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Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers The Big Racket & The Heroin Busters
Arrow Video's Rogue Cops And Racketeers Blu-ray collection brings together two vintage cop thrillers directed by the inimitable Enzo G. Casetellari.
The Big Racket:
On of a few notable high octane crime films directed by Enzo G. Castellari (The Cold Eyes Of Fear, The New Barbarians), and starring the always reliable Fabio Testi (Contraband, Revolver), Il Grande Racket, or The Big Racket as it's known stateside, is a superior example of the 70s Italian crime film.
Fabio Testi plays a rough and tumble police officer named Nico Palmieri, who gets involved in trying to break up a protection racket being run by some hoods in a small Italian town. They've been going around extorting insane amounts of money from the local businessmen using the all too real threat of sadistic violence against them should they not pay up. As such, these guys want the cops to do something about it, and that's where Nico comes into play.
Eventually a restaurant owner is approached by Palmieri and agrees to talk, but when the thugs find out, his only daughter is brutally raped (in what is, in its uncut form, as presented here, is a truly grisly scene). When Palmieri connects the thugs to a bigger picture, namely an international drug smuggling ring, he is booted off the force and no longer allowed to investigate. In turn, Nico teams up with five of the townsmen who have been wronged by the hoods and the body count grows and grows!
The Big Racket is a gritty, and exceptionally violent crime film. Very fast paced, the film feels very much like it could have been an Italian version of Death Wish (and in fact it stars Vincent Gardenia [Sadly, dubbed by someone else] from the first two entries in that same Bronson starring series). Testi's better than he usually is in this role and he comes across as quite the genuine bad ass. While not all of the effects and set pieces work perfectly (some of the bullet wounds are not convincing at all), most of them do work nicely and there's no shortage of explosions, firefights, brawls and nasty crimes on display here. There a few standout stunt set pieces here as well that adds to the fun.
Castellari has a great eye for directing action and this film shows that off perfectly. It's also very well shot as the camera manages to pull the viewer into the excitement. By the end of the film you'll find yourself cheering for Nico and his crew as they inevitably showdown with the scum who've been terrorizing the town. We want these guys to come out on top, and we feel for their plight.
When the smoke clears and the dust settles, there's enough action, violence and tough guy posturing to make this a solid recommendation to anyone who likes their crime movies fast, gritty, and violent.
The Heroin Busters:
In this second film, Fabio Testi plays a narc named Fabio (which for some reason made this reviewer snicker to himself) who finds himself having to go undercover for Interpol to expose an international heroin smuggling operation. The only man who knows of Fabio's identity and intent is his boss, a British Interpol agent named Mike Hamilton (David Hemmings of Argento's Deep Red). The two set up a bust that's to go down at a fancy hotel in Rome but it gets botched and a large shipment of heroin hits the streets.
In order to increase the heat on the dope dealers, Hamilton decides that Fabio should pose as a criminal in prison so that he can get closer to Girro, a drug dealer with friends in high places. He finds himself in the big house and soon is able to win Girro over as a confidant. From there, he gets the information that he needs and plans to help him escape. Once they're on the outside, Girro helps Fabio make some contacts with prominent drug lords around the area, effectively completing his plan for him. Things are looking up for Fabio's work until his cover gets blown wide open and he finds some pretty heavy criminals out for his blood. Hamilton finds out that Fabio's been exposed as the narc he is, and he's coming to help with reinforcements in tow, but it's going to take him a while to find his co-worker and until he does, Fabio's going to have to fend for his life against the ruthless mobsters all by his lonesome.
The movie starts off with a montage set to music (courtesy of Goblin) in which we learn just how expansive the drug dealing operation that Interpol are after really is. We see it in effect from Europe to Asia to America so that we can really get a feel for how intense Fabio's task is going to be as well as the importance of what he is doing. It might prove to be a little tough to follow at first, but bear with it, things clear up soon enough and from there the movie is perfectly coherent in spite of a few sub-plots that don't really go anywhere or get resolved.
Testi is likeable and charismatic in the lead, while Hemmings makes a good sidekick of sorts. They've got a good on screen chemistry and while it doesn't reach the levels of intensity that Testi's work with Oliver Reed in Sollima's Revolver did, you can't hold that against it, few can compare to the intensity that Oliver Reed brought to the screen, especially in that role. Fabio cruises through the film with believable enough swagger and charm that we can understand him and accept him in the part, we can see how the drug dealers might be lead to believe he is one of their own and let him in on a few of their secrets. He fits the part well.
While the action takes a little while to get moving, the last half hour or so of the film is pretty much a roller coaster ride. Once Fabio's exposed, the movie kicks into overdrive and as he races for his life, Castellari's takes us along for the ride in an absolutely fantastic chase scene from the city outwards. Castellari's has always had a keen eye for framing action set pieces in truly exciting ways and in using slow motion effectively, and the last chunk of The The Heroin Busters demonstrates that as well as anything he's done save for maybe the infamous tumbling car scene from his masterpiece, The Big Racket.
Part drama, part actioner and just as much a condemnation of the drug trade (there are some truly harrowing depictions of junkies and how low they will stoop in this film), The The Heroin Busters is a stylish and genuinely grim crime thriller that builds to a completely satisfying conclusion and which demonstrates Castellari's considerable skills as a director. The exploitation elements one would expect from this type of film are there: completely unnecessary female nudity, bloody shoot outs, extreme close ups of intravenous drug use. But the performances and the climax place this one a notch or two above your standard Italian cop film.
Arrow Video brings the two films in their Rogue Cops And Racketeers boxed set to Blu-ray on two separate 50GB discs with each film presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. These transfers are, not surprisingly, a big step up from the old DVD releases from years back, which looked fine for their day but obviously can't hold up to new high definition presentations. Either way, picture quality is solid across the board here. There's very little print damage anywhere during either one of the movies, they're in great shape. Colors are handled very nicely and look quite accurate while skin tones appear nice and natural throughout as well. We get nice black levels too, and there are no noticeable issues with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts with grain appearing naturally throughout each movie and resolving without any problems.
Both films get 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono options in English and Italian language tracks with separate subtitles available for each track. Audio is clear for each film, with the levels nicely balanced and clear dialogue. There's some nice depth to some of the effects and the scores noticeable here and there, though understandably range is limited by the limitations of the source material here.
Extras are spread across the two discs in this set as follows:
Disc One: The Big Racket:
Extras on the first disc start off with an audio commentary track from Adrian J. Smith and David Flint that covers pretty much all of the bases. They go over their fondness for the film and it's tight pacing and tense action, the locations used in the film, the way that the police are depicted in the movie, positing Testi's character as an anti-hero and some of the questionable decisions he makes in the movie, the various cast members that appear in the movie, the importance of Castellari's work to the poliziotteschi genre, the sometimes confusing politics of the film, what Vincent Gardenia brought to the movie, the stunt work featured in the scene and plenty more.
In The Years of Racketeering, a new video interview, we spend a half hour with co-writer/director Enzo G. Castellari where he speaks about how he thinks the film still feels very fresh, making The Big Racket hot on the heels of the success of High Crime, the violence that was plaguing Italy at the time, the importance of his father's work as a producer to his own career, thoughts on the script and what elements he decided to change, how he first met Fabio Testi and how they came to work together a few times and become friends, shooting the infamous car rolling sequence and some of the tricks he used to do this, his thoughts on the other cast members and their work, the awkwardness of shooting the film's rape scene, going for a decidedly raw look in the movie, the difficulty of putting together the final shoot out in post-production, the music used in the film and how the film was received.
Fabio Testi is up next in Violent Times, a new video interview that runs for nineteen minutes. He speaks about meeting Castellari for the first time and how their relationship evolved over time, the problems that Italy was dealing with in terms of crime during the seventies and how that turned out to be a wellspring for cinema, why audiences liked films that dealt with current social issues, why Castellari deserves the credit for the quality of his performance, improvising the rifle smashing in the finale, being inside the car when it was rolled for the film's most famous scene, how his work as a stuntman came in handy, working with the effects team to make sure no one got hurt, getting along with Vincent Gardenia and the other actors, how his military service made it no problems to handle weapons on set, his thoughts on critics labelling the film as 'