Franco Nero is receiving violence or dishing it out in at least half the scenes of Enzo G. Castellari's cynical saga of an 'ordinary man' who fights back against the underworld. Street Law (original title: Il cittadino si ribella) starts off as a mindless 'borrowing' of the basic concept of Michael Winner's Death Wish and surprises us by developing into a slightly different kind of thriller. A trim commercial product, the film showcases flashy stunt work, bloody special effects and noted beauty Barbara Bach as the concerned girlfriend of a citizen vigilante.
Street Law doesn't seem too encouraging at first, when a string of heinous street crimes reminds us that vicious thugs are running wild in our cities. Death Wish convinced America that New York was overrun with drug-crazed rapists and killers, and this exploitative movie makes it look as if sunny Italy is suffering a crime wave worse than gangland Chicago.
As an Italian version of Charles Bronson Franco Nero overacts in most every scene, and is inadequate in his verbal outbursts against the blasť police inspector (Renzo Palmer, a similarly oafish politico in Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik). The script by Massimo De Rita and Dino Maiuri gives Nero's Carlo Antonelli heaping mouthfuls of ludicrous dialog: "It's not just the money! My male pride has been injured!" The fact that the actors are clearly speaking English does not help the dubbed dialogue sound any more natural. Carlo isn't all that likeable a fellow. When girlfriend Barbara Bach refuses to agree with Carlo's vigilante plans, he hits her hard in the mouth. But he apologizes the next day, sweetly, after Babs has been especially helpful in his crime fighting research.
Street Law's first act follows Death Wish's pointless police interviews and failed personal attempts to penetrate the underworld. Then Carlo gets smart and starts behaving like a crook. He blackmails a thief into divulging a connection with the original three crooks, an illegal gambling operator played by Mickey Knox. Knox leads Carlo to the bad guys. Hiding out like Toshiro Mifune in The Bad Sleep Well, he fakes his own kidnapping and leaves evidence that points to possible police complicity. The inspector has no choice but to shake up the entire underworld, which forces the three villains out of hiding.
That plot wrinkle gives Street Law enough vitality to make the film end more interestingly than it began. In between, director Castellari's sure hand with action scenes enlivens standard beatings, car chases and gun battles. Carlo Carlini's expert camerawork uses handheld POV shots to good advantage. When the bad guys (led by distinguished mug / stunt man Romano Puppo) corner Carlo in a large deserted factory space (of course) the action choreography is not at all bad. Nero still overplays, as seen in his anguished look while rolling down a rather soft-looking dirt hill.
Barbara Bach is flavorless as the regulation girlfriend; if the pair shares an embrace or a kiss it went by too fast to notice. Giancarlo Prete is personable Carlo's reluctant sidekick Tommy. The most successful aspect of the story is Tommy's switch from enemy to friend. The actors overplay the melodrama, but it fits the general pitch of the tale.
Street Law ends just like Death Wish, with Carlo witnessing another outraged citizen shouting that he'll resort to personal vengeance if the cops won't help. Italian genre filmmaking has a high tolerance for imitation.
Blue Underground's presentation of Street Law is a good enhanced transfer of a longer version of the film than that shown in the U.S.; as there is no nudity we assume that some of the violence was toned down for the American cut. The encoding is good and the movie shows no evidence of PAL speed-up; Guido & Maurizio De Angelis' rock songs blast out at high volume whenever a chase begins. The only track encoded is in English.
The director is interviewed by Blue Underground's William Lustig in English on the commentary track and speaks in Italian for a seventeen-minute featurette (with beautifully-composited effects) he shares with Franco Nero. They stick mostly to anecdotes. Castellari smiles as he admits that his picture was cynically positioned to cash in on the high crime rate and terrorist fears in Italy in the early 1970s.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Street Law rates: