Wednesday, July 22, 2020


English-language export press ad-lines: “The intrigue and terror of THE THIRD MAN. The explosive violence of [DAY OF] THE CONDOR. A film you won’t easily forget.

Under its more logical Italian release title of MARK COLPISCE ANCORA (trans: “Mark Strikes Again”), THE .44 SPECIALIST (1976) was promoted as the third (and final) entry in Stelvio Massi’s loosely-connected Marc the Narc trilogy, all of which featured former child actor and fotoromanzi heartthrob/superstar Franco Gasparri (1948-1999) as the titular rogue cop; basically a ‘prettier’ variation of Dirty Harry. In BLOOD, SWEAT AND FEAR (1975), Massi’s first and most successful film of the trilogy, Mark is described by his superiors as (quote) “a man who keeps his hair a bit too long, doesn’t give a damn about discipline and wears a gun in the pocket of his jeans, a bit like Serpico.” In what may be a possible nod to Tomas Milian’s then popular ‘Nico Giraldi’ (also heavily influenced by Serpico’s ‘unique’ look) or ‘Er Monezza’ characterizations, Mark’s ‘undercover’ appearance herein is even more noticeably disheveled with ratty clothes and far-curlier hair, but in an even more inexplicable revision, his surname is also changed from Terzi to Pasti (Patti on Italian prints), a fact which only magnifies this film’s already tenuous connection to the first two entries. So, in light of this film’s distinctive pedigree, it should come as no surprise that THE .44 SPECIALIST works well enough on its own, which turns out to be a fortuitous circumstance for first time viewers of Cineploit’s fine-looking Blu-ray, which turns out to be the first official English-friendly disc release of any Marc the Narc film. 

Set to Stelvio Cipriani’s always-enjoyable urban rhythms, an unidentified member of a passing motorcade is assassinated during the film’s opening credits, but in retaliation, the sniper (Claudio Zucchet) suffers a near-fatal wound. Meanwhile, Mark has been relegated by his superior officer Mantelli (Giampiero Albertini), to (quote) “clean up all the lay-abouts and troublemakers in the district”. Of course, he’d much rather go after the (quote) “big cheeses” heading the entire drug scene instead. After witnessing Mark’s undercover antics at a Roman piazza, German anarchists Paul Henkel (John Steiner) and Olga Kübe (Marcella Michelangeli) hire him to help their injured cohort from the opening (“Did somebody use a Howitzer?!”). However, despite Mantelli’s protestations, Mark embarks into the shadowy, double-dealing world of global terrorism…

In a plot that takes its cue from Sydney Pollack’s THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), Mark finds himself ensnared in a world he knows little about, but with the help of Interpol agents Pappadato (Andrea Aureli) and Chief Altman (John Saxon) he manages – just barely – to weave his way through this secretive world of cat-and-mouse allegiances. Co-penned by Lucio De Caro and returning scribe Dardano Sacchetti (who co-wrote the first film), an attempt is made to expound on the far-reaching and highly powerful links terrorism has with certain shady government agencies. This interesting subplot isn’t given the time to fully develop, though. As Altman, Saxon’s screen time is limited to a few key scenes (thankfully, he dubs his own lines on English language prints), but he provides the film with some of its most interesting dialogue as he sneakily moves through a number of clandestine government bureaus whose motives are never, ever made known. Even as Mark builds a trustworthy rapport with both Paul and Olga, Altman suggests they are merely two cogs in a much bigger machine, which he shrugs-off as a waste of time when he confidently remarks, “Fanatics like them are a dime a dozen! If they didn’t exist, we’d invent them!” Although entertaining just the same, the film stays well within the confines of your standard poliziesco as even Mark, rather naively, demands that these killers (quote) “should be questioned and made to talk!”

In one of the film’s standout scenes (also pinched from Pollack’s aforementioned film), Mark is almost assassinated during a botched meeting in Vienna, but thanks to (quote) “pure chance”, he is luckily spared, which once again proves that people and things can never be trusted. In his continued attempts to bust Paul and Olga, he - rather confusingly - continues to aid and abet this pair of ‘fanatics’ even as they attempt to blow-up a busload of VIP’s from an energy congress. This lands Olga in jail, and Paul, being the psycho that he is, promptly hijacks a commuter train (“From this moment on, this train is my property, ya!”), threatening to kill everyone on board if Olga isn’t released. In spite of his hokey, almost-comical German accent, Steiner is wildly over-the-top as the determined revolutionist whose fanaticism knows no bounds in his quest to (quote) “Destroy ze old way to build ze new!”

