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Blu-Ray Review: Arrow Video’s Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers (Limited Edition)

Years of Lead

Strap in for five wildly brutal Italian crime films (Poliziotteschi) boxed together beautifully by Arrow Video.  The beautiful Blu-Ray set comes with new transfers and hours of extras

The Films

Savage Three

Director Vittorio Salerno’s film lives up to its title.  Savage Three pits three young men against an entire city as they wreak havoc at seemingly random.  To make things all the more chilling these three maintain their cool calm disposition as they plan their next crime with the matter-of-fact tone of planning a night about the town.  The only person in their way appears to be Italy’s answer to Lieutenant Columbo; Commissario Santagà (Enrico Maria Salerno) who slowly and methodically figures out that the random vicious attacks and crimes are not so random.  

Salerno’s film is a nightmare with three psychotics at its center doing whatever they please because nothing matters.  The nihilism on display is necessary without being distasteful for those that love their crime films with a huge side of vicious violence will find this one fascinating.  The film is as icy as they come.

Like Rabid Dogs

The Mario Imperoli film is almost in direct conversation with Savage Three upping everything that film did but adding a political bent to everything.  Three college students are bored by their normal existence and find their thrills, not in drinking or doing drugs but assaulting and killing prostitutes and other “unseemly elements” they feel deserve their comeuppance.  Once the police do figure out who is behind these killings their hobbled by one of the students being a part of an elite Roman family. 

Imperoli’s film is not for the faint at heart as the film features many scenes of sex workers being tortured and killed.  Though the film never fully goes into exploitative scenes of depravity it shows enough for a warning.  The film is as cold and calculating as any crime film that shows the exploits of psychopaths.  Here Imperoli shows us a level of political corruption into the mix that only adds the milieu of the piece.  There aren’t any happy endings here but Like Rabid Dogs is still a thrilling piece of crime thriller mania.

Colt 38 Special Squad

Director Massimo Dellamano feels like the first real true-blue Poliziotteschi of the set.  A group of criminals turned terrorists are holding a city hostage.  In order to combat this elevated criminal group, the police commissioner forms a specialized group; Colt 38 Special Squad.  Named after the massive guns they carry, this group is a fascist shoot first ask questions later.  The fire with fire mentality only emboldens the criminals to go after the police themselves.  

Dellamano keeps the reigns tight on this action thriller.  The film rightly continually ups the ante on each group’s position.  Smartly, the film isn’t all glitz as it is very keenly aware of the cost of the fascist turn the police take.  That sobering turn is only one of many adroit storytelling tricks up this film’s sleeve.  

Highway Racer

Will Farrell.  Once you see it you won’t be able to not see it. 

Highway Racer is a sort of police thriller that takes its action in vehicular form.  This one has a hotshot driver with no smarts whatsoever butting heads with his captain.  As the hotshot driver continues to think speed is the answer to everything a premiere gang of bank robberies continues to pull off perfectly executed heists.  It’s only when the Captain and the Hotshot begin to see eye to eye are they able to take down the group.  

Director Stelvio Massi creates a film that’s all flash and style with a little substance on the side for good measure. But the flash and style without the heavy burden of political thunder is part of its charm.  Of the films in this box set, this is the one that’s an utter delight to watch.  The delight is in the chemistry between leads Maurizio Merli and Giancarlo Sbragia.  Their mentor/mentee relationship is the heart and crux of the film, with the crime element being secondary to the bond that the two men form. 

No, the Case is Happily Resolved 

The setup is Hitchcockian in its simplicity and devilishness.  A man witnesses a murder of a young woman.  The man runs and decides to not go to the police.  The killer instead goes to the police framing the witness for the murder.  

Vittorio Salerno’s second film of the box set is the sort of thriller that maintains its tightly constructed plot until the flatline dead in its tracks ending.  No, The Case is Happily Resolved is a hangman’s noose of a film that at its end cuts the rope. Despite a truly fantastic 108 minutes, the film is ruined by the last 2 minutes.  One wishes that the film had maintained its integrity until the very bitter end.  It could have been a truly unforgettable piece of crime fiction and settles for one a compromised one.    

The Transfers

Arrow Video has restored all five films from the original camera negatives.  It shows as each of the films are beautifully bold transfers, handsome and sharp in detail.  None of the films have any issues or faults.  Minor scratches and blemishes appear on the image in all but are so inconsequential to the massive work done that it can be forgiven. Bravo to Arrow for the amazing work done here to bring each of these films to live on Blu-Ray. 

The Extras 

Arrow has done it again with an amazing box set.

They include the following;

  • Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead, a new visual essay by critic Will Webb exploring the recurring traits and themes of the genre
  • Rat Eat Rat
  • The Savage One
  • When a Murderer Dies
  • It’s Not a Time for Tears
  • Music sampler for Like Rabid Dogs
  • Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes
  • A Tough Guy
  • Archival introduction to Colt 38 Special Squad by Stelvio Cipriani
  • Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead
  • Faster Than a Bullet
  • Mother Justice
  • Alternate ending to No, the Case is Happily Resolved
  • Original trailers for Like Rabid Dogs, Colt 38 Special Squad, and No, the Case is Happily Resolved
  • Poster galleries

DISC ONE

Savage Three 

Rat Eat Rat (40:49) – an archival interview for Camera Obscura from 2017 featuring writer/director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard. The director and actor, filmed separately, recount how they came to be on the project.  Details include Salerno creating the film production company to help people during an economic downfall, how the idea for Savage Three was inspired by real-life incidents of unmotivated acts of violence, the Dallesandro was cast based on his work in the Worhol films, what Dallesandro was like from Brochard’s perspective, the speed in which they shot the films and how it affected the actors, Brochard’s final scene, the infamous rat scene, the real upheaval in Italy at the time, and much more.  In Italian with English Subtitles.  

The Savage One (40:56) – an archival interview for Camera Obscura from 2017 featuring actor Joe Dallesandro.  Dallesandro discusses how he got into acting and was cast in his first film with Paul Morrisey and Andy Warhol who he calls “The Campbell’s Soup Guy”.  Details include the other Morrisey/Warhol films that he was involved with, his falling out with Morrisey and Warhol, his work in Italy, the language barrier, working Salerno on not just Savage Three but other films like The Climber, how many of the stunts and explosions would go wrong in the Italian productions he was involved with, working with Enrico Maria Salerno on Savage Three, working with the other cast and crew on Savage Three, the stunt work in Savage Three, and much more.  Dallesandro is honest to a fault as he details some great details about the work he did in Savage Three and other films.  In English.  

Poster (0:02) – a single poster, which appears to be the original Italian one-sheet. 

Like Rabid Dogs 

When a Murderer Dies (51:57) – an archival interview for Camera Obscura from 2013 featuring cinematographer Romano Albani.  The conversation is guided by film historian Fabio Melelli begins with a brief history of the rarity of the film and how sick Albani was.  Details include discussion of Albani’s beginnings with his father working on film productions, getting hired for commercial work and finally moving into features himself, his work with director Mario Imperoli beyond just Like Rabid Dogs, the censorship still going on but how films like the ones directed by Imperoli go through, the importance of the film in the Poliziotteschi genre and cinema in general, the actual work done in the film by Albani, and much more. This interview is as much a critical look at the film as it is an interview with Albani.  In lieu of a commentary track, this is a vital piece to understanding how important Like Rabid Dogs is. In Italian with English Subtitles.  

It’s not a time for Tears (32:55) – an archival interview for Camera Obscura from 2014 featuring assistant director Claudio Bernabei.  Bernabei discusses his beginnings in experimental theatre in Italy brought him into the work of Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato and others.  Details include his learning on the job, how it was to work with director Mario Imperoli, his recounting of the real-life crimes some of Like Rabid Dogs were based on, the “years of lead” era of political and criminal turmoil, what he specifically did as an AD on the films he worked on, the work in the Futbol stadium, the work on the car chases, and much more.  In Italian with English Subtitles. 

Theatrical Trailer (3:49) 

Music Sampler (6:01) – Two tracks from the musical score by Mario Molino.  The two tracks play over 4 images.

Poster Gallery (0:03) – Three Italian one-sheets that can be navigated through by using your Next Chapter button on your remote.  

DISC TWO

Colt 38 Special Squad 

Introduction to Colt 38 Special Squad by Stelvio Cipriani (0:45) – this archival introduction has the composer playing the opening theme on the piano as he gives a quick intro to the film. In Italian with English Subtitles. 

Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes (25:48) – the archival interview originally produced by NoShame films in 2006 is with composer Stelvio Cipriani.  Cipriani on the piano playing the themes for Colt 38 Special Squad is a great way to start this deep dive into scoring the film. Details include working with Grace Jones and how his work on the film all began, a great story about Ray Charles, the composer discusses how the themes and moral compass of the film dictated the sound of the score along with the staples of Poliziotteschi score, the various scores he composed for the other Poliziotteschi films, how he was hired to do Colt 38 Special Squad, his personal history before he became a composer, and much more.  The best part of the interview is that Cipriani’s constant use of the piano to illustrate points he’s making about Composition.  In Italian with English Subtitles.  

A Tough Guy (9:31) – the archival interview originally produced by NoShame films in 2006 is with editor Antonio Siciliano.  Siciliano discusses how he came to work with Dallamano, the work he did with Dallamano, how they edited some of the action scenes, and how Dallamano framed shots to ensure that the actor was always in frame, and much more.  In Italian with English Subtitles.  

Theatrical Trailer (3:31) 

Poster Gallery (0:04) – four original Italian one sheets for the film that you can navigate through by using your chapter stops buttons on your remote.  

Highway Racer 

Faster Than a Bullet (19:42) – an archival interview for Camera Obscura from 2019 with film historian Roberto Curti on Highway Racer.  Beginning with giving us a historical context for when Highway Race was released in Italy this interview is a fascinating look at the lightest and possibly best film of the set.  Details include the casting of Maurizio Merli and what that casting against type had an impact on the film, the dynamic between Merli and his mentor in the film played by Giancarlo Sbragia, the finale and how it changed after a botched stunt, the themes that the film is discussing, and much more. Curti does a great job of explaining the importance of this film at the time of release.  In Italian with English Subtitles. 

Poster Gallery (0:03) – three original Italian one sheets for the film that you can navigate through by using your chapter stops buttons on your remote.  

DISC THREE

No, the Case is Happily Resolved 

Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead (20:07) – an all-new visual essay from critic Will Webb discussing Poliziotteschi genre and the political and criminal strife and violence that brought this genre to the forefront. Webb does a great job of diving into the clichés, troupes, and history of the genre.  Much of the genre pulled from the pages of the news with terrorist groups, rogue/corrupt politicians, and senseless violence.  Using the five films in the box set as examples of the genre and its evolution to great effect.  In English. 

Mother Justice (40:36) – an archival interview for Camera Obscura from 2015 with writer/director Vittorio Salerno.  Salerno discusses how the project originally titled The Culprit evolved into No, the Case is Happily Resolved.  Details include the script development, how the deal for him to direct came about, the casting of the film, the actual production of the film, technical details like using the Arriflex 35, the untimely passing of Enzo Cerusico, and much more.  There is a great wealth of scenes from the film, other interviews, and behind-the-scenes photos.  In Italian with English Subtitles.

Alternate ending (4:02) – a very different ending.

Theatrical Trailer (3:33) 

Poster Gallery (0:04) – four original Italian one sheets for the film that you can navigate through by using your chapter stops buttons on your remote.  

The Final Thought

Years of Lead is a box set that will delight any fan of the Poliziotteschi genre.  Highest Possible recommendations!

Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray Box Set Years of Lead is out now

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