Director Damiano Damiani helmed a number of interesting films in the 1960s, including A Bullet for the General (El Chuncho, quien sabe?, 1967), one of the best non-Leone Italian Westerns and one with a surprising amount of political content for that genre. In the 1970s his films seemed to have become less ambitious, and while How to Kill a Judge (Perche si uccide un magistrato?, 1974) starts out promising, suggesting some sort of expose about crooked judges tied to the Mafia, the end result is pretty muddled and ultimately routine.
Franco Nero stars as Giacomo Solaris, a movie director whose latest work is a thinly-disguised indictment against a respected Palermo State Prosecutor, Traini (Marco Gugliemi, looking like an Italian Jean Marais), with a look-alike actor in the role of a corrupted church leader gunned downed on his church's front steps in the film's final scene. Solaris's movie is a sensation, fueling popular support against Traini and his alleged ties to organized crime. He's urged by his handlers to sue Solaris and block any further release of the film.
Before he can do that, however, Traini is himself gunned downed in an apparent mob hit and his widow, Antonia (Francoise Fabian), implicates a parking attendant who hated Traini but whom Solaris knows to be innocent. The police suspect one of two mob families, but Solaris isn't so sure of that either; he tries to convince Antonia that her wealthy husband wasn't the falsely-accused civil servant that she believes he had been, in the hopes of clearing the innocent man's name.
How to Kill a Judge is a murky, ultimately unsatisfying meller that starts out well, with interesting scenes from its flamboyant film-within-a-film and suggestions that it's going to explore Italian political corruption head-on. Later, when Solaris questions Antonia about her poor background and how she benefited by pragmatically marrying Traini over a much poorer suitor, she reminds Solaris that he's now profiting from her husband's sensational death. This and a subplot involving newspapermen pouncing on every new development of the controversy hints that the film is going to liken the irresponsibility of journalists and filmmakers like Solaris with the pocket-lining corruption of the very politicians they criticize. Unfortunately, How to Kill a Judge turns into little more than a conventional murder mystery using these components for color and as red herrings.
Beyond that the film has little to offer. Nero is fine but the part is conventional; his occupation never plays a role in the script other than as a means to get it started. Francoise Fabian is very good as the widowed Traini however, and her character arc goes through a wide range of complicated emotions, all of which Fabian pulls off successfully.
Damiani's workmanlike direction rarely rises above the conventional, though his fondness for Sicily and Sicilians (as expressed in the documentary accompanying the feature) is apparent. Riz Ortolani's (Africa addio) score comes alive here and there, but otherwise is similarly routine
Video & Audio
How to Kill a Judge is given another typically fine transfer from Blue Underground, in 16:9 format with a 1.77:1 aspect ratio that approximates its 1.85:1 theatrical release. The image is sharp and colors accurate. The DVD defaults to an Italian mono track with English subtitles though viewers can also select an English mono dubbed version. The Italian version unfortunately uses "dubtitles"; that is, the dialogue is directly transcribed from the English-dubbed version, which creates some awkwardness here and there. The timing of these dubtitles don't always synch up with the Italian dialogue, and in one glaring example, during a telephone conversation, English subtitles appear where in the Italian version no dialogue is heard.
The English-dubbed version is well-acted for such things and it appears (though this reviewer isn't certain) that Franco Nero dubbed his own voice. (Solaris speaks with an Italian accent, while other characters have flat mid-Atlantic accents, though a few of the cops almost have Brooklynese ones, and Antonia's stepson inexplicably speaks with a British accent.) The original English cut was apparently much shorter with much political content removed; these gaps in the dubbing are filled by the Italian track with English subtitles.
Supplements include The Damiani / Nero Connection, a 15-minute spoiler-filled documentary that interviews both director and star. The show is entertaining though they don't talk about the film all that much, preferring to chat about working in Sicily and on others films. The original Italian Trailer and its nearly identical English Trailer counterpart are complete with narration and text.
How to Kill a Judge's promotional materials promise a film that "stands as a startling reflection of Italy's infamous decade of political violence!" but is really just a conventional thriller using political scandal and mob hits as its setting, no more. Blue Underground's handsome presentation and extra features make this a worthwhile rental, however.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.