Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A predictably violent reworking of the classic film noir Out of the Past, Sergio
Sollima's gangster melodrama is essentially a vehicle for the Charles Bronson / Jill Ireland
acting duo. Some good photography and story surprises are the high points; bad acting and
an overriding sense of gratuitousness eventually do the picture in, like one of hitman Bronson's
Topnotch killer-for-hire Jeff (Charles Bronson) is vacationing in the Carribean with
beautiful model Vanessa (Jill Ireland), when he's involved in a car chase and shootout. A
number of assailants are left dead - but not racecar driver Coogan (Michel Constantin), who
escapes with Vanessa. Back in the states after serving a prison sentence, Jeff tracks down and kills
Coogan in the middle of a road race, only to find out that evidence of the act is in the hands
of crime boss Weber (Telly Savalas), who wishes to force Jeff to join his New Orleans-based
crime syndicate, The Family. Worse, Vanessa still claims fidelity to Jeff, even
though she's now married to Weber. Jeff's only hope is an inside man in Weber's organization,
lawyer Steve (Umberto Orsini). While staying clear of Weber's grasp, Jeff needs to figure out if
Vanessa's playing as straight as she claims she is.
Out of the Past? Is Savant nuts? Well, yes, but not because of this. Like Jeff Markham in
Jacques Tourneur's masterpiece, Sollima's Jeff falls in love with a treacherous woman, not
realizing how deeply she'll entangle him in the affairs of a high-rolling gangster. He tries to
tear himself away, but keeps coming back for more sex and abuse. The abuse factor is about even, as
most of Bronson's sex scenes with his beloved Jill Ireland begin or end with him beating her up
or threatening to kill her. But she squeaks by, passively allowing him to take the fall time and
again. Bronson's sad character eventually gets his vengeance, but the effort takes away his own
will to live. Flashbacks play an important part in the telling of the tale.
Beyond that, there's no comparison. A relentlessly believeable Remy Julienne car chase up front
raises hopes for more action setpieces to follow, but they mostly don't materialize. Sergio
Sollima's direction is fairly standard, his camera zoom-happy and his transitions cheapened with
dull focus-pull tricks to avoid opticals. The picture is fairly lavish for locations, but cheap
on actors. Third lead Savalas is only seen in 3 interiors, probably never left Cinecittá,
and could have phoned-in his colorless turn as the crime kingpin.
Bronson and Ireland were a solid couple and obviously made the most of his boxoffice bankability.
But with few exceptions, from 1970 on every Bronson picture seemed to be made for purely financial
reasons, frequently with Ireland as his co-star. A loner and something of a social grouch from the
get-go, Bronson made few friends but was devoted to his family. Ireland, an actress of limited
range, tends to be the weak link in their duo outings. Bronson can be expressive, even in his later,
'silent squinter' roles, but together they make a pretty poor team. The one potential exception
was 1975's From Noon 'til Three, a satirical/sentimental Western with an excellent Frank Gilroy
script - that was unfortunately ruined by Frank Gilroy's uninspired direction. Ireland and Bronson
are charming in that movie - you can tell in every scene that the story excited them. Elmer Bernstein
and Alan & Marilyn Bergman's touching song seems dedicated to their love.
Not so with Violent City, which believes in its own cynicism only long enough to undercut
itself. The predictable plot isn't very engaging, with too many unsurprising surprise twists.
There is a rather effective end sequence, all the more powerful for being played without music. Ennio
Morricone's growling, prowling main theme expresses an intensity the movie itself never approaches,
and is mainly used for transitions, not action scenes.
Savant's seen La Resa de Conti (The Big Gundown) and was disappointed by the director's
schematic approach to action and general lack of pacing, which are unchanged in his move to the
crime genre. The political center of Gundown, with underdog peasant rebel Tomas Milian wooing
bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef's loyalty away from their rich oppressors, at least made sense. In
Violent City, toothless radical speeches are aired at regular intervals. They're irrelevant
in a film so obviously pandering to the low-end of the action genre.
Anchor Bay gives Violent City a flattering DVD sendoff. The main extra are eight minutes of
scenes cut from the American release, which will immediately make it a must-have for Bronson fans.
These are integrated into the show perfectly, except that they
have no English dialogue, so it's easy to tell when they occur - Bronson suddenly speaks al
Italiana with subtitles. One long restored scene in a Virgin Islands prison has the best fake
spider, or the strangest real spider, Savant's ever seen. Most if not all of the film appears to be
shot in English, so the fact that the there are no English subs to go with the full Italian
and French tracks is not a drawback.
The menus are attractive and creative,
and the extras include a lot of ad material, stills, and a pretty feeble original trailer that uses
several good action angles not seen in the film proper. Also included is one of AB's very good
Blue Underground interview-docus, this one 15 minutes with the personable director Sollima talking
about the filming. It's thoughtfully preceded by a title warning us of its spoiler-laden content.
Excellent talent bios are provided again by Avie Hern. The only possible regret about the attractive
presentation is that the menus are backed by Violent City's main theme. Its introduction in
the film itself becomes an anti-climax, another case of the North by NorthWest menu music
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Violent City rates:
Supplements: interview/docu Shooting Violent City, artwork and stills, talent bios
Packaging: AlphaPak case
Reviewed: March 1, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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