Released the same year as Michael Winner's Death Wish, the film that made Charles Bronson a house hold name worldwide, Enzo G. Castellari's Street Law also known as Vigilante II, is yet another tale of a common man pushed too far by criminals who gets fed up with waiting for the police to do something about it.
An engineer named Carlo Antonelli (Franco Nero of The Fifth Cord and Django) is in line at the post office one day. A trio of armed thugs make their way in and rob the place at gun point, kicking Carlo in the chest and taking him hostage to ensure they can get away safely. As they travel to their hide out, they pistol whip him and leave him bleeding and beaten in the mud. He goes to the cops, but when he's unable to pick them out of a series of mug-shots, they more or less send him on his way which only serves to infuriate him even more. He tells his girlfriend, Barbara (Barbara Bach of Black Belly Of The Tarantula and The Spy Who Loved Me), that he intends to make them pay for what they did to him as the cops are useless and don't care what happens to the every man.
Now completely and thoroughly pissed off at the world, Carlo hits the seedier side of town looking for the thugs who beat his body and shattered his pride. He meets with some understandable resistance when poking around in places he probably shouldn't be but soon formulates a plan wherein he's able to blackmail a small time thug named Tommy (Giancarlo Prete of Castellari's later post-nuke films, The New Barbarians and Bronx Warriors 2) into helping him get some weapons and find the men he's looking for. Tommy resists, but Carlo is persistent and he has ways of making him work for him as he prepares to launch a one man war on the thugs who set him off in the first place.
The comparisons to Death Wish are inevitable and completely warranted, but Castellari's film is hardly a rip off of Winner's even if there probably is some influence. Carlo's mission is more focused than Paul Kersey's, and although both men snap and end up taking the law into their own hands, Kersey goes it alone where as Carlo enlists the aid of a crook he eventually befriends and hopes to reform. Both films have a similarly bleak view of the world, and the police specifically who are portrayed as inept and uncaring. Castellari infuses some politics into the action, showing us newspaper headlines and hitting us more than one with an 'Italy Revolt' headline or two which serves as some nice foreshadowing to what is to come.
While Barbara Bach, who shares top billing on the DVD case alongside Nero's credit, is more or less disposable in her roll (she looks cute but adds very little to the movie), Nero is absolutely great in his part. He chews through the scenery with a stone cold stare, a look of absolute and fierce determination in those steely blue eyes of his. He is a man completely obsessed with vengeance, willing to kill to get the revenge he wants and made all the more furious by the police indifference he runs up against before ultimately finding his own solution to the problem in the form of a sawed off shotgun and some buckshot.
Castellari directs Street Law with loads of style, going from some slick camera movements through an office to some Peckinpah styled slow motions action sequences with ease. There are no pacing problems here, even at an hour and forty minutes it's a lean film with very little fat to trim. The finale in the warehouse and the scene in which Nero runs from a hood behind the wheel of a Mustang stand out as some truly intense moments in a film that starts with a bang and ends with a slaughter. Squibs blow out in bloody red chunks, bullets whip through the air, cars squeal as they make hairpin turns and Nero just gets angrier and angrier until he finally explodes. While Castellari would top himself in the genre with The Big Racket two years after Street Law, this one comes damn close in terms of quality, excitement and intensity.
Worth noting is that this is the full and uncut version of the film. When it was previously released by Vid America on VHS in the US, it ran seventy-seven minutes and was shy of almost twenty four minutes of material. As such, a lot of the character development and plot details suffered. While it would have been ideal for Blue Underground to provide us with a way to watch either cut of the film, the full version on this DVD is superior in that the story makes more sense and the motivations for Nero's character are stronger.
Street Law comes to NTSC DVD in a nice progressive scan 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors look nice and bold throughout, the black levels stay strong and deep from start to finish, and the flesh tones look lifelike and natural. There is some mild edge enhancement present in a few scenes and some line shimmering in the usual places like on the front of a car grill or along the sides of a building but there aren't any mpeg compression artifacts worth noting nor is there much in the way of print damage aside from the odd speck or two – the image is consistently clean and very nice looking throughout. Some mild grain is present as is the odd scratch here and there, but that's to be expected. Overall, the film looks really good on this DVD. The image isn't flawless, but for an older low budget action movie, it holds up well.
This one hits DVD in a dubbed Dolby Digital English language mix. Quality of the mix should please most fans. Anyone familiar with Euro-cult films of this era knows that sometimes the dubs are a little wonky and that the lips don't always match the performers but that's sometimes half the fun of these films though this time out Franco Nero does his own dubbing, which makes this English language track a pretty decent way to enjoy the film. Dialogue is clean and clear, there aren't any problems with serious hiss or distortion and the levels are balanced properly. There's a bit of mild background hiss in one or two spots but it's so mild that it's really never an issue and the score sounds quite good as well.
Blue Underground treats us to a couple of solid extra features starting with a commentary track featuring Enzo Castellari and his son, moderated by David Gregory of Blue Underground. Castellari's memory is sharp and he isn't afraid to talk up his film or his leading man as he hits us with a few anecdotes about working with Nero, shooting on location, and a few of the themes that the movie deals with both socially and politically. He tells about casting the movie, some of the shot sets up, and some of the action set pieces and he comes across as a genuinely likeable guy with a sincere passion for filmmaking.
Also well worth checking out for fans of the film is a seventeen minute featurette entitled Laying Down The Law in which Castellari and Nero, interviewed separately, trace the origins of Street Crime from the time of their first Polizia collaboration, High Crime to this later effort. Castellari explains some of the politics behind the movie, how it was a reflection of the Italy of the time, and Nero talks about having to do some of the action scenes and some of his character's motivations. Both men speak quite admirably of one another and seem to have fond memories of the film.
Rounding out the extra features are a television spot, the film's original theatrical trailer, some basic menus, and chapter selection. No still gallery is included.
Street Law is a fantastic Italian crime filler with some great action set pieces, plenty of tension, and an ass kicking performance from Franco Nero. Castellari shows his flair for directing action in a few stand out scenes and the movie holds up well. Blue Underground's DVD looks and sounds pretty good and the commentary and documentary are a really nice touch. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.