3/15/10

Loaded Guns (1975): Ursula Andress Takes Aim

Last week, on the frequently plugged Sinful Cinema podcast, Rev. Phantom waxed poetic about one of his favorite Euro-crime films, Milano Calibro 9 directed by Fernando Di Leo. I had never seen that film, and somehow, I had never seen a single film from Di Leo, widely hailed as one of the best Italian directors in the crime genre. Running off to the vaulted halls of Netflix, I perused the films available and could not resist 1975’s Colpo in canna a.k.a Loaded Guns. Not only did the synopsis bring to mind Jackie Brown, but it also starred one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen Ursula Andress. At this point in his career, Di Leo wanted to move away from straight Euro-crime and became interested in infusing his films with comedy, and Loaded Guns was his first try at a comic caper.

When Nora Green (Ursula Andress) lands at the Naples airport, she agrees to deliver a letter to a man named Silvera (Woody Strode) in exchange for one hundred dollars. What she doesn’t know is that Silvera is a drug runner and the letter is from infamous assassin The Americano. They try to extract more information, but after learning nothing, they let her go and hunky ex-acrobat Manuel (Marc Porel) saves her. They go to the police, but the buffoonish Commissario Calogero (Lino Banfi) is no help. Nora soon finds herself a pawn in a mob war between Silvera and Don Calo (Aldo Giuffre), but the wily stewardess is much more than she appears. While the mobs are busy fighting with each other over a shipment of drugs, Nora is making a plan to outsmart all of them.

Since I haven’t seen any of Di Leo’s other work, then I won’t be able to compare Loaded Guns to any of his other films. In a way, I wish I did have that perspective, but it might be an advantage to be able to look at Di Leo’s first attempt at a comic film and judge it on its own merits. Often I find foreign comedies feel impenetrable because cultural references fall flat once they are translated (or they don’t mean anything to an audience separated by a continent and 20 years) or the style of comedy is either too nuanced or too broad. I was relieved to find out that wasn’t the case with this film. Di Leo keeps the humor situational, and even the broad strokes, such as when a man on a toilet ends up on the hood of a car during a chase scene, end up coming off funny rather than pointlessly zany. There’s a good mixture of sight gags, verbal humor, and slapstick humor to keep the film entertaining. Now I can’t say this is the best comedy caper film that I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the better foreign comedies that I’ve seen.

Now you can’t have a comic caper without a crime, and that’s where this film really shines. For the first twenty or thirty minutes, I thought I was going to get a straight crime flick. Ms. Andress gets off the plane, delivers the message, and Woody Strode’s poorly dressed goons beat the crap out of her. What a way to start a comedy, right? The film is equally balanced between action and comedy, and there are a few good fistfights, some gunplay, and the aforementioned comic car chase to keep the pulse pounding. If that doesn’t get your heart racing then just wait about five minutes and Ms. Andress is sure to slip out of her clothes. That’s right you’ve get action, comedy, and an Ursula Andress getting completely naked over and over. What is there not to like?

Well, some things definitely could have used some work. Other than Ursula’s character, Nora, I had a hard time keeping up with who everybody was and which goon was working for whom. There’s a twist near the middle of the film that clears things up a bit, but it’s still a little murky for a movie that follows the Yojimbo/ Fistful of Dollars model. This should have been straightforward, but Di Leo has too many characters involved and most of them don’t enter into or effect the main plot. It also could have used a tighter edit. It comes in at a solid hour and thirty, but with just 5 or ten minutes cut out of the film, it could have been much peppier. My last complaint is the music by composer Luis Bacalov. Many people that I trust have lauded Bacalov’s scores for Di Leo’s Euro-crime films, but I don’t think he had the same sure hand when it came to comedy. The score sounds like rejected tracks from the Benny Hill show, and they seem intended to make sure the audience knows that they’re watching a comedy. I think the satire of the crime genre that Di Leo seemed to be striving for would have benefited from a straight score and let the comedy talk for itself.

I’ve been rambling on for a while now, and I haven’t even gotten around to talking about the main actors in the film. Italian film regular Woody Strode only appears a couple of times, but I found him as entertaining to watch as always. He especially shines in the comic throw down between the two mobs where he slaps people around left and right. Notice that I didn’t say hit; I said slap. It may seem silly, but I can tell you that wouldn’t want Mr. Strode to slap me. Marc Porel (Don’t Torture a Ducking, Live Like a Cop Die Like a Man) really doesn’t have much of a character, but I found it interesting that he just seems to be there to provide beefcake for Ms. Andress to use as she pleases. The last actor I have to mention is Italian comedian Lino Banfi. He pulls double duty as the Commissioner and his twin brother the crazy cab driver. Banfi is responsible for a lot of the humor in the film, and I give him a lot of credit for keeping the jokes rolling without ever forcing it.

Now I know that if I didn’t take some time to talk about Ursula Andress then you folks would wonder who wrote this and what they’ve done with the Bugg. This film was made 13 years after she left an indelible mark on teenage boys around the world by emerging from an ocean wearing a white bikini in Dr. No, but for my money, she was better looking here than in her adventure with Mr. Bond. Ms. Andress was 41 years old, but contrary to what one of the crew said in the documentary that accompanied the film, she did not seem “over the hill” or “past her prime.” From head to toe (and trust you get to check out all locations in between), Andress proves once again that she is surely one of the top beauties of the screen. Apart from being very beautiful, she also gives a great performance that was quite against the grain of ‘70’s Italy. Nora is one tough customer, and she is not beyond taking what she wants be it a man or money. Di Leo gives the character all the traits of the masculine counterparts that had appeared in his crime films, and it was nice to see a woman in a Euro-crime film that was neither marginalized nor victimized.

This might have been my first experience with Fernando Di Leo’s films, but it surely will not be the last. I’m very interested to see the crime films that came before as well as how he grew as a comic director in his following films. It will be interesting to see what my opinion of this film would be when I catch a few more, but for now, I’ll say that this is an average caper comedy that benefits from a strong female lead and a good balance between the laughs and thrills. Fans of Euro-crime should definitely give this one a look, and if you’ve ever wondered what Ursula Andress looked like under that white bikini, then this is positively the film for you.

Bugg Rating

14 comments:

  1. I've noticed this on Netflix as well, but have not--and probably won't check it out (now). I just can't see Di Leo doing a comedy, but then Italian comedies are hit and mostly miss for me. His straight forward crime films are where it's at.

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  2. This is a horrible movie, imo. The Italian R2 DVD has an English dub and a detailed documentary on its making. This was part of Di Leo's second trilogy of movies the other two being NICK, THE STING (1975) and RULERS OF THE CITY (1976) co-starring Jack Palance.

    His first trilogy consisted of MILAN CALIBER 9 (1972), MANHUNT (1972) and THE BOSS (1973). He was a controversial director and his political style reminds me of Damiano Damiani. SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER and KIDNAP SYNDICATE are also recommended.

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  3. sort of agree with venoms5- well on the last bit anyway- the damiani comparison is valid, I wouldnt go as far as saying this was horrible but certainly far from DiLeo's best.

    Oh and I am glad someone brought up Damiani's crime films cos they rock and they provide plenty of food for thought.

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  4. The only good thing I can honestly say about the film is the plethora of nude shots of Andress. Maybe horrible is a bit harsh, but when you go from such classics as his earlier pictures to this, it is kind of jarring to say the least.

    I assume the reason Di Leo made this movie had something to do with the hot water he found himself in after the controversy surround THE BOSS (1973) and SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1975). I can't recall if he addresses his reasoning in the LOADED GUN doc or not. Might have to check it out again to see. I do recall that some behind the film were not happy about Andress being in the movie, preferring to go for someone younger.

    Nigel, I absolutely love Damiani's work. I have talked about him extensively in my own articles on Italian crime pictures. He's a criminally underrated director, at least in this country.

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  5. can you post up a few links for the articles venoms5,I d love to read some stuff on Damiani- I mean to write a review before long for Day Of The Owl btw - like Most Beautiful Wife I think there is something great about these strong female characters not willing to back down when faced with a bullying mob.

    I must confess, though I have seen all his crime films my only other exposure to the guy is with bullet for the general- id really like to see more of his work

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  6. The first briefly talks about Damiani and the political crime films. The second is about Damiani and Mafia movies. The third is strictly about Di Leo leading into the 'Violent Cop' movies which will entail part 4. If you're interested, one of the genre specific sidebars to the right at my site contains crime movie reviews as well as a link for Maurizio Merli films I've gotten up so far. I would be most anxious to read your review for DAY OF THE OWL. I've not seen it, but do want to some day. It's hard to believe Damiani later directed AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION.

    Italian Crime Overview 1

    Italian Crime Overview 2

    Italian Crime Overview 3

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  7. @ Rev, having not seen any of his crime films, I can't comment, but I think you'd enjoy this one. As I said, not the typical Italian farce.

    @venom 5- On The doc on the disk of Loaded Gun that I watched, Di Leo specifically said he was interested in going in a comic direction because he felt that doing straight crime films are getting dull for him. I only thought this was average overall (hence 2.5 buggs), but I can't agree that its a travesty of epic proportions. Maybe once I've seen his other pictures I'll feel different, but I liked it. What can I say, to each his own.

    @Nigel- Thanks for commenting, chap.

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  8. Hi TL, yeah I tend to pounce on the Italian posts in my blogroll ;-)

    Looking forward to the Martino podcast- and errr Shutter Island on the weekend,

    anyhow if you are gonna explore diLeo further than the Rev is onto something with Calibro 9- and for a non crime film how about To Be Twenty- that one is a real surprise.

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  9. Next time I place an order with CdB, Milano Calibro 9 is definitely on my list. I was impressed with this one, but in many ways I am an Andress apologist. So it won't come as a surprise that my featured review on the Martino episode will be Cannibal God.

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  10. As bad as a movie that is, the fem is definitely a steamy choice. Cool blog!


    Jesse
    http://jesseacohen.blogspot.com/

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  11. Anyone want to offer any recommendations for where to stat with Damiano Damiani's work? Sounds interesting.

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  12. Hi Dfordoom.

    For Damiani I guess the easiest place to start is with the easiest to get hold of.

    So I guess that would be the wonderful little Western Bullet For The General (it's a bit of a favourite of my wife that one)

    TL Bugg has already reviewed How To Kill A Judge-
    http://www.thelightningbugslair.com/2010/01/how-to-kill-judge-1974-reinhold-judy.html

    Most Beautful Wife is on sale on amazon but the price is shocking.

    Confessions of a Police Captain is available too.

    I have pretty much enjoyed all the Damiani crime films I have seen

    so also available if you look about and not adverse to downloading is Day Of The Owl, The Pizza Connection, Man On His Knees and The Bodyguard oooh and Goodbye and Amen.

    I will be spending a little time in the next while to rewatch and review Damiani's crime films and Bullet For The General is a western I return to quite frequently so will no doubt write something on that,

    The articles by venoms5 are incredibly well researched and give a great introduction

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  13. I've just ordered a copy of A Bullet for the General.

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  14. I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills

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