workers of his fishing fleet, their padrone Don Francesco imports a massive, hand-carved wooden crucifix from his childhood church in Sicily. Welcomed into the U.S. by Bishop Francis “Frank” Lopetri (Ettore Manni), this seemingly altruistic tribute, unbeknownst to both Frank and Sal, proves to be an insidious Trojan horse when they discover that its hollow interior has been stuffed with over (quote) “one million dollars of dope” that has been secretly smuggled into the country by Luigi Nicoletta (Fausto Tozzi), Panos (Pietro Martellanza) and Fortunato (Romano Puppo). Frank is certain that Uncle Sal is responsible for this sacrilege against the Roman Catholic church, for which he has been appropriately vilified (“Filthy excuse of a man!”) and excommunicated, so, with the official blessing of the boss of bosses, Don Giuseppe Continenza (Ennio Balbo), the local criminal underworld attempt to clear his name (“I want the punk who pulled this on me!” remarks Sal). Of course, much like his secretive cinematic alter-ego (i.e., codename: 007), Moore as Ulysses also turns out to be working double-duty as the organization’s ‘man’ (hence the film’s original Italian shooting title, UOMO DEL’ORGANIZZAZIONE) and, with the help of his street-savvy racing car driver friend, Charlie (Stacy Keach), he is entrusted by Don Continenza to solve this betrayal...
The film is generally well-made and well-acted, and both Anglo name-stars seem to be enjoying themselves throughout. Despite their woefully-underwritten roles, Moore’s and Keach’s onscreen camaraderie is undeniably palpable. While the former’s odd casting has raised plenty of contention, Moore actually fares pretty well, all things considered and, in a few scenes, he even gets to show off his upper crust British-accented Italian lingo. As Ulysses, Moore provides the film’s emotional core, as his character tries desperately to clear his uncle’s name, even if Frank does think otherwise, some of which is periodically portrayed in a Sergio Leone-styled wistful flashback, which also comes complete with a memorable Morricone-like score, courtesy of Luis Enríquez Bacalov. Here playing the hyper-animated, thrill-seeking Charlie, Stacy Keach’s hip performance as the self-styled go-getter is perhaps one of the film’s greatest assets. He plays the ideal counterpart to Moore’s suave-yet-determined counsellor, committing himself with all the proper assurance the part requires. Working on behalf of Ulysses, Charlie isn’t interested in family loyalties or potential mob feuds (“Screw the family! I’m in it for the money!”), and his reckless disposition serves Ulysses well as they try and get to the bottom of the mystery, even though it’s already been made clear who the ringleaders behind the dope smuggling really are.
In spite of the piecemeal storyline, the narrative is frequently enlivened by spurts of enthusiastic action, including a wholly-gratuitous smash-up when Charlie sees fit to test drive a souped-up Chevy Monte Carlo (“Hold on, baby! Daddy’s gonna take you on a cosmic ride!”) through the busy streets of San Francisco; later, during one of the film’s other action highpoints, Ulysses and Charlie are obliged to outmaneuver a pair of swerving tanker trucks in a lengthy, impressively-staged car (and truck!) chase. In keeping with the film’s Italo connections, a sizable portion also has Ulysses travel to Sicily in his initial attempts to expose the smugglers, a ‘working vacation’ which also sees him coming face-to-face with an Italian hitman (Salvatore Billa) and his customary lupara (a.k.a. ‘wolf-gun’ [a sawed-off shotgun traditionally used by Sicilian shepherds to keep wolves away from their flocks, but which could also serve, uh, anotherpurpose during feuds between local mafiosi!]).
Released in most overseas markets under its original English-language export title THE SICILIAN CROSS, this version ran approximately 10 minutes longer than American International Pictures’ U.S. release cut, which includes a slightly-extended opening credit sequence that establishes Sal and Frank’s ‘buddy-buddy’ dynamic, shows Ulysses fishing for information at a swanky stripclub (“Welcome to the palace of pain and pleasure!”) and also includes another extended scene with Salvatore and his girlfriend (Rosemarie Lindt), none of which add much to the finished film or make the rather threadbare story any more coherent. Outside of the U.S., this original cut was readily available on home video and, in 1987, it even secured a simultaneous VHS/Laserdisc release in Japan courtesy of Columbia Home Video.
|Italian newspaper ad courtesy of Steve Fenton. La Stampa 05/76.|