1/11/10

How to Kill a Judge (1974): Reinhold, Judy, and Dredd Better Watch Out!.

It’s time for another Monday spent basking in Italian cinema. Today, I’ve got something pretty special for you. When I heard the title Perché si uccide un magistrato, or How to Kill a Judge, I was sold on wanting to see it. Then I found out that it starred a golden ‘stached Franco Nero. That pushed it out way over the edge, but what I expected was a straight up polizia type film. I guessed that Nero must be the [pick one: framed/ loose-cannon/ green] cop on a mission to rid [insert Italian city here] of the scourge of [pick one: drugs/ Mafioso/ a surplus of Fiats]. Surprisingly, it was anything but standard. It wasn’t even a polizia though it retains some of the characteristics, and even though it’s packed solid with red herrings, How to Kill a Judge is no giallo. The film actually either is a taut political thriller along the same lines as Manchurian Candidate or The Parallax View.

Franco Nero plays Giacomo Solaris, an up and coming director whose new film has caught him in controversy. In it, a judge is killed because of his close ties to the mob, and there is no mistaking that the character is meant to be Judge Traini (Marco Guglielmi). The Judge and his wife Antonia (Francois Fabian) take offence at the film‘s accusations, and Traini meets with Solaris to tell him that his film will be shut down. Before the judge can make the order, he is killed in a similar fashion to the character in Solaris’ film. Feeling like he had a hand in Traini’s death, Solaris begins to investigate if the murderer was inspired by his film, a calculated mafia hitman, or the act of someone with other unknown motives.

As the film began, I underestimated it a bit. It seemed like the same old song and dance that I’d seen in many films, but this was my first experience with director Damiano Damiani. I was familiar with his name only because he made several films with Franco Nero, but I had never seen either of his most well known films, El chuncho, qien sabe? (A Bullet for the General) or Confessione di un commissario di polizia al procuratore della repubblica (Confessions of a Police Captain). I can assure you that I will be making up for that lacking on both counts. Damiani co-scripted the film, and all the strength that comes from this film can be traced to the solid work put into the plotting. How to Kill a Judge takes the thriller formula and blends it with so much misdirection that you’ll feel like someone was trying to steal your watch. The ending is has a satisfying ‘duh’ feeling without feeling like you’ve been cheated.

Damiani said he wrote the character of Solaris as a director to be an objective force as opposed to the police or mobsters. Damiani showed Solaris’ controversial film as a dreamy Fellini-esque affair (that I would not have wanted to watch), but the film Damiani made eschewed symbolism to show the seamy underbelly of Sicilian law enforcement and the love/hate relationship with crime and the mafia. The character of Solaris was brought to life perfectly by Franco Nero who fit easily into the role of the happening, artistic, rebellious film maker. Nero showed the character’s confidence and worry equally well, and this is the kind of role that speaks to why Nero still enjoys a prolific career.

The film is peppered with interesting supporting players, but the one real drawback of the film was that I nearly needed a scorecard to know who all the players were. Characters drift in and out, some of them with similar names, and until the flock got thinned down a bit it remained a tad baffling. I think it might even have been planned as another piece of misdirection. The players that standout from the crowd are the couple of familiar faces I spotted. Elio Zamut, who was great in Camino’s …Calling All Police Cars and Bloody Payroll, really slimes up the place as a mobbed up Senator, and Francois Fabian looked as lovely in ‘70’s fashions as she did in saloon girl grab in Corbucci’s The Specialist.

While I can forgive the miasma of characters that populate How to Kill a Judge, the part of the film that most disappointed me was the score by Riz Ortolani. His scores for Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park really nail the feeling of films, but Ortolani must have slept though this one. So much of the film played out silently, and the few pieces involved never caught my attention at all. I really could have used the De Angelis brothers working their funky, funky magic on this film, but I suppose that’s not the film that Damiani was intending to make.

While many Italian films can be pointed to as a take-off of another more successful film, How to Kill a Judge feels like a fresh and original story. Even though the film lacks in the action department, Damiani builds mystery and suspense at a breakneck pace, and Nero will pull you into the mystery with him. I will definitely want to see any of the other films that the two of them made together, and I highly recommend checking out How to Kill a Judge for a taste of Italy that provides something a little out of the norm.

Bugg Rating


5 comments:

  1. This has been on my Netflix queue forever with 'very long wait' next to it--with this review I may be tempted to actually purchase it.

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  2. It was the same situation with me. I got tired of waiting for it and asked for it for Christmas, an it just so happened it spilled out of Santa's sack for me. Definitely a good treat.

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  3. Indeed an excellent film! This director has an excellent catalogue of crime films- Confessions of a Police Captain is very sharp, most beautiful wife too. In fact I would say pretty much all his crime films are spot on- if you can get hold of Day Of The Owl that is for me his stand out film. Damiani didnt go for the formula of car chases and fistfights to the extent of his contemporaries but instead made far sharper and tighter plotted eurocrime.

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  4. oo this did come in a 2 disc set with La scorta too didn't it?

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  5. Day of the Owl is one that I would really, really like to see. I have Confessions of a Police Captain so I'll have to make that happen soon. With only one day a week to do Italian film, it's hard to fit them all in.

    Also no this was not a 2 DVD set.

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