Monday, August 28, 2017


Never before made officially available on North American shores, both Marino Girolami’s prototypical Italocrime meller SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976) and Mario Caiano’s ambitious actioner WEAPONS OF DEATH (1977) have been paired together for Dorado Films’ long-awaited Explosive Eurocrime Double Feature Blu-ray, which is an absolute must for fans of the form (we here at Unpopped most definitely included!), and hopefully it is only the first of many more such releases to come from Dorado Films.

In the wake of Enzo G. Castellari (a.k.a. Enzo Girolami)’s enormously popular HIGH CRIME (1973), which starred genre top gun Franco Nero as blonde-haired Commissioner Belli, veteran director Marino Girolami – and Enzo’s father – was put at the helm of VIOLENT ROME (1975), an equally-popular ‘copycat’ poliziotteschi of his very own, which cast Nero ‘lookalike’ Maurizio Merli as the similarly-named Commissioner Betti; it represented that now-iconic actor’s debut appearance within the Italian crime movie genre, and he would go on to appear in around 15 more such films, in scenarios and as characters which were oftentimes virtually interchangeable with one another (which is by no means to imply that many of said movies don’t make for totally kickass entertainment).  In response to Nero’s staunchly determined Belli character in HIGH CRIME—for which his normally dark hair was only dyed blond for the occasion—Merli was largely cast in VIOLENT ROME due to actually having fair hair and for his at-best-only-minimal facial resemblance to Nero, but Merli’s strong screen presence and his various rogue cop characters’ hard-nosed approach to fighting crime proved an instant hit with Italian audiences, after which he rapidly became the ‘face’ of poliziotteschi for about the next half-decade or so, and his reputation lasts to this very day, both in Italy and abroad. In fact, while Nero is himself quite rightly identified with Italocrime flicks (typically those of more ‘upscale’ origins), to an ever-growing legion of fans worldwide, it is Merli (whose own outings were generally more lower-budgeted affairs) who most personifies the genre. In Mike Malloy’s meticulously-constructed, mandatory documentary EUROCRIME! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s (2012), it’s truly touching to see Nero giving his late ‘impersonator’ a gracious and well-deserved shout-out, which is a pretty classy thing for him to do, for sure.

And now on to the movies in the Blu-ray set under review…

Once again directing under the pseudonym “Franco Martinelli”, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976) was Girolami’s rapid-fire follow-up to the sizeable local hit VIOLENT ROME (which, in addition to Merli, also catapulted English character actor John Steiner into the limelight, resulting in his being cast as heavies in a number of subsequent poliziotteschi), but this was actually the third time that Maurizio Merli essayed his staple Betti character, whom he had previously played in Umberto Lenzi’s equally exhilarating street-crimer VIOLENT NAPLES (a.k.a. VIOLENT PROTECTION, 1976); as with Girolami’s films, it was likewise co-produced by Edmondo Amati’s prolific FIDA Cinematografica outfit.  In fact, VIOLENT NAPLES was initially announced as a sequel to VIOLENT ROME, with Merli in the lead and “Martinelli” directing, and later, in mid-’76, the project was re-announced as VIOLENT ROME – PART II, co-starring Merli and American actor Leonard Mann (another of EUROCRIME!’s many interview subjects), the latter of whom did not ultimately appear, but instead went on to co-star alongside Henry Silva in WEAPONS OF DEATH, another FIDA-produced film.

Transplanting its action from Torino to Milan then eventually to Genoa, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (whose Italian title is ITALIA A MANO ARMATA, which loosely translates to “Italy Takes Up Arms” or variations thereof) is, much like VIOLENT ROME, a little episodic in structure, but don’t let that stop you.  At the outset, a robbery occurs at the Bank of Torino and a school-bus full of children is hijacked almost simultaneously, which gets things rolling pretty quickly and also aptly illustrates what a crime-infested country Italy once was.  Naturally, Betti (his surname subtly changed to “Berti” on English-dubbed prints) is furious, declaring, “This kidnapping of children is the worst kind!” Aided by his trusted partner Ferrari (Aldo Barberito) and Milanese Insp. Arpino (Raymond Pellegrin), they get a break in the case when one of the kidnappers, Salvatore Mancuso (Sergio Fiorentini), attempts to rape a local girl, which enables Betti/Berti to trace the kidnappers to an abandoned farm, and even though they do manage to get away, Mancuso is later found reduced to ashes inside a burnt-out car.  Betti believes all this rampant crime to be the work of Jean Albertelli (John Saxon, who thankfully dubbed his own characteristic voice hereon), an underworld kingpin whose far-reaching influence is obvious. However, due to a lack of evidence, Betti is unable to make any of the charges stick.  

