Monday, December 28, 2015

LAW AND DISORDER - DVD REVIEW


Very underrated – almost to the point of complete obscurity, in fact – Ivan Passer’s LAW AND DISORDER (1974) is yet another New York City-based film, this one starring Carroll O’Connor and Ernest Borgnine as Willie and Cy, a couple of childhood friends who are fed-up with all the crime plaguing their city.  At the insistence of Cy, they and a group of buddies join the Auxiliary Police Force to help try and keep their neighbourhood safe.  Unlike other, more infamous examples of the vigilante subgenere, such as Michael Winner’s prototypical DEATH WISH (1974) or Martin Scorsese’s brilliantly stylized TAXI DRIVER (1976), Passer’s film is a lighthearted comedy, and more akin to a ‘buddy picture’, but in this respect, it succeeds quite admirably.

Despite the POLICE ACADEMY-type set-up and some rather flat TV-style attempts at comedy, LAW AND DISORDER is still an effective look at citizens pushed to the brink during those rather tumultuous times in NYC’s history. Even though the Auxiliary Police Force isn’t allowed to carry firearms, they are virtually indistinguishable from any ‘real’ police officer. During a recruitment meeting, Cy voices his opinion, and rather vehemently proclaims, “This area has degenerated into a cesspool for perverts, thieves, junkies, sexual deviants and all unwashed freaks of the city of New York!” Despite the angered response (“Let’s get rid of the cops! What good are they anyway?!”), even the “Auxiliary Police Coordinating Officer” is more interested in plugging his business than actually trying to do something to stem the escalating crime wave.  In the end, neither Willie nor Cy do much to curtail the crime in their neighbourhood, but – in a nice surprise – the rather bumbling opening act eventually reveals a far more interesting picture of two men, who, even in their fifties, are still chasing the American Dream.


Ernest Borgnine (left) & Carroll O'Connor.
Shot during his tenure on Norman Lear’s sitcom ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971-1979), Carroll O’Connor’s Willie is simply an extension of his Archie Bunker character, and although his racist comments are kept relatively in check this time, his rather grouchy, “weathered” persona is a definite character trait, at least at this typecast point in his career, and this is the kind of part which Mr. O’Connor could have played in his sleep, that’s how used he was to playing such characters by then.  Nonetheless, he’s still an absolute joy to watch, especially during some of the film’s more introspective moments, where many of his regrets and vulnerabilities are exposed. At one point, during a heartfelt discussion with his wife Sally (frequent TV actor Ann Wedgeworth), Willie expresses his dream of opening up a bar (Is it just a coincidence that Norman Lear’s ALL IN THE FAMILY spin-off ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE [1979-1983] also involved him opening a bar?), which well conveys what could and SHOULD have been if he took more calculated risks in his life.  It’s a nicely-nuanced character study, which pays off handsomely in the film’s final few moments.


Borgnine astonished to find his car stripped in "just a couple of minutes."


On the other hand, Borgnine's character is certainly an anomaly; he’s a Right Wing-leaning gun nut and avid hunter, who even proudly displays a full-sized stuffed deer in his cramped New York apartment.  However, in a complete contradiction, he is also a hairdresser and proprietor of his very own women’s salon!  Everything in his life is related to power and the “survival of the fittest”, which even he demonstrates when he feeds a goldfish to his pet Tiger Oscar, a rather voracious freshwater fish.  Although at times difficult to take seriously, Cy’s somewhat buffoonish character is marvelously portrayed by Borgnine, and even though he’s quite the control freak, he firmly believes things should run a certain way and will do what he can to try and see that through; even he himself has to break the law to try and achieve this, which also allows Borgnine to showcase his comic timing. The year before, Borgnine also starred in Robert Aldrich’s EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973), where he really got to showcase his talents in one of his more vehemently evil character studies as a ruthless railroad engineer, and some of those traits are, however slight, still evident here.

In a somewhat bizarre bit of casting, Karen Black stars alongside Borgnine as his out-of-control co-worker Gloria, who seems to make his life a living hell at the salon.  With almost no dialogue afforded her role, it’s never made very clear if he ever had an affair with her, which might possibly account for her strange behaviour, which is hilariously over-the-top!  Other New Yorker actors include Jack Kehoe, a busy character actor who appeared in Sidney Lumet’s SERPICO (1972) a couple of years earlier and who would go on to appear in tons of stuff throughout the ’70s and ’80s, including Stuart Rosenberg's The POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE (1983). Edward Grover was yet another busy NY actor who also appeared in SERPICO, and the same year he made this, he also appeared alongside Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH (1974).  During the rambunctious recruitment meeting in the present film, keen viewers should look out for a very brief cameo from Shirley Stoler, who gained critical accolades for her role in Leonard Kastle’s THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969).

Karen Black as Gloria in one of her many over-the-top moments from the film.
Released during the format’s infancy, the first and thus far only DVD of LAW AND DISORDER came from Anchor Bay in 2000, and has since become quite difficult to locate. Although not remastered up to today’s standards, the rather drab colour scheme and somewhat grainy picture perfectly reflect a decaying New York, and in this respect the dated transfer actually benefits the film very well.  Presented in 1.85:1 with 16x9 enhancement, the only extras include the entertaining trailer and a couple of TV spots, with the usual talent bios for O’Connor, Borgnine and director Passer. Earlier this year, Twilight Time has confirmed they will release Passer’s CUTTER’S WAY (1981) on Blu-ray for April 12th, 2016, so here’s hoping that that they, or some other enterprising Blu-ray label, will tackle this film as well.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

THE WILD EYE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

“I can’t stand to see that poor animal die!” exclaims Barbara (Delia Boccardo), to which Paolo (Philippe Leroy) adamantly replies, “Then shut your eyes!”

That’s one of the first dialogue exchanges in Paolo Cavara’s The WILD EYE (1967), a still-pertinent exposé on the lengths some reporters (or documentarians) will go to in order to get the ultimate scoop or indelible image.  Philippe Leroy stars as Paolo, a director of sensationalistic documentaries, who, along with his entourage – which includes Barbara (Delia Boccardo) and his trusted cameraman Valentino (Gabriele Tinti) – travels the world in search of the weird and horrific, but Paolo’s insatiable appetite for capturing anything and everything eventually leads to the team’s moral and ethical breakdown.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Italian mondo films, and in particular the fascinating cinema of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, will instantly recognize what – and whom (hint-hint) – Paolo Cavara’s film is about.  Director Cavara was, along with Jacopetti and Prosperi, a co-director of MONDO CANE (1962), one of the first and most influential ‘shockumentaries’, and he was quite obviously very affected by what he had seen during his tenure with Jacopetti; in a filmed interview with Lars Bloch (one of the actors from the film) included on this disc, Bloch reveals that this film was purposely made as a sort of “revenge on Jacopetti”.  

The opening of the film sets the tone immediately, as Paolo and a group of what appear to be tourists – including Barbara (Delia Boccardo), her boyfriend John (Bloch) and an elderly couple – are in the midst of racing across the North African desert in hot pursuit of a gazelle, but when their jeep breaks down, they are forced to walk the excruciating 60 miles back to town.  Paolo doesn’t hesitate for a second to film their fears, torment and anguish en route, exploiting every possible moment beneath the scorching sun.  At one point, they come across the carcass of a camel, and as Valentino’s camera rolls, Paolo calmly asks the elderly woman, “What would you give for a glass of water?” to which he rhetorically replies, “Would you give a year of your life?”  In a bizarre turn of events, Barbara is eventually wooed by Paolo’s worldly travels and jet-set lifestyle, even though she knows he “organized” that dirty trick out in the desert.  Even during her more lucid moments, she is fully cognizant that people are nothing more than mere disposable objects or characters to him, which he exploits unsparingly in his films, but this doesn’t stop her from following him off to the Far East, leaving John in the lurch.

During their time in the orient, they visit a rehabilitation centre where a majority of the patients are recovering drug addicts (opium, to be exact), but instead of curing them with “faith” to alleviate the “desire” of opium, as the resident physician demonstrates, they are viciously beaten on camera (all faked, of course) because Paolo doesn’t think that the real, far-less-cinematic method makes for “much movie-wise”.  When Barbara questions him, he simply states, “Reality is boring. Lies are entertaining.”  As they proceed from spectacle to spectacle, Paolo continues to dumb-down his audience, because it’s only a matter of “occasional stimulation that makes the public digest the rest of the film.”  It’s certainly a fitting and still prescient statement in these overstimulated times of ours when most people’s attention spans don’t last much longer than a 6-second Vine Video.  With input from Italian novelist Alberto Moravia, who himself narrated and even wrote some of the more extreme mondo efforts (including Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni’s MONDO MAGIC [1975] and Antonio Climati’s and Mario Morra’s uncompromising SAVAGE MAN...SAVAGE BEAST [1975]), there are further ruminations with existential leanings about just what it is that entertains people, the decline of the western world, and even mass-consumption in our relentlessly consumerist society.

As the film progresses, Paolo continues to put himself and his crew into increasingly dangerous situations, including the secret filming of a Vietcong ambush, during which Paolo takes a beating; to which the latter replies, “Any film of me while I was beaten?”  Later, in a bombed-out Vietcong square, Valentino is shocked at the blatant disrespectfulness of his own, and especially Paolo’s, moralistic convictions, when they shoot – no pun intended – a live execution, which may or may not have been planned by Paolo.  In yet another extreme bit of journalistic incredulity, they are informed of a possible bombing at “The Lion's Bar”, a popular G.I. watering hole, which Paolo insists getting on film both prior to the bombing (“Get good shots of the customers”) and the bombing itself, which finally puts Barbara and Valentino over the edge.

Released theatrically in North America by AIP but never released on domestic home video, The WILD EYE hits both Blu-ray and DVD thanks to Scorpion Releasing.  Available exclusively through Screen Archives, Scorpion’s 1080p Blu-ray presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16x9 enhancement, and is a real beauty, with excellent detail and naturalistic colours.  The mono sound is offered in both English and Italian languages, with the added bonus of English subtitles for the Italian audio track.  Extras include the aforementioned interview with actor Lars Bloch, who reveals all sorts of interesting info on the film, such as trying to shoot scenes in sequence, a method which was ultimately scrapped as unworkable; in addition, Bloch reveals how he inadvertently became the sound assistant on the film, and that Cavara was “a real gentleman.”  The only other extra is the American theatrical trailer.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

COUNSELOR AT CRIME - DVD REVIEW

Hot off the success of Francis Ford Coppola’s The GODFATHER (1972), Alberto De Martino’s COUNSELOR AT CRIME (1973) also treads much of the same territory as Coppola’s film, highlighting the Octopus-like ‘tentacles of the mafia’ and the conflicts usually associated between the various factions of the mob. Produced at the start of the then burgeoning poliziesco, De Martino’s film is definitely one of the early precursors to this once very popular and profitable genre of Italian film, although it should be more aptly referred to as a mafioso picture along the lines of Damiano Damiani’s MAFIA (1968) or Vittorio Schraldi’s criminally underrated I KISS THE HAND (1973) than your average poliziesco with hot-headed, vigilante-type commissarios.

Opening with picturesque locales of San Francisco, the film exposes the far-reaching and lucrative mob-influenced areas of business, such as the ports (complete with angered dock workers), the racetrack and junkyard, which seems to be Don Antonio Macaluso’s (Martin Balsam) primary headquarters.  When William Lucchesi, an out-of-control syphilitic mobster, begins stirring up shit with a local cop at a mob-controlled bowling alley (“I hate pigs! Always stealin’ money out of a dead man’s pockets!”), a hit is put out on him because, as one cop clearly states, “We got the canary, and they know he’s gonna sing.”  Although the hit doesn’t go as initially planned, Don Garofalo (Francisco Rabal), the second-in-command, eventually gets the job done when Santino, a local cop on the payroll, helps orchestrate the hit.

Meanwhile, Don Macaluso’s godson Thomas (Tomas Milian), his “consigliori”, is released from prison, but to Macaluso’s surprise, Thomas wants out of this life, which Macaluso begrudgingly agrees too, even though during an earlier “sit-down”, he forbade Garofalo to branch-out on his own.  Of course, this sparks all-out “mafia warfare” as Garofalo tries to “reshuffle the deck” within Don Macaluso’s once-powerful empire.

Italian locandina courtesy of Steve Fenton.

Considerably more expansive than your average Italian crime picture, De Martino and his crew make good use of the San Franciscan and Sicilian locales, including a brief but very welcome car chase through SF’s hilly streets.  For the duration of the film, Macaluso is on the run, which allows De Martino plenty of opportunities to stage various shootouts and altercations, including a hard-hitting gunfight where he and Thomas waste about two dozen of Garofalo’s men; the rooftop foot-chase in a small Sicilian hillside town is also quite effective, which leads to a terrific, poignant finale wherein Balsam and Milian really get to show off their acting chops.

Balsam and Milian have terrific chemistry and play well off each other, with Balsam giving an especially vigorous, physical performance (he also dubs his own voice), as a man who will stop at nothing to protect Thomas, the son he never had.  When Thomas decides to lead another type of life, Macaluso is fully aware of the repercussions this may have (“Thomas’ departure could be the last stone that starts the avalanche”), but he lets him leave all the same, hopefully to lead the kind of decent life he himself never could.  Balsam would continue to be an “American Guest Star”, usually as a token commissario, in numerous Italian crime pictures, such as Marcello Andrei’s SEASON FOR ASSASSINS (1977), but along with Damiano Damiani’s CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN (1971), this was one of his meatier roles.  Tomas Milian is also especially good as the laconic “Counselor” (export prints used the Anglo/Canadian “The Counsellor”, hence the title change by U.S. distributor Joseph Green); who, after realizing the trouble he’s got Macaluso into, doesn’t sit by the wayside, despite the protestations of his girlfriend Laura (Dagmar Lassander in a throwaway part).  Milian looks great here, with a much more naturalistic, down-to-earth performance (nicely-dubbed by Larry Dolgin) which is similar to his work in Stelvio Massi’s superb EMERGENCY SQUAD (1974); this before he embarked on many of his over-the-top but very well-known roles in his subsequent poliziotteschi, usually hiding behind very obvious wigs or a ton of makeup.

Outside of Balsam and Milian, Francisco Rabal also lends the film considerable weight and plays an Italian-American mafioso to utter perfection with his jet-black hair and deceptive behaviour; he is a man to be feared.  Anyone even remotely involved with Macaluso is ‘taken care of’, and they are sealed-up inside an oil drum then encased in concrete. One poor bastard even gets stuffed into his own pizza oven!  


Journeyman director De Martino, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 86, keeps everything moving at a nice pace, and, as in his other crime pictures, CRIME BOSS (1972) and STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (1976), he always got excellent performances from his ‘name’ casts.  Unfortunately, his output in the ’70s slowed considerably, and after directing The ANTICHRIST (1974) and HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977), two upscale EXORCIST-themed films, he capped his prolific career off with FORMULA FOR A MURDER (1985) and MIAMI HORROR (1985), a pair of instantly forgettable horror movies.

Handsomely shot by Aristide Massaccesi (better known to most as Joe D’Amato, director of an almost obscene amount of sleazy Eurotrash pics) and scored with one of Riz Ortolani’s typically brassy-but-effective scores, Germany’s Film Art DVD is a very welcome release, which finally retains the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is in English. Even though it’s still rather grainy and kinda soft, this is the best it has ever looked on home video, enabling the viewer to better appreciate Massaccesi’s carefully-composed compositions.  Extras include a brief photo/poster gallery and a wealth of poliziesco trailers for some of Film Art’s other releases.  For the record, these include Italian-language trailers for Mario Caiano’s BLOODY PAYROLL (1976), Sergio Martino’s SILENT ACTION (1975) and THE CHEATERS (1975), Enzo G. Castellari’s DAY OF THE COBRA (1980), Fernando Di Leo’s THE BOSS (1973), as well as English trailers for Stelvio Massi’s CONVOY BUSTERS (1978) and Umberto Lenzi’s BROTHERS TILL WE DIE (1978).  Of course, being a German DVD, this release also includes a German-language audio track as well.  Order COUNSELOR AT CRIME from Amazon Germany here.