Street Law AKA Il Cittadino si rubella (1974)
R0 - America - Blue Underground
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (16th September 2006).
The Film

“Street Law” opens with a violent montage of events, which is a quite typical way in many Italian “Polizia”-films of showing that crime has taken over the city (this time Genoa, where the exteriors are also filmed) and everything from purse snatching and robberies to wild shootings and cold blooded killings are now a harsh reality. In this chaotic state of the city, a regular man, Carlo (Franco Nero), walks into a bank - in broad daylight - with some hard earned cash in his hands. What he doesn´t know is that the bank is about to be robbed by three hoodlums, who storm in with guns waving and with a very vicious attitude. This is the start of the chain of events which turns the common citizen into the vengeful vigilante, and at the same time leads to the path where one has to look deep into his soul and study issues like self-respect and pride as a man. What´ll it take before the man has simply “had enough”? When does the choice of action turn to becoming a duty? With Carlo, the following is enough; hoodlums see that Carlo is trying to save his money from the counter, so they rough him up, and finally take him as a hostage. The frustration of the robbers mounts up in the car, where Carlo is really beaten and left to suffer and where the police finally find him. The final nail in the coffin is the attitude of the police, lead by the Police Inspector (Renzo Palmer). Certain hints that Carlo himself was the one that made the criminals act like they did and general disparagement of the situation are making him furious, and also very disappointed. Carlo´s fiancée Barbara (Barbara Bach) is trying to calm him down and steer his thoughts in another direction, but to no avail. It´s like the faces of his tormentors are burned into his iris, so Carlo has to get even, one way or another. He plans to use the known petty thief Tommy (Giancarlo Pret) to lure the men out in the open, but that could be dangerous, for the both of them…

Director Enzo G. Castellari and actor Franco Nero were a tight and productive team from the 1970s. It all started with “High Crime AKA La Polizia incrimina la legge assolve (1973)”, and ended (so far!) in a (mini) TV-series such as “The Return of Sandokan AKA Il Ritorno di Sandokan (1996)”, “Deserto di fuoco (1997)”, and “Gli Angeli dell'isola verde (2001)”. In between the 10 films/series that they did together was also e.g. the western masterpiece “Keoma (1976)” and the solid “Day of the Cobra AKA Il Giorno del Cobra (1980)”. Most of their collaborations are well regarded amongst the fans, and Castellari is definitely one of the great Italian directors when it comes to the Polizia-genre. His style is seen on “Street Law” also; tight and fast action sequences and car chases - spiced with some Peckinpah -style slow motion, a very strong lead character with proper emotions, and intense, in-your-face storytelling. Even when the back cover mentions “Death Wish (1974)” and I already used the expression “vigilante” earlier in my review, “Street Law” is not really copying those type of films, and based on Castellari it seems to be more inspired by the real events that happened in Italy during that time - meaning the violence and average citizens frustrated about it (several events during the opening montage were taken from the news articles). Carlo is not Paul Kersey, gunning down every criminal in his path in the dark alleys, he´s more like a rookie detective, who after the violent events is making a plan and spreading a trap for the criminals - ready to close it when the time is right. Vengeance is of course there, but it´s the sum of many aspects why the story leads to the violent confrontation; originally Carlo probably just wanted to find the criminals and let the police do the rest. Unfortunately, in this case the police are not exactly “friends”.

In the end, “Street Law” feels very much like a Spaghetti western, where the peaceful natured hero is put up against the wall, and he does what has to be done. He goes down and is beaten, but eventually that´s only making him stronger, more determined. Hero has also a companion, Tommy, who adds a certain humour and is eventually pretty much the only friend to whom the hero could trust. It´s almost like a no-brainer to say that the “hero”, actor Franco Nero, is the driving force of the film, and you´ve just got admire his ability to deliver emotions from all ranges of the spectrum. Nero is one of those actors who can really act without saying a word, which is something that actors like Robert De Niro can do superbly when the movie and part is right from them. Nero is always present, always there for the audience, and you really feel for Carlo in the movie - thanks to his performance. There´s also plenty of running, jumping, rolling in the mud and water, dodging the bullets, and - since Nero likes to do certain stunts by himself - it really pays off in several scenes: they feel real. And of course - could you take any close-up of Franco and his deep blue eyes and say that this man isn´t full of charisma and screen presence? Impossible. Giancarlo Pret is more like a standard character in these type of movies (he even looks the same as many others in similar parts), but does a fairly good job. He quite successfully combines this “petty thief, but a very nice guy underneath”-attitude. Ex-Bond girl Barbara Bach on the other hand is the weakest link in the movie. Not necessarily that she is a bad actress, but more that her character is rather poorly written, and doesn´t add any real qualities to the film that her character could´ve brought. Bach is merely in the movie to bring some female beauty, and that of course she delivers. You could also question how much momentum the film loses when the powerful opening and introduction to the story moves to show a rather long development of the plan that Carlo has in mind and building the relationship between him and Tommy. All this is of course important story-wise, but it could´ve been a bit more tighter and faster, since this middle part - if you will, differs from the rest of the film. “Street Law” is still a very good and recommended crime-film, and Castellari has done a good job of picking the locations to the most important scenes. They´re not pretty, far from it, but highly atmospheric for the film of this nature. I also have to point out the great score by composing brothers Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis. Even when the score can be a bit repetitive (it´s pretty much just two songs in a slightly different versions), “Goodbye My Friend” and “Drivin' All Around” are something that suits the move very well, and compels you to search out the original soundtrack.

