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Savant Guest Review:

Confessions of a Police Captain
Summertime Killer
(Double Bill Disc)

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Billed as a Euro-Crime Collection Double Bill, Wild East's latest release brings together two European crime films from the 1970s that have corrupt public servants at the centre of their narratives. Damiano Damiani's masterful Confessions of a Police Captain is a hard-hitting political drama that pulls no punches in its efforts to communicate the idea that the mafia might have enjoyed highly profitable working relationships with high-ranking Italian civil servants during the early 1970s. Antonio Isasi's Summertime Killer is a good quality Spanish-Italian-French co-production that boasts a high action quota and some superb location shoots. Here the mafia call upon a corrupt New York cop to help them solve a pressing problem. All in all, this is a thoughtfully matched and thoroughly entertaining double bill that will delight fans of Euro crime films.

Confessions of a Police Captain
Wild East
1971 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic / 101 m. / Confessione di un commissario di polizia al procuratore della repubblica
Starring Franco Nero, Martin Balsam, Marilu Tolo, Claudio Gora, Arturo Dominici, Michele Gammino, Luciano Lorcas, Giancarlo Pretti, Adolfo Lastretti
Cinematography Claudio Ragona
Production Designer Umberto Turco
Film Editor Antonio Siciliano
Original Music Riz Ortolani
Written by Damiano Damiani, Fulvio Gicca Palli and Salvatore Laurani
Produced by Bruno Turchetto and Mario Montanari
Directed by Damiano Damiani


Police Captain Bonavia (Martin Balsam) arranges the release of a dangerous psychiatric patient, Michele Li Puma (Adolfo Lastretti), who immediately sets out to kill a leading figure in Palermo's construction industry, D'Ambrosio (Luciano Catenachi). A violent gunfight erupts in D'Ambrosio's office when Li Puma finds three machine gun-wielding mafia men waiting for him and the new deputy District Attorney, Traini (Franco Nero), is subsequently sent to investigate the resulting carnage. Traini is seemingly over-reliant on the advice offered to him by his superior, Attorney General Malta (Claudio Gora), and he remains unassertive when pursuing and interviewing D'Ambrosio. Traini proves to be more forceful and resolute when it comes to investigating Bonavia's role in the release of Li Puma. Both men suspect that the other is corrupt and the guarded nature of their exchanges and interactions threatens to obstruct a much-needed investigation into D'Ambrosio's illicit business affairs.

Confessions of a Police Captain is a cop show that plays like a worthy quality drama. The show's brilliantly shot but at times quite disturbing and confusing opening scenes are deliberately opaque. Why is Bonavia visiting an asylum and how is he able to force the release of a dangerous inmate? And why would he want to? When Bonavia covertly tails Li Puma and observes him collecting the weapon and the disguise that he needs for the attack on D'Ambrosio's office before casually electing to retire to the police station in order to await the news of a crime that he has effectively set in motion himself, we're left questioning the police officer's motives. The jury is still out on whether Bonavia is a good guy or a bad guy when it becomes clear that somebody has scuppered his plan by tipping off Li Puma's intended target, which immediately opens up the possibility that an equally corrupt law enforcement officer is working in opposition to Bonavia. Enter stage right the studious jobsworth Traini, who immediately arouses our suspicions by doggedly refusing to issue Bonavia with a warrant for D'Ambrosio's arrest.

In a remarkably brave move - which a) surely indicates the confidence that director Damiano Damiani has in his material here and b) serves to make watching the film the really quite unique and compelling experience that it ultimately is - we're deep into the show's running time before we're able to make any hard and fast decisions concerning Bonavia and Traini's honesty and integrity. Every time we're close to forming an opinion about each man, a new piece of information comes to light that throws that opinion into doubt. There's one thing that we can say with certainty from the start: D'Ambrosio is a thoroughly despicable villain who is capable of orchestrating some particularly heinous crimes. Upsetting flashbacks reveal how he viciously intimidated a brave trade-union leader before having him killed. The way that D'Ambrosio's men then callously deal with a potential witness to that crime is absolutely heartbreaking. In the present day, another witness falls foul of D'Ambrosio's men and is disposed of in an equally awful manner. Damiani doesn't linger on these killings or turn them into action scenes - they're all generally executed extremely quickly and with a minimum of fuss - but the frank and matter of fact manner in which they're presented serves to make them all the more distressing.

Similarly, when Bonavia is called upon to deal with a young but armed thief - who is hiding in an empty building after stealing something from a supermarket - it looks like a Dirty Harry-influenced action interlude is about to unfold. However, Bonavia quickly and casually diffuses the situation with nothing more than stern words and an authoritative slap of the kid's head. Interestingly, a crowd of local citizens turn on the police when Bonavia arrests the confused and desperate youth. Damiani contrasts the kid's arrest for a relatively minor crime with the fact that the show's organized criminals and their corrupt bureaucratic partners are literally getting away with murder and laughing all of the way to the bank without fear of intervention by the law. Many of the scenes that are centred on exposing the links between criminals and public servants are quite talky but they are effectively handled: we learn that several high-ranking and influential civil servants are in cahoots with D'Ambrosio. Furthermore Li Puma's sister (and D'Ambrosio's former lover), Serena (Marilu Tolo of Roy Colt and Winchester Jack and Django Kill), recalls hearing D'Ambrosio discussing the disposal of architects, landowners and other uncooperative individuals. Bonavia simply laughs to himself when he sees a television news report that claims that the Italian police are successfully eradicating the mafia and state corruption.

Given the highly original and unexpected twists and turns that this tale takes, I won't discuss its narrative content any further. Suffice to say, this is a great film that really pulls the rug out from under you a number of times towards its end. The riveting run up to the show's startling denouement is really worth sticking around for. The film boasts a number of clever and unforced false endings that really do stimulate an ever-growing sense of dread and tension. But, in order to experience these astounding cinematic moments you've got to commit to the show from the very beginning. As noted earlier, there's an intentional air of confusion and incredulity built into the film's opening scenes, which can prove to be a little exasperating at first. Also, given that key events from the past are influencing what's happening in the present here, the show features a number of fairly static and exposition-laden scenes that necessarily serve to fill in the detailed back-stories of the show's main characters.

But don't let any of that put you off. The many questions that arise during the puzzling early section of the film are satisfactorily and quite cleverly answered by the show's end. And the exposition-heavy scenes work because a) they also act to chart the increasingly complex relationship that develops between Bonavia and Traini and b) the scenes are brilliantly acted by Martin Balsam (Catch-22, Little Big Man) and Franco Nero (Django, Don't Turn the Other Cheek). Strange as it may sound, watching this show is a little like watching an enigma-laden fantasy film like Malpertuis or Karanlik Sular: finding the answers to Confessions of a Police Captain's perplexing narrative questions makes for a highly satisfying - if at times quite disturbing - cinematic experience, which in turn serves to demand a second, more informed viewing of the film.

The dubbing job on this English language version of the film isn't the best I've ever come across but it would take more than a bit of occasionally mediocre dubbing to sink this film. Damiano Damiani (A Bullet for the General, The Most Beautiful Wife) directed this show in a fairly understated way while also granting it an unrushed but even pace. We're so busy concentrating on the story, marveling at its unexpected plot twists and engaging with its well-drawn characters that it's easy to overlook Claudio Ragona's masterful cinematography. Damiani and Ragona make great use of the widescreen frame here, expertly framing and capturing Umberto Turco's impressively detailed and interestingly coloured set designs. Riz Ortolani's plaintive and at times quite beautiful soundtrack score fits well with the show's downbeat and pessimistic tone. Confessions of a Police Captain surely ranks as one of the best Italian crime films of the 1970s.

Wild East appear to have drawn upon a number of different prints when putting their uncut version of Confessions of a Police Captain together. The presentation's front and end titles come from a fairly scratched and worn source but the picture quality of the main body of the show is excellent bar a few intermittent sequences that have a slightly soft picture quality. There's really very little in the way of print damage present here. The show's sound quality is reasonably good but it remains a little flat sounding in places. Amongst the disc's extra features are a 24 minute interview with Franco Nero in which he talks about the making of the film and an impressively extensive image gallery. The show's dramatic trailers feature a number of spoilers.

Summertime Killer
Wild East
1972 / Colour / 1.85:1 flat / 99 m. / Un verano para matar
Starring Karl Malden, Olivia Hussey, Christopher Mitchum, Raf Vallone, Claudine Auger, Gerard Barray, Gerard Tichy, Ricardo Valle, Jose Nieto
Cinematography Juan Gelpi
Production Designer Juan Alberto
Film Editors Ramon Quadreny and Emilio Rodriguez
Original Music Sergio Bardotti
Written by Reid Buckley, Brian Degas and Sam X. Abarbanel
Produced and Directed by Antonio Isasi


New York, 1952: Young Ray Castor secretly watches from a distance while a group of mafia enforcers execute his father. Twenty years on, Ray (Christopher Mitchum) is a hate-filled killing machine with vengeance on his mind. Mafia chiefs in New York soon realize that they're under attack and they order a corrupt cop, Captain John Kiley (Karl Malden), to resolve the situation. Kiley determines that Lazaro Alfredi (Raf Vallone), who is now posing as a seemingly respectable wine maker in Portugal, will be Ray's next target and he flies out to intercept him. However, things get complicated when the vengeance-seeker decides to up the ante by kidnapping Alfredi's secret daughter, Tania Scarlotti (Olivia Hussey). The hot-headed Alfredi subsequently refuses to cooperate with Kiley, vowing to take care of Ray himself.

Summertime Killer is a near perfect example of early 1970s action-driven exploitation cinema. It really does tick all of the appropriate boxes and more: the mysterious young vengeance-seeker who kills without flinching, the craggy and untrustworthy cop who employs unorthodox methods, the beautiful but initially sassy and reluctant female love interest, hordes of vicious mafia hoods, flashy fast cars, even faster motorbikes, speedboats, a super cool dog that is trained to attack bad guys and a fistful of well choreographed and violent action set pieces. Christopher Mitchum's fairly cool period-bound image (shoulder length hair, stylish sunglasses, hip denims, etc) and the more general fashions, architecture and decor seen in many of the show's location-shot sequences all possess a pleasing early 1970s aesthetic look. Even the show's Luis Enriquez Bacalov-Sergio Bardotti composed title song is a dreamy and thoroughly catchy seventies-style MOR ballad.

Interestingly, a number of sequences found here bring to mind Michael Winner's best films from this period: a revenge-driven hit that takes place on a New York subway car is Death Wish-like in its execution while some highly impressive bits of business involving a scrambler motorbike and the covert staking out of Alfredi's well-guarded mansion share some similarities with scenes from The Mechanic. Indeed, anybody with a liking for the aforementioned Winner films should get a kick out of Summertime Killer's general look, ambience and content. As with The Mechanic, the action in this show unfolds in both the USA and Europe: the film is bookended by scenes set in New York while the action in its mid-section takes place in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. No doubt the extensive location hopping was relatively easy for the show's Spanish, Italian and French co-producers to arrange but it does serve to give the film a fairly classy and exotic sheen and a reasonably expensive look.

The acting on display here is pretty good for the most part, with Raf Vallone (The "Human" Factor, The Italian Job) and Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront) adding some element of gravitas to the proceedings. I tend to associate Karl Malden with his TV work on The Streets of San Francisco and his more mainstream Hollywood output, so it's great to have the iconic actor turning up in something slightly unusual like Summertime Killer. Christopher Mitchum (Big Jake) fares well enough as Ray. Just like the most effective vengeance seekers from the best Spaghetti Westerns, Ray is introduced as an emotionless but focused killing machine. However, he does possess a degree of restraint and a little bit of a conscience: when he pulls up alongside a limo that he suspects Alfredi is riding in, he's perturbed to discover that the rear of the car has blacked-out windows. Ray is clearly itching to draw and unload his gun into the limo's rear seating area but he manages to keep his vengeance-driven bloodlust in check. He instead decides to romance Alfredi's secretary, Michele (Claudine Auger of Thunderball and Bay of Blood), in order to find out more information about his intended target and depictions of their brief courtship provide opportunities for some entertaining enough sight-seeing and trips around town-style montages. The time Ray spends guarding Alfredi's daughter (Olivia Hussey of Jesus of Nazareth) further serves to humanize him.

Summertime Killer is a fairly smart-looking feature. Antonio Isasi's (They Came to Rob Las Vegas) direction and Juan Gelpi's cinematography are perfect for this type of show. The duo's camera placement choices and Gelpi's often quite slick camera moves are consistently good. The show's action scenes flow thick and fast and they tend to be well choreographed. The show boasts a lot of motor vehicle-oriented stunt work - much of it involving Ray on his scrambler motorbike - and this is all very well executed too. One standout scene has Alfredi's armed thugs pursuing Ray on horseback while he tries to navigate his way through a dense forest and ride at high speed over rough ground and through shallow water. A good amount of tension is generated in this sequence and it's a real relief when Ray eventually finds the motorway and makes his escape. A second similarly tense but street and motorway-based chase takes place towards the film's end. Sergio Bardotti's good but quite generic sounding soundtrack score was directed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov and it features some suitably funky instrumental cues. All in all, this show represents something of a treat for fans of Euro action flicks from the 1970s.

This isn't a bad presentation but the print used does sport a number of flecks and scratches and its colours are a little faded in spots. The flat encoding also results in a slightly soft picture quality. The film's sound quality is generally good though it is a little abrasive and crackly in places. The extra features for Summertime Killer include an impressively extensive image gallery.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Confessions of a Police Captain rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good - / Excellent -
Sound: Good
Supplements: An interview with Franco Nero, an image gallery and three trailers

Summertime Killer rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good -
Sound: Good -
Supplements: An image gallery, a trailer and a TV spot

Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 2, 2010

Text © Copyright 2010 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

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