7/27/09

The Grab Bag: Sergio Martino's the Violent Professionals

Argento might have been the artist, Fulci the purveyor of sleaze and filth, and Castellari the master of the action sequence, but there’s a director whose workhorse dedication to film put him in a class all to himself. I’m talking Sergio Martino here. With 63 movies to his name spanning from 1969’s Mondo Sex to 2008’s L'allenatore nel pallone 2, Martino has worked ceaselessly throughout a forty year career. Martino himself once commented on his catalog saying, “My movies are like a soft drink -- sparkling, unaffected products for mass consumption. A soft drink doesn't have the prestige of champagne, of course, but I'd rather have a good soda pop than watered down wine anytime.” While I think this downplays much of his work, there’s truth there. Whether you’re watching Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Giovanna Long Thigh, or Hands of Steel, Martino is going to give you a movie experience that will entertain and sometimes leave you with a big silly grin on your face.

Tonight I’m taking my first look at one of Martino’s Polizia/Crime pictures. He made a number of this kind of film throughout his career. Like many other Italian directors, Martino had no fear of hopping from horror to crime to suspense to western to comedy and back again, and while some efforts are better than others, you can always tell that Sergio had his mind, and often his camera, in just the right place. When I put in the disk for The Violent Professionals (1973) [Italian: Milano trema - la polizia vuole giustizia], I expected to see Martino and star Luc Merenda go through the paces of the genre that I have come to expect from directors like Castellari , Caiano, Girolami, and Lenzi. What I didn’t expect were the special twists and turns Martino and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi built into the story.

Luc Merenda stars as Lt. Giorgio Caneparo, a loose cannon cop who endears himself to me right away by ruthlessly blowing away a couple of escaped convicts turned child killers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t endear himself much to the top brass, but thanks to his Commissioner, he might be spared the brunt of an investigation. However, when the Commissioner is gunned down in the streets, Giorgio is soon given a suspension from the force. Even though he’s been denied his badge, Giorgio is not going to let something like that stop his investigation into the shooting, and he decides to work his way into the underworld to get answers.

He does this just like you think he might. First he picks up a hooker, robs her, and finally waits until the next morning to work over her pimp. He takes over the operation, and soon makes himself a nuisance anywhere he can to try and get to attention of the big bosses. It doesn’t take long before they come calling and Padulo (Richard Conte) comes to hire him to be a driver in a bank heist. Busting up that heist brings him closer to getting his badge back, but no closer to finding out who killed his boss. Using his fists and guns, Giorgio busts his way further and further into the criminal organization until he finds out that money is not their only motivation, they intend to take over the country and destroy democracy.

I know that was a pretty long summation of the story, but it barely scratches the surface of the action contained in The Violent Professionals. This is a film chock full of fistfights, shootouts, and some of the craziest car chases filmed. I always enjoy seeing car chases in Italian films because I love to see people put the pedal to the metal of a Fiat. Those must have been the toughest cars ever made. Not only can they speed along the streets at breakneck speed, they can slam into each other heavily, ram their way through piles of burning crates, and propel themselves down the steepest of inclines and just drive away. This film features some of the best Fiat action I’ve ever seen, and I found it quite strange that the worst car footage comes when Merenda gets behind the wheel of a sports car in a poorly edited segment.

The first experience I had with Luc Merenda was seeing him as a Mexican? Indian? (Hard to say really.) in the Charles Bronson meets samurai western Red Sun, but recently I got my hands on the rare giallo Pensione paura (1977) and enjoyed him as the slimy Rudolfo. (You can check out a full review of that title and many others in the forthcoming Cinema de Bizarre newsletter) I was quite interested in checking him out in a lead role, and I quite liked him. It was interesting to see him go from detective to his undercover persona of a slimy pimp. He had a great hard stare, and while he will never be a Franco Nero or Fabio Testi in my eyes, I found his performance quite enjoyable and engaging. I must mention that I watched this film dubbed, and Merenda’s voice was provided by Michael Forest, a House of Corman veteran who did voiceover work for lots of Italian films.

The other standout performance of the film comes from Richard Conte, better known as Don Barzini to fans of The Godfather (1972). Having seen that film many times, just seeing Conte on the screen instantly made me dislike his character, and then he went on to give me plenty of good reason. Not only does he commands his gang to do despicable acts with no regard for the lives theytake, he is just one slimy little weasel. He also has a knock down drag out fight with Merenda where the much older actor looked like he was holding his own against the younger man.

The Violent Professionals is also greatly enhanced by the score of the De Angelis Brothers. These two fellows, who also provided scores for Yor, The Hunter from the Future (1983), Martino’s At the Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Castellarti’s The Big Racket, are consistently great when it comes to scoring films with action sequences. What Gobin is to Horror, and Morricone is to the Western, the De Angelis Brothers should be to action films. Every piece of music in this film perfectly fit the pace and timing of the feature, and I loved every moment.

The cinematography from frequent Martino collaborator Giancarlo Ferrando is nothing stunning, but it gets the job done and, in the case of the car chases, succeeds in making the moments quite thrilling. Ferrando, it should be noted, worked on many other projects including that trash classic of all time, Troll 2. The main strength of the film comes from the clever scripting of Ernesto Gastaldi. I really did not expect some of the turns the film took, and the idea of a gang having political motivations to reinstall a fascist state in Italy was quite interesting. Gastaldi was also the pen behind some of my other favorite films including Hands of Steel and Forbidden Photos of a Lady Beyond Suspicion as well as many, many more.

After seeing The Violent Professionals, it has only enhanced my desire to go further and further into Sergio Martino’s catalog. I do have to warn folks that I watched this from The Grindhouse Experience Vol 1 boxed set, and the film had a terrible buzz throughout. I was willing to overlook it because I liked the film, but it may well ruin the experience for some viewers. However, if you really like the crime genre or Sergio, then this is one I encourage you to check out. While it may not have been executed with the skill of some of the genre’s directors, the film has enough style and charm to more than make up for it.

Bugg Rating

Here's the trailer, but you can also watch the whole film RIGHT HERE on YouTube and it's legal and everything!

3 comments:

  1. You are dead on in your views on Martino and the De Angelis brothers. I have not seen this, but plan on it. I'm glad it is as good as I hoped it would be.

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  2. Great review. I've wanted to see this, but not had the chance yet. I definitely want to see it even more now.

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  3. I have seen it, and T.L. is right. You guys will enjoy it.

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