Video

The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.85:1, and it looks mostly fine. Sure, there are some grain-issues (mostly in certain darker scenes) and the colours aren´t always that consistent (sometimes they look strong, and sometimes a bit flat), but these are probably due to the original source more than the DVD presentation itself (Lustig confirms, in the audio commentary, that the transfer comes from the original negatives). The clean print has only a few scenes with minor print damage, and black levels are fairly strong. Some edge enhancement can be seen, but quite frankly it didn´t bother me that much. It has to be added that some interiors of the film (like Carlo´s office) tend to look quite boring and they don´t have that certain vivid and colourful feel like many times with e.g. Giallos. The “dual layer” disc is coded “R0”, and the fully uncut European print runs 103:24 minutes (NTSC). After the end credits the film has approx. 1,5 minutes of “black” with music. There are 23 chapters.

Audio

As usual with “Blue Underground”, the only track is English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, and there are no subtitles (a couple of scenes with Italian text on the screen have “forced” English subtitles). Fortunately, Franco Nero has also dubbed his dialogue in the English track himself, so it´s a very good way to see the film (no question, Italian track would´ve been also nice to have). I actually liked very much the slightly broken English that Franco had, and when a sensitive and frustrated character like Carlo is in the movie, it actually works better than some 100% “yank dialogue”. Technically, the track has some minor “hiss” in the background, but in the end it´s fairly clean. You probably have to turn the audio “up” in some dialogue scenes compared to action and especially music, but I didn´t hear any real problems with audio.

Extras

The main extra on the disc is the audio commentary with director Enzo G. Castellari, featuring his son Andrea Girolami (who has served as an assistant director to his father, and mentions a short film he just did in that time). The track is moderated by William Lustig, the head honcho of “Blue Underground” and the director of e.g. “Maniac (1980)” and “Maniac Cop (1988)”. They all speak English, and the commentary was recorded in 2004 in Rome. The track is very laid back and often more like a couple of guys talking movies rather than what is always happening on the screen. Castellari (he speaks a bit broken English, but his stories are always understood) speaks about the actors (praising Franco, and telling a story how he got him on “High Crime”, and started their collaboration and also friendship), locations in Genoa, car and stunt scenes, the Polizia-genre, his influences (American films), and gives a couple of anecdotes along the way. He also speaks about the other actors he worked with during the years, a very mixed up group (e.g. Jack Palance, Fred Williamson, Lou Ferrigno, Bud Spencer, Vic Morrow - even Philip Michael Thomas), and about “The Last Shark AKA L'Ultimo squalo (1981)”, which infamously got pulled from distribution, when Universal won the lawsuit (they claimed it copied “Jaws (1975)”). Also based on Castellari, “Death Wish (1974)” came right after this film (they were made in the same year). He also points out that one shot near the end (where the actor´s face is slammed through the windows) was cut, and I assume that this was before the film opened in Italy (apparently it was cut from the negatives). I´m not fully sure if that shot is included in the DVD-release. Lustig is perhaps not the ideal moderator, and sometimes gets a bit too excited and interrupts Castellari (he doesn´t mind, though), but on the other hand he understands certain issues better when it comes to directing and technical issues, since he has been in that chair himself and now in the company that´s remastering older films. Lustig is clearly a fan, and doesn´t hide it. It´s nice to hear Castellari in such a good spirit, and I´m only hoping that he and Franco will make at least one more movie together, both surely has some spirit left to do that.

“Laying Down the Law” -featurette runs 17:28 minutes, and is in Italian (with optional English subtitles). In this featurette both Castellari and Nero are being interviewed, and this is a very good companion piece to the commentary (similar issues are of course being discussed, but these are still different since you hear from Franco also). Castellari explains how he first got in touch with Nero via his hairdresser (!), and Nero tells how he first heard some bad rumours about Castellari via other directors, so that made him convinced that he had to work with him. Both commentary and featurette explains that Castellari´s films from that era (at least many of them) were shot in English, which means that although both Italian and English tracks were usually dubbed, lip movement of the main actors follows the English dialogue. It´s also interesting to hear how some people called Castellari a “right wing extremist” after the film due to the vigilante theme, an issue that is occasionally connected to 1970s Polizia-films more generally also. These interviews also show that their respect to each other is mutual.

US theatrical trailer runs 3:25 minutes, and US TV-spot 32 seconds, rounding up the extras.

Overall

Another very welcomed release by “Blue Underground” from one of the most gifted duo from the Italian crime films, Enzo G. Castellari and Franco Nero. “Street Law” is full of action and a fair share of violence, but it´s also a film that has intelligence and emotions (just look at the ending scenes). Fans can´t miss this.

This DVD is available at Xploited Cinema.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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