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American audiences of the 1960s and 1970s did not have access to most European movies. One could see prestigious Art Films and occasional shows with big stars like Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, but usually only in specialized theaters in big cities. The studios imported a number of European westerns but only a few crime films were given high-profile releases in the States. The French gangster tale Borsalino with Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo comes to mind. France, Germany and Italy turned out hundreds of gangster and police films per year. These shows were dubbed for distribution in other European markets, but Hollywood's Variety rarely deemed them suitable for import. "Of local interest only" is a familiar phrase from the frequently dismissive reviews.
Most foreign crime pictures released here on DVD disc have mostly come from Italy. Mya's new DVD demonstrates that the Italian film market had an insatiable appetite for crime thrillers. Ransom Baby is actually a modest Greek production from 1973, released in Italy three years later under a new ad campaign. A caper film pitting ruthless political criminals against dedicated policemen, Ransom Baby is a Greek imitation of the Italian style, mixing serious elements with sex content that could be edited out for territories with strict censorship. The version on view has an Italian dialogue track.
The storyline offers as much sensation as the filmmakers can muster on a lean budget. Casino employee George Evans engages in a torrid affair with Cristina (Sasa Kastoura), and helps her robbery scheme by providing plans for the casino's security system. In actuality, Cristina is the ringleader of a group of radical terrorists that fund their activities by pulling off major robberies. The heist goes well, but fast work on the part of police Inspector Fred Hillman (Lakis Komininos, aka Larry Daniels) nabs Intellectual Alex Baumann (Zoras Tsapelis) in the airport, carrying much of the loot hidden in packs of cigarettes. Cristina changes hideouts, but one of her gang finks to the cops, resulting in more murders. Frustrated, the gang tries another tactic: kidnapping Fred's young toddler Alessandro. The incompetent hoods bungle the job and murder the Inspector's wife. Hot for vengeance, HIllman throws the rules aside to get his boy back and make the criminals pay.
Ransom Baby is a one-man creative operation from Greek filmmaker Pavlos Fillippou, a jack-of-all-trades who began as a cameraman in the late 1950s. He was soon producing, writing and directing his own pictures for local consumption. Fillipou's most familiar title in the U.S. is 1977's Black Aphrodite (Mavri Afroditi), starring transsexual actress Ajita Wilson and the cult actress Annik Borel (Werewolf Woman, Prison Girls 3D). Leading man Lakis Komninos had starred in more than one Fillipou thriller, including the previous year's The Abductors (Ekviastai).
Exciting artwork created for the film's Italian release promises a machine gun battle and an exciting car chase, but the action in the film is mostly unmemorable, with confusing cutting and dull angles. The production uses an airport as a major location and also may have filmed in real police facilities. Unimpressive settings elsewhere show the budget constraints. We're given a very limited view of what is supposed to be a thriving casino. Cristina's lavish sports car (with Rome license plates) enters and exits a driveway so cautiously that we become convinced that it's Fillippou's personal vehicle, driven by somebody afraid to put a scratch in its bright red paint job.
Partly compensating are some spirited performances. Lakis Komininos is acceptable as the hero who goes mad with revenge, and Sasa Kastoura is enthusiastic, if not convincing, as the ruthless radical terrorist. The violent conclusion sees high emotions sparking a grim massacre. Rather unaccountably, Cristina's motherly instincts cause a change of heart over her infant hostage. Filmmaker Fillipou wanted a hardboiled thriller, but apparently also saw the need to cater to his audience's need for sentimentality.
As if following a checklist of commercial requirements, the movie begins with a nude sunbathing scene reminiscent of the European hit crime film The Sicilian Clan. Several gang members are introduced while sleeping with their topless girlfriends, to salt more nudity through the film. Cristina's cohorts look and behave more like generic thieves and ordinary scoundrels than "radical terrorists", but that entire aspect of the film may have been imposed during the Italian dubbing job. A number of thrillers about political terrorists had done well in Italy, so it's more than possible that Ransom Baby was altered to seem more topical. The vocal performances for the new Italian dubbing job are quite good.
Mya Communications' DVD of Ransom Baby is a barely acceptable presentation. Package disclaimers tell us that the disc was mastered from the only known full print of the film still in existence, but the image on view is weak in all departments, with faded color in many scenes. It also shows plenty of analog tape hits and wrinkles, indicating that the real master is a battered videotape. Some scenes may have been taken from a surviving VHS copy. It's no secret that even expensive independent films made in smaller countries are often not protected and preserved. Mya does provide a good English language subtitle track and a gallery of poster artwork. The print on view, by the way, carries Italian main titles (S.S. Sezione Sequestri), yet concludes with an interesting end credits sequence in Greek. Mya's package text refers to the film's director as Paul Filippou, not Pavlos. Ransom Baby is no beauty, but it may entice Euro-crime film fans looking for something unusual and exotic.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Ransom Baby rates:
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