After a longstanding career, in a typically slightly ‘surreal’ bit of English-dubbed dialogue, Insp. Arpino refers to having his (quote) “balls in pieces”, so he employs Fabbri (Massimo Vanni, alias future action star “Alex McBride”), an undercover cop whose cover is eventually blown (“Some stoolie must’ve blabbed!”), who is subsequently tied and dragged behind a car at a remote quarry, which immediately places Albertelli right at the top of Betti’s lengthy (quote) “shit-list!  However, because Betti is deemed (quote) “too hot-headed” by Albertelli, he’s set-up for the murder of Lazzari (Adolfo Lastretti), one of Albertelli’s many underlings, and this trumped-up charge eventually lands him in prison (a diversionary subplot which was completely excised from Master Video’s long-out-of-print Italian-Canadian VHS cassette), enabling Albertelli to follow through with a proposed major drug deal at the Genovese docks with the help of the French mob, led by one Forestier (Stelio Candelli).

Clocking-in at just over 100 minutes, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION crams in plenty of plot developments and loads of action - including the compulsory car chases, natch - with Merli usually giving chase while unloading his Beretta .44 at the very same time.  There’s also an exciting foot chase along a steeply-angled roof lined with typical Italian terracotta tiles - which isn’t easy to navigate if you happen to be wearing loafers, like Merli is! - resulting in a nail-biting scene which leaves our Merli hanging precariously from one of the wobbly rain gutters.  Expertly and efficiently cut by Vincenzo Tomassi, who also worked alongside Lenzi for most of his similar Italocrime films, Girolami and Tomassi keep things moving at a swift pace even during some of the slower stretches as Merli contemplates a life of peace and tranquility outside the police force (“Time is passing, but you’re still young,” says Arpino) with Luisa (Mirella D’Angelo) as his potential love interest.  This being the third outing in the unofficial ‘Betti trilogy’, the character is definitely becoming a little world-weary, and even a little wistful; a characteristic which was explored more deeply in some of Stelvio Massi’s late-entry poliziotteschi, such as THE REBEL (1980).

Mastered in 4K from a 35mm film print, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION looks excellent in this 1080p rendering, which features the film’s original 1.85:1 framing and no discernible digital manipulation or colour correction, a fact which may be a turn-off for viewers (unrealistically) expecting absolute image perfection.  At times (particularly during the opening credits), colours are a little washed-out, but for the most part the picture is sharp and film-like, and easily the best it has ever looked on video. And, unlike some previous VHS editions—of which various alternate edits were released in different parts of the world—it’s completely uncut to boot.  The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio is presented with both English and Italian language options with dialogue, and such crucial sound effects as squealing tires and gun-shots all sounding well-balanced. As an added plus, Dorado have also added optional English and Italian subtitles as well.

As with SPECIAL COP IN ACTION, Mario Caiano’s (directing under his “William Hawkins” handle) WEAPONS OF DEATH (or NAPOLI, SPARA! as per the film’s Italian title), also begins with a catalytic bank robbery, this time at the Banca Fabbrocini.  In an ingenious move, the getaway driver (“Just keep driving, you turkey!”) poses as a member of the local Squadra Volante (“Flying Squad”), but Insp. Belli's (Leonard Mann - his name once again altered to “Bidi” on English prints) intuitive nature and stubborn determination keeps him one step ahead of the baddies at all times.  Far more volatile is Santoro (Henry Silva) and his crew, who brazenly rob the Roma Express and steal a half-million in cash from the Poste Italiane, leaving many dead in the aftermath, one of their own included. “The group is as organized as they come,” remarks Belli, and he knows only too well that Santoro is untouchable because (quote) “He’ll have at least ten people to vouch for him.”  Although treated like his very own son by the powerful Don Alfredo (Tino Bianchi), the arrogantly assured Santoro is running rampant throughout Naples, resulting in tensions between some of the other underworld bosses, including Calise and Licata (respectively played by familiar faces Tommaso Palladino and Enrico Maisto, each of whom appeared in their fair share of Italocrimers [about a dozen apiece in total]).  Following one of the obligatory car chases on the outskirts of Naples, Santoro is left with an ideal opportunity to get a shot at Belli, knowing full-well that, if kept alive, Belli’s superiors will finger him as a potentially corrupt cop and discipline him accordingly; which leaves Belli no choice but to bring Santoro in alive, but this proves trickier than expected, that is, until he comes into contact with Luisa Parise (Ida Galli, a.k.a. “Evelyn Stewart”)…

Playing-out in a similar milieu as this disc’s above-discussed co-feature, WEAPONS OF DEATH’s numerous tangential subplots feature plenty of action, including a hair-raising bit of stuntwork on the part of Mann as he precariously clambers over a speeding tanker truck.  In a cheeky bit of casting, Jeff Blynn (blond-haired passable ‘Merli lookalike’ who would go on to appear in Alfonso Brescia’s THE NEW GODFATHERS [1979]) is cast as Giudi (renamed “George” on English prints), a secondary protagonist who leads a group of Squadra Volonte cops working undercover as ostensible Neapolitan cabbies.  In a bout of desperation, Belli even has the Squadra Volonte rob a high-stakes poker game in order to get some evidence against Santoro; in retaliation, one of the plainclothes cops is gorily decapitated on his motorcycle by a strategically placed wire stretched across the road.  In one of the film’s many plot tangents, a pedophile (Adolfo Lastretti) is attacked in a public park by outraged parents after trying to snatch a young girl, only to subsequently be castrated in prison by other convicts (“You ain’t never gonna use it again, you fucker!”).  Of course, being as this is also set in Naples, Massimo Deda returns as street-kid Gennarino (renamed “Johnny/Gianni” on English prints) – bum leg and all – in a bid to recapture some of that winning chemistry from Lenzi’s VIOLENT NAPLES.  Mann as Belli is like a surrogate father to Gennarino and continuously warns him of the threat of reform school whenever he’s caught stealing tires or selling phony sparkling water to unsuspecting customers.  In a daring bit of self-assurance, Gennarino even steals a promotional race car and careens through the streets of Naples in it (“That car is a real bomb, man!”) as Francesco De Masi’s mandolin-infused music plays cheerfully in the background.  Other than for this jaunty, carefree number, De Masi’s otherwise somber, jazzy score is a real treat, amounting to one of the great composer’s underrated gems.

Constantly puffing on a cigar, American-born lead Leonard Mann is sufficiently engaging as Belli who, although it’s never made clear, seems to have gained his current position recently; a go-getter who’ll stop at nothing – up to and including the law – to nab Santoro. Henry Silva also possesses much the same – if far more ruthless – driving ambition (“I’m a successful man in life because I never give up!”), resulting in a few tense standoffs. These include an attempted hit on Santoro, who is not only saved by his bulletproof car, but by an unsuspecting Belli (“If I knew it was you…”).  Usually relegated to inconsequential throwaway bit parts, most female characters – Barbara Bouchet from MILAN CALIBER .9 (1972), notwithstanding – are mere window-dressing in poliziotteschi, and Caiano’s film is no exception.  In the present film, the third-billed Evelyn Stewart essentially appears in little more than a glorified cameo towards the end of the picture; whereas Kirsten Gille, one of cabbie/narc Giudi’s fares, sticks around long enough to provide some full-frontal nudity.

WEAPONS OF DEATH first appeared on Italian DVD from the budget label Quinto Piano in what was a heavily-compromised release which was both cut and not English-friendly.  Fortunately, Dorado Films’ Blu-ray sports an all-new 4K remastered version, which retains Pier Luigi Santi’s original 1.85:1 framing and is thankfully uncut. Although the image is quite sharp with a healthy amount of natural film grain on view, it should be noted that the opening credits appear almost sepia-tone for a short while, but once the film begins proper, however, it all looks fairly vibrant, sharp and colourful.  The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio also sounds excellent, in spite of the typical tinny canned dubbing, but the disc also features Italian audio and comes with optional English and Italian subtitle options.

As a very worthwhile special bonus, Dorado Films have also included a DVD of Alberto De Martino’s THE COUNSELLOR (a.k.a. COUNSELOR AT CRIME [1973]), a remarkable genre highpoint – and quite possibly one of De Martino’s best – revolving around mafia in-fighting, which features standout performances from both Martin Balsam and Tomas Milian.  For a full review, click here.  Trailers for all three films in this set are also included, as well as a pair of liner note booklets containing incisive essays courtesy of Roberto Curti on ‘The Italian Crime Film’ and the individual films in question.  To top it all off, a nifty, full-colour reproduction of the original Italian WOD pressbook is included, too.

All-in-all, Dorado’s “Explosive Eurocrime Double Feature” is an outstanding package, and it makes a terrific primer for anyone wishing to dip their toe into the tough-as-nails world of Italian poliziotteschi before hopefully taking the plunge headfirst.  Order it from DiabolikDVD.

Note: If you purchase a copy and experience a sluggish menu, visit Dorado Films’ blog for further information.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Synonymous with horror and exploitation movie fare, the American-based production company, Crown International Pictures scored a sizable hit with David Beaird’s MY CHAUFFEUR (1985), an amiable comedy showcasing the talents of that spunky ’80s darling, Deborah Foreman.  Although previously released countless times on a variety of different formats, this popular film has finally been given its proper due care of Vinegar Syndrome’s all-new and totally awesome dual-format Blu-ray! 

When Casey Meadows (Foreman) is clandestinely hired by corporate magnate Mr. Witherspoon (E.G. Marshall) to work at Brentwood Limousine Limited (one of his many business ventures), she is immediately met with hostility from the stuffy, male-dominated pool of other drivers, who, along with their boss, Mr. McBride (Howard Hesseman), are eager to get rid of her (“We are not interested in change!”).  This they try and engineer by setting her up with some of their most bothersome clients, and trouble soon follows.  Casey has to deal with an unruly British rock star (Leland Crooke), a conman and an Arab sheik (Penn & Teller, respectively, making their mutual screen debut), as well as an overworked, by-the-book businessman (Sam Jones), who turns out to be Mr. Witherspoon’s son, Battle, who eventually becomes smitten with Casey and her quirky charms.

Episodic in structure, MY CHAUFFEUR was originally envisioned by Crown as yet another formulaic sex comedy, but director Beaird decided to take it in another, less-exploitable direction by fashioning it into an updated version of a Golden Age of Hollywood ‘screwball comedy’ (such as Howard Hawks’ BRINGING UP BABY [1938]), with its rip-roaring dialogue and Foreman’s strong female character.  In one of the disc’s audio commentaries, director Beaird discusses Foreman’s use of the Meisner technique, and how the (quote) “pace can be slow”, but he wanted a faster tempo, so he had his leading lady watch some old Carole Lombard movies (including perhaps Gregory La Cava’s MY MAN GODFREY [1936]?) in order that Foreman might try to replicate some of Lombard’s energetic screen presence, which she does admirably.   

As with her earlier breakout role in Martha Coolidge’s VALLEY GIRL (1983), Foreman is a joy to watch from beginning to end, helped along by a terrific supporting cast which also includes Sean McClory (distinguished Irish-born character actor from such diverse films as John Ford’s THE QUIET MAN [1952] and Gordon Douglas’ THEM! [1954]) as Mr. Witherspoon’s personal driver, O’Brien, who is the only one willing to give the new girl a chance, unlike his stodgy, unwavering co-workers.  Playing the aptly-named Battle, then-recent ex-Flash Gordon Sam J. Jones also plays well alongside Foreman’s lighthearted, innocent charm, and their blossoming romance even reveals some inherent class struggles, a well-explored character arc which harkens all the way back to Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), co-starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and an angle which was also explored in other such ’80s mainstream fare such as the aforementioned VALLEY GIRL and, more memorably still, in Paul Brickman’s far edgier RISKY BUSINESS (1983).

As with some of Vinegar Syndrome’s other Crown International acquisitions, MY CHAUFFEUR comes to Blu-ray and DVD scanned in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative and, as expected, it looks downright sumptuous, boasting accurate colours and with nary an imperfection anywhere in sight.  On the Blu, the DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono audio also sounds spot-on, with much of the fast-paced dialogue coming through with crystal clarity; amounting to a nice bonus, VS have also included Paul Hertzog’s diverse score as an isolated soundtrack option.

Extras are plentiful. They begin with a wonderful on-camera interview with Deborah Foreman, the “Valley Girl” herself (15m59s).  In this featurette directed by Elijah Drenner, Foreman discusses both her days as a Maybelline girl as well as how she got her start in the motion picture biz.  She also speaks warmly of director David Beaird, even though the entire production had a (quote) “crazy schedule,” during which they would shoot up to 12-to-15 pages of script a day!  She also (quote) “can’t say enough kind things about Sam Jones,” and cites MY CHAUFFEUR as one of her favourite film roles.  The other big extras include two separate audio commentaries, beginning with Beaird and actor Leland Crooke, which is nicely moderated by Drenner.  After helming the (quote) “materialistic, childish” sex romp, THE PARTY ANIMAL (1984), Beaird was approached by Crown to direct yet another of their trademark sex comedies along the lines of George Bowers’ MY TUTOR (1983), only to instead opt to fashion an updated ’30s-style love story with (quote) “old-time banter and old-time screen tricks.” Beaird also discusses trying to hit a (quote) “sweet spot” in terms of theatricality and goes on to reminisce about some of his theatre work during his formative days in Chicago.  He also discusses how he (quote) “had a back-end” on the film, but never saw a dime of profit from it, something which is confirmed by Foreman when she alleges that Crown (quote) “lied about the numbers.”  For the second audio commentary, production assistant Jeff McKay casually chats about his time working on the film, which also includes plentiful factoids/trivia relating to the production, the cast and many of the Los Angeles locations.

Other extras include the film’s original theatrical trailer, numerous TV spots and some nice candid behind-the-scenes photos (courtesy of McKay) taken during the film’s shoot.  Reversible cover artwork includes the film’s original artwork, as well as a striking new rendering by illustrator Derek Gabryszak.  As per some of their other recent Blu-ray releases, VS also include a Limited Edition slipcover edition (1500 only), which is available directly from VS. 

Disarmingly charming and most engaging indeed, by virtue of its association with Crown International Pictures, MY CHAUFFEUR usually gets lumped-in with all those innocuous lowbrow sexcoms from the ’80s, but in actuality, it’s a much smarter – and far more memorable – film thanks to Deborah Foreman’s confident performance and director David Beaird’s commitment to trying something different… and yes, just as expected, VS’ first-class presentation allows you to appreciate everything that much more.  Highly recommended!  Order it from Vinegar Syndrome or DiabolikDVD.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Written and produced by the distinguished and highly-resourceful David F. Friedman, Henri Pachard’s MATINEE IDOL (1984) arrived considerably later than many of Friedman’s mostly-memorable run of sexploitation films from the ’60s and early ’70s, and despite his dogged persistence to avoid working in hardcore films (“It just wasn’t any fun”), Friedman still retained much the of same playful mindset here as he did in many of his earlier, strictly softcore films.  One of the only four hardcore titles produced by Friedman, MATINEE IDOL is considered by some to be the best of the lot, which is all the better since it’s now been made available as a pristine new Dual Format Blu-ray from those indefatigable individuals at Vinegar Syndrome.

At Sensational International Pictures, producers Bernard Kuntz ([!] David F. Friedman) and Harvey Cox ([!!] Elmer Fox) find themselves in a bit of a conundrum when their two biggest stars, Lance Hardy (John Leslie) and Linda Hand (Jesie St. James) wind up continually squabbling with one another, which eventually causes production of their latest ‘sextravaganza’, entitled Matinee Idol, to grind to a screeching halt.  Linda subsequently befriends her pool-boy, Bud Cochran (Herschel Savage) in hopes of grooming him as her potential new co-star, while Kuntz and Cox (!!!) become smitten with wannabe starlet Daisy Cheney (Angel), after she answers an open casting-call by the producers in hopes of replacing the increasingly unmanageable Linda.  But when the unfinished Matinee Idol’s proposed distributors demand a ‘Hardy Hand picture’ in order to recoup their monetary outlay, Lance and Linda may have to set aside their differences and finish the delayed skin-flick just the same; a professional move which might quite possibly rekindle their badly-frayed relationship in the process.

This is very much a comedy, and Friedman’s lighthearted script – which is loaded with his usual innuendos and (quote) “well-known puns” – takes a fond, nostalgic look at Tinseltown, even as it’s viewed through the ’80s skin-biz; and in that respect, it’s much like an updated version of Richard Kanter’s STARLET (1969), which he also produced.  In a nice touch for those ‘in-the-know,’ posters for much of his earlier work – such as SPACE THING and THAR SHE BLOWS (both 1968) – adorn the walls of S.I.P.’s head office, which also functions as their casting office (“It ain’t easy, but somebody’s gotta do it!”).

Veteran adult stars Jesie St. James and John Leslie are both excellent as the quarrelling couple, and at times, as they clash with one another, their behavior emulates those of their equivalents in the zany screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s; while, typical of the genre, Angel and Herschel Savage have a few surprises of their own in store for them.  As expected, Friedman essentially plays himself – or rather, more accurately, a broad caricature of himself – as the cigar-chomping co-owner of S.I.P., and Elmer Fox is the more-cynical of the two business partners, who firmly believes his actors have (quote) “got their brains between their legs!”  In what are essentially extended cameos, Colleen Brennen (a.k.a. former softcore star, Sharon Kelly) appears as Linda’s rambunctious friend, eager to sample her new man, Bud, whereas Kay Parker, as S.I.P.’s secretary, has a stab at Lance’s lance right atop the desk in Kuntz’ office. 

Scanned in 2K from the original camera negative, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray is, without question, a terrific transfer of an already good-looking film and, to be honest, there are no real issues to speak of.  The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono audio also sounds very good, coming through just fine both in the many fast-paced dialogue scenes and during the – ahem – sexual shenanigans.  Extras are sparse, but the real treat here is an archival audio interview with Friedman conducted by Casey Scott via telephone, which more or less doubles as an audio commentary that lasts the entire length of the feature film! Anyone who’s ever listened to any of the articulate and animated Friedman’s previous interviews and/or commentaries knows full well what a raconteur he is, and this epic interview is no exception.  He begins by discussing the uneasy, game-changing transition from softcore to hardcore product and (quote) “the end of a very nice little business,” even though he had no real moral objections to the shift.  He also talks about the formation of the Adult Film Association of America in 1968 at a Hotel in Kansas City, which also included the owner of Distribpix, Arthur Morowitz and genre director Donn Davis, among others.  Of course, Friedman also has many stories about a number of people in the business, including directors Chris Warfield, John Hayes and producer Dan Cady.  In addition, the legendary sexploitation producer reveals that it was Bill Castleman (his line producer and credited director [as William Allen Castleman] on such Friedman-produced flicks as his sleazy rock-musicians-and-groupies potboiler BUMMER! [1973] and his violent ‘Indian revenge’ actioner JOHNNY FIRECLOUD [1975]) who helped convince him to edge his way into making films that weren’t (quote) “any fun”, at least to Friedman. Fans of his work, on the other hand, may be of a distinctly different opinion!  An original, teaser-type trailer finishes off the extras.

Though produced in the ’80s, at the tail-end of the “porno chic” era, MATINEE IDOL appropriately enough, patterns itself along the lines of Friedman’s heydays in the business and, as such, is a sufficiently engaging film – one which now, more than ever, can be fully appreciated thanks to Vinegar Syndrome’s highly-welcome Blu-ray.  Order it directly from Vinegar Syndrome or DiabolikDVD.