Given the film’s scant home video release history (at least for English-speaking viewers, anyway), dedicated Italocrime enthusiasts had to make do with copies from any number of European VHS videocassettes back in the day via either Holland, Greece or, if you were lucky enough to score one, a nice dub from the rare Skyline UK release. Outside of the Italian Cecchi Gori disc, Massi’s film has had even less exposure on DVD, so Cineploit’s English-friendly, all-region Blu-ray is a very welcome edition, indeed. Licensed from Minerva Pictures and sporting a new 2K scan from the original camera negative, Cineploit’s Blu-ray looks excellent, and despite some instances of (quote) “severe chemical damage”, the transfer is nicely-detailed (no DNR here!), with solid black levels and a nice naturalistic color scheme. German, Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks are included, with the Italian track being the most effective, boasting clear dialogue and subtly-nuanced background effects; the English track also sounds solid enough, but is mixed at a lower volume, while the German sounds hollow and canned. Both German and English subtitles are also provided, but for some strange reason, some Blu-ray players (or even Blu-ray drives on a computer) are unable to disable the German subtitles while playing the English version. 

A number of noteworthy and revealing extra features are also included, beginning with Mark, My Father and I (20m10s), an interview with Stelvio’s son Danilo Massi, conducted by Eugenio Ercolani. Having worked alongside his father even as a child, Danilo reminiscences warmly about his father Stelvio, admitting that it was he who (quote) “contaminated” him with his love for cinema. He goes on to talk about much of his early work as a highly-regarded DP and also discusses his hesitance to move into directing. Danilo Massi also happily discusses many of the actors who have worked for his father, including Luc Merenda, Tomas Milian (“A great soul…”), Maurizio Merli (with a particular emphasis on POLIZIOTTO SPRINT [1977], their first collaborative effort), plus Lee J. Cobb (name-brand American guest star of the first two Mark entries), and of course, the late Franco “Mark” Gasparri himself (who died tragically young); it’s a great interview filled with wonderful anecdotes and warm nostalgia, which, quite obviously, comes highly recommended. In Stelvio Cipriani Part 2 ([41m29s] Part 1 was included in Cineploit’s earlier Blu-ray of Luciano Ercoli’s KILLER COP [1975]), Mark Thompson Ashworth interviews the great maestro who enthusiastically discusses (and even demonstrates on his accompanying piano) many of his later Italocrime films, including his groundbreaking score for Stefano Vanzina’s THE EXECUTION SQUAD (1972) and the genesis of his marvelous theme for WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974), as well as much of his other work is also touched-upon, including the origins of the sound of a killer octopus in Ovidio Assonitis’ TENTACLES (1977), and his much-appreciated work on James Cameron’s PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981). Finally, in Iron Commissioners (16m29s), former DP and director Roberto Girometti and Danilo Massi once again talk about Stelvio Massi’s respected stature within the industry and his (quote) “capacity to move the camera, which helped give dynamism to the actors’ performances.” Girometti in particular talks about how some of Massi’s films were (much to the late director’s chagrin) “patched-up for lack of money and time”. Danilo Massi also goes into the production side of things (he served as an assistant director on a number of his father’s films), with a specific focus on his collaborations with Merli and how he considers Massi’s THE IRON COMMISSIONER (1978) the (quote) “least-exciting to make and watch.” A short split-screen restoration demonstration (4m08s) and an extensive photo gallery (7m45s), which includes much of the film’s promotional material and rare behind-the-scenes photos of Massi, conclude the extras. 

Housed in an attractive Mediabook with a nicely-illustrated 26-page booklet, it’s no surprise that most of the text is in German, but it does contain yet another excellent English-language interview with Danilo Massi conducted by the ubiquitous and ever-welcome Eugenio Ercolani. As an added bonus, a special double-sided, fold-out poster featuring the film’s Italian artwork is also included. While it’s certainly not one of Massi’s best efforts, it’s nevertheless an undemanding and enjoyable enough slice of pulp entertainment. And not only that, but Cineploit’s Blu-ray is pretty terrific, so here’s hoping the label (or some other one, perhaps) get around to licensing the first two films in this sadly-underseen trilogy. Order it from DiabolikDVD here or here.

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