Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Italian genre filmmaking treads water with A Man Called Magnum, a competent but undemanding police-chase thriller from the late seventies. The NoShame DVD label has been importing scores of Italian horror and crime movies from that decade, proving more or less that the average Italo programmer was on a par with American television work. The main difference is in the setting - instead of generic New York streets as a backdrop the cops patrol for drug-runners in scenic cities like Rome or Naples.
When these pictures reached America they became grind-house fodder, often shorn of nudity so that they could sport an all-ages PG rating. The original title of this particular cop show is Napoli si rebella, which translates as "Naples Turns on Itself." On a 42nd street marquee A Man Called Magnum would read more like a blaxploitation movie.
The draw for Italian audiences was star Luc Merenda, a handsome French actor who made one 0SS 177 spy movie before becoming an Italian staple, often in movies by Sergio Martino, a director well-represented on NoShame DVDs. Merenda can also be seen in smaller roles in Steve McQueen's LeMans and in the international hit Red Sun. A Man Called Magnum shows him working in the trenches of a formulaic underworld saga.
Merenda plays Dario Mauri, a slick detective from northern Italy who no sooner arrives for duty in Naples than a gang war breaks out. A big heroin shipment for the local drug kingpin (Claudio Gora) is waylaid by one of his own lieutenants, starting a string of killings. The crooks responsible assassinate mob squealers and potential police witnesses, usually just as Dario is asking questions. This leads to chases on foot and in Fiat cop cars through the tidy, tourist-friendly streets. These repetitive action scenes come at the rate of at least one per reel and are apparently considered the feature's main attraction. As with his American counterparts, Dario can wreck four or five shiny cop cars without a single reprimand: I'd like for once to see a scene in a police motor pool where officials note that they haven't a single cruiser fit for service.
Dario isn't given much of a character. He's a total workaholic in a job that consists of staring at photos in his office and giving chase to the bad guys. He has no love interest, although the insertion of a nude dope addict into the story gives him an opportunity to dish out a snappy line or two, like "Not now, sweetheart, we can sleep together when you've sobered up." Luc Merenda wears sunglasses well and actually looks good in his flared bell-bottom slacks. I thought Italian fashions were supposed to be ahead of the curve.
All of the real characterization goes to police sergeant Nicola Capece, played by the amusing Enzo Cannavale, another veteran of Italo crime epics. His balding cop is a loudmouthed but loveable soccer fan, always ready to provide a running commentary on his driving skills while plowing his Fiat through vacant lots in pursuit of the villains. The script is too mechanical to generate any real relationships, but Cannavale makes for an okay sidekick, the kind that gets shot once or twice but always comes up smiling.
The bad guys pull off their killings in broad daylight at crowded sports matches and on waterfront docks. Intended to plug leaks and eliminate witnesses, the assassinations are far too public and only make matters worse; somebody needs to tell these guys that they're supposed to be part of an "underworld." The producers collected a variety of suspicious faces (Fernando Murollo, Enrico Maisto) but the script gives them functions and not characters. The final showdown comes because the big cheese underworld czar's eight year-old daughter has been slipping clues to Dario. They come in the form of coded crayon drawings, a highly unlikely ploy considering that in every other way the little girl is not at all precocious.
A Man Called Magnum follows cop-show logic in that every time a dramatic scene might develop, a killing or a guns-drawn standoff takes its place. Luc Merenda is a competent and attractive hero and the picture might be a satisfying shoot-'em-up for undemanding action audiences.
NoShame's DVD of A Man Called Magnum looks snappy in a colorful and clean anamorphic transfer. As the producers make sure that all the action plays out under sunny skies, Naples comes off as one of the stars.
The extras follow the label's tendency toward overkill. It's good that genre pictures get their due but the package text works too hard dropping the name and title of every memorable picture featuring a Magnum star or creative participant. Liner notes contributors Chris D. and Richard Harland Smith do much better placing the movie within a more reasonable context - director Michele Massimo Tarantini is "prosaic" and star Luc Merenda is basically the right hunk in the right place at the right time.
Tarantini is heard in subtitled Italian in a full commentary track, while Merenda comes off well in an overlong interview docu. He remembers the Neopolitans treating him, a Frenchman, with a contempt equal to that reserved for Romans from only a few hundred miles to the north. His most declarative statement about Magnum is that he liked the bright red original poster. All in all, this is an extremely thorough DVD package for such an unexceptional film.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Man Called Magnum rates:
Movie: Good -
Supplements: Director Commentary, Star interview, poster and still gallery, booklet with essays by Chris D. and Richard Harland Smith
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 4, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson