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Savant Short Review:

Violent City

Violent City
Anchor Bay
1970 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 100/108 min. / Città violenta; The Family
Starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Michel Constantin, Telly Savalas, Umberto Orsini
Cinematography Aldo Tonti
Art Direction Francesco Bronzi
Film Editor Nino Baragli
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Massimo De Rita, Arduino Maiuri, Sauro Scavolini, Sergio Sollima and Lina Wertmüller
Produced by Arrigo Colombo
Directed by Sergio Sollima

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

A predictably violent reworking of the classic film noir Out of the Past, Sergio Sollima's gangster melodrama is essentially a vehicle for the Charles Bronson / Jill Ireland acting duo. Some good photography and story surprises are the high points; bad acting and an overriding sense of gratuitousness eventually do the picture in, like one of hitman Bronson's hapless victims.


Topnotch killer-for-hire Jeff (Charles Bronson) is vacationing in the Carribean with beautiful model Vanessa (Jill Ireland), when he's involved in a car chase and shootout. A number of assailants are left dead - but not racecar driver Coogan (Michel Constantin), who escapes with Vanessa. Back in the states after serving a prison sentence, Jeff tracks down and kills Coogan in the middle of a road race, only to find out that evidence of the act is in the hands of crime boss Weber (Telly Savalas), who wishes to force Jeff to join his New Orleans-based crime syndicate, The Family. Worse, Vanessa still claims fidelity to Jeff, even though she's now married to Weber. Jeff's only hope is an inside man in Weber's organization, lawyer Steve (Umberto Orsini). While staying clear of Weber's grasp, Jeff needs to figure out if Vanessa's playing as straight as she claims she is.

Out of the Past? Is Savant nuts? Well, yes, but not because of this. Like Jeff Markham in Jacques Tourneur's masterpiece, Sollima's Jeff falls in love with a treacherous woman, not realizing how deeply she'll entangle him in the affairs of a high-rolling gangster. He tries to tear himself away, but keeps coming back for more sex and abuse. The abuse factor is about even, as most of Bronson's sex scenes with his beloved Jill Ireland begin or end with him beating her up or threatening to kill her. But she squeaks by, passively allowing him to take the fall time and again. Bronson's sad character eventually gets his vengeance, but the effort takes away his own will to live. Flashbacks play an important part in the telling of the tale.

Beyond that, there's no comparison. A relentlessly believeable Remy Julienne car chase up front raises hopes for more action setpieces to follow, but they mostly don't materialize. Sergio Sollima's direction is fairly standard, his camera zoom-happy and his transitions cheapened with dull focus-pull tricks to avoid opticals. The picture is fairly lavish for locations, but cheap on actors. Third lead Savalas is only seen in 3 interiors, probably never left Cinecittá, and could have phoned-in his colorless turn as the crime kingpin.

Bronson and Ireland were a solid couple and obviously made the most of his boxoffice bankability. But with few exceptions, from 1970 on every Bronson picture seemed to be made for purely financial reasons, frequently with Ireland as his co-star. A loner and something of a social grouch from the get-go, Bronson made few friends but was devoted to his family. Ireland, an actress of limited range, tends to be the weak link in their duo outings. Bronson can be expressive, even in his later, 'silent squinter' roles, but together they make a pretty poor team. The one potential exception was 1975's From Noon 'til Three, a satirical/sentimental Western with an excellent Frank Gilroy script - that was unfortunately ruined by Frank Gilroy's uninspired direction. Ireland and Bronson are charming in that movie - you can tell in every scene that the story excited them. Elmer Bernstein and Alan & Marilyn Bergman's touching song seems dedicated to their love.

Not so with Violent City, which believes in its own cynicism only long enough to undercut itself. The predictable plot isn't very engaging, with too many unsurprising surprise twists. There is a rather effective end sequence, all the more powerful for being played without music. Ennio Morricone's growling, prowling main theme expresses an intensity the movie itself never approaches, and is mainly used for transitions, not action scenes.

Savant's seen La Resa de Conti (The Big Gundown) and was disappointed by the director's schematic approach to action and general lack of pacing, which are unchanged in his move to the crime genre. The political center of Gundown, with underdog peasant rebel Tomas Milian wooing bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef's loyalty away from their rich oppressors, at least made sense. In Violent City, toothless radical speeches are aired at regular intervals. They're irrelevant in a film so obviously pandering to the low-end of the action genre.

Anchor Bay gives Violent City a flattering DVD sendoff. The main extra are eight minutes of scenes cut from the American release, which will immediately make it a must-have for Bronson fans. These are integrated into the show perfectly, except that they have no English dialogue, so it's easy to tell when they occur - Bronson suddenly speaks al Italiana with subtitles. One long restored scene in a Virgin Islands prison has the best fake spider, or the strangest real spider, Savant's ever seen. Most if not all of the film appears to be shot in English, so the fact that the there are no English subs to go with the full Italian and French tracks is not a drawback.

The menus are attractive and creative, and the extras include a lot of ad material, stills, and a pretty feeble original trailer that uses several good action angles not seen in the film proper. Also included is one of AB's very good Blue Underground interview-docus, this one 15 minutes with the personable director Sollima talking about the filming. It's thoughtfully preceded by a title warning us of its spoiler-laden content. Excellent talent bios are provided again by Avie Hern. The only possible regret about the attractive presentation is that the menus are backed by Violent City's main theme. Its introduction in the film itself becomes an anti-climax, another case of the North by NorthWest menu music spoiler syndrome.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Violent City rates:
Movie: Fair+
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: interview/docu Shooting Violent City, artwork and stills, talent bios
Packaging: AlphaPak case
Reviewed: March 1, 2002

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