Shoot First

Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2

| July 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

Fernando Di Leo movies are hewn from concrete, and they don’t like you. They crash cars. They kidnap our children. They carry knives. And they’ll cut you if you look at them the wrong way and not even think twice about it. These are street-hardened, no nonsense crime pictures, and they come at you hard and fast with razor blades and no warning.

Okay, so maybe that’s all a bit abstract and hyperbolic. I’ll admit that much. But what I’m trying to convey here is the incredible range of possibilities that each new film you watch from writer/director Fernando Di Leo brings with it. Each one’s a mystery. You never know exactly what you’re in for when you put in one you’ve never seen before, but the one thing you do know for sure is that it will be brutally, epically, in-your-face violent. If you can make it through it, you’ll likely have had one of the most cathartic film-viewing experiences of your life. And if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself with a film that’ll stick with you forever (for me: his 1972 gangster flick, Caliber 9).

In fact, with Raro Video’s Blu-ray release of the first Di Leo Italian Crime Collection in January 2012 and the revelation of Caliber 9, Di Leo instantly earned a spot on the shortlist of my personal favorite filmmakers in no small part because of the unwavering intensity characterizing the four films therein. And sure, the intervening months have seen Raro release the Di Leo-penned Young, Violent, Dangerous (1976), the terrific Madness (1980), and a standalone Blu-ray of the never-before-released on home video Shoot First, Die Later. But the one Raro release I’ve been waiting for with proverbial bated breath is this: The Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2.

So I guess the question for me as a reviewer is: now that I’ve experienced Vol. 2 firsthand, does it live up to the hype generated in my head? Well, not quite. It’s nowhere near as point-for-point dead-on as Vol. 1. The films aren’t as strong on the whole, and the inclusion of but three films here instead of the four as featured in Vol. 1 was honestly a bit of a disappointment. But the thing is, we can’t really hold Vol. 2 to the standards set by Vol. 1. It’s not the role of this collection to match the quality of the first in every way. It’s intended to supplement and complement the first volume by the very nature of its standing as the second volume, and in that regard The Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2 performs marvelously.

The first thing to note about this collection is that one of the three films featured is Shoot First, Die Later (Il Poliziotto è Marcio, 1974), which was, as noted above, previously afforded a standalone release. There are no special features included on the standalone release that are not also included on the version in this collection. For that matter, the bulk of the booklet in The Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2 simply reprints the material included in the standalone’s booklet. So just be aware that it will in fact benefit you in no way to pick up both Vol. 2 and the standalone Shoot First. Now, I discussed the film at length in this review, so I won’t go too deep into it here. But suffice it to say that Shoot First, Die Later would have been most welcome among the gritty gangster dramas of Vol. 1.

Naked Violence (I Ragazzi del Massacro, 1969) and Kidnap Syndicate (La Citta Sconvolta. Caccia Spietata ai Rapitori, 1975) account for the remaining pair of films in this collection. The procedural drama Naked Violence follows a cop in search of the mastermind behind the drunken gang rape and murder of a school teacher by her students. The film lets you know right out the gate it means business as the opening scene depicts that inciting event through nightmarish rapid editing and extreme close-ups that’ll either keep you glued to the screen in horror or send you running… in horror. This makes Naked Violence one of the single most difficult Di Leo films to sit through of those I’ve encountered, and that in and of itself might be construed as an endorsement for the picture. After all, you don’t turn to Di Leo for light entertainment.

Finally, Kidnap Syndicate spins a terrific revenge yarn about a motocross mechanic’s search for the people who kidnapped his son. What really prevents this particular picture from standing out as one of Di Leo’s greatest, in addition to the fact that the trajectory of the narrative becomes wholly obvious within the first couple minutes, is that it misses a few too many emotional beats necessary to get us fully invested in the violent climax. And while I readily admit that Kidnap Syndicate is the weakest entry in the set cinematically-speaking, it is the only time I’ve thought to myself while watching a Di Leo film, This is almost fun, actually. It also costars James Mason of all people, and that’s got to be worth something.

The HD transfers of the films in this 3-disc Blu-ray set are unfortunately marred by some obvious deterioration of the original materials and some debris/damage, but they picture is otherwise crisp and vibrant overall with richly saturated colors. To my mind, though, anything lacking in the transfers is more than compensated for by the five supplemental documentaries spread out across the three discs. Additional special features include the Italian and English trailers for Shoot First, Die Later.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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