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Director Francesco Rosi's 1976 picture, Illustrious Corpses (or, Cadaveri eccellenti, in its native Italy), stars Lino Ventura as a cop named Inspector Roga. Working out of Naples, Roga is an honest cop and he takes his job very seriously, but he's also very aware of the danger that seems to perpetually surround him and of his own mortality (the film, early on, shows off some mummified corpses in a catacomb to really hammer this point home).
A judge is murdered, shot dead in the middle of the street and in broad daylight no less. Roga is called in to investigate. As he works the case, he first suspects the mafia but soon switches his tune. Roga seems consistently one step behind the killer, who is working his way higher up a political ladder in the city. While he does this, he encounters corruption and moral decay time and again, until he does make a connection between the three victims, figuring that each one was a judge that presided over a case later overturned. Rogas then sets out to find the men involved in these cases hoping to put together the pieces of the puzzle and solve it once and for all.
Set to an excellent score by Piero Piccioni and featuring some absolutely gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Pasqualino De Santis, Illustrious Corpses is a remarkably tense and well-made thriller that really does an excellent job of shedding some light on the corruption and immorality that plagues modern society. Hardly the ‘feel good' film of 1976, the film was made during a very tumultuous time in Italy's political history and Rosi, no stranger to political filmmaking, doesn't even try to hide this, it's right there on the surface and a huge part of the plot in general. However, as grim as this two hour opus might get (and it does get pretty grim), it remains a gripping picture and one that you'll have no problem sticking with right up until the end when the film hits you hard with its bleak but inevitable finale.
Rosi's direction is excellent, he controls the pace perfectly and gets some excellent performances out of a really strong cast. Who better than the perpetually exasperated looking Lino Ventura to play the lead in this picture? The craggy faced Frenchman is perfect in the part, it suits not only his look but also his very particular acting style and it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job here than he. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Ventura's been cast alongside the likes of Alain Cuny, Luigi Pistilli, the beautiful Tina Aumont and the great Max Van Sydow (sadly underused here, but he's great when he's on camera. Ventura is the one that has the most to do, however, by a very wide margin and it's his performance in this picture that really resonates.
Illustrious Corpses arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen taking up just over 38.9GBs of space on the 50GB disc. This transfer was taken from a 4k restoration that 'used two first generation reversal elements and the Italian magnetic sound mix, both provided by MGM' using 'two 35mm vintage prints, preserved by the British Film Institute as reference for the color grading.' The transfer looks really solid. There aren't any issues with any obvious print damage and grain resolves naturally. Compression artifacts aren't ever a problem and noise reduction and edge enhancement issues never creep into the frame. There are a few spots where contrast looks a little hot but otherwise, the movie looks excellent here.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in Italian with optional subtitles provided in English. This is a fairly dialogue driven film but the track handles everything well, giving things some punch when the movie calls for it and doing a very nice job with the score. No problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are balanced nicely. The subtitles are clean, clear, easy to read and free of any noticeable typos.
An audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox is the biggest and best of the extra features on this disc. In his typically eloquent and laid back manner, Cox goes over what makes this an odd film in Rosi's filmography, the director's penchant for making political bio-pics. He offers some interesting background information on Rosi's life and times, and he also goes over Rosi's style of filmmaking and what made his pictures stand out from many of his contemporaries. Cox also explores some of the politics depicted in the film, offers some thoughts on the performances in the film, speaks to the cinematography and talks about some of the architectural and design details in many of the locations that were chosen for the film. Cox quotes heavily from vintage interviews with Rosi in this piece and has some interesting topics to go over here, making it easy to overlook the fact that there are a few stretches of dead air now and again.
The disc also includes a trailer for the feature alongside bonus trailers for The Sicilian Clan, A Pain In The Ass, The Hunter Will Get You and Farewell, Friend as well as menus and chapter selection options.
Illustrious Corpses features a skilled director working with an excellent cast to deliver a satisfyingly atypical, politically charged thriller with very strong results. Kino's Blu-ray isn't stacked with extra features but Cox's commentary is a good one and the presentation is excellent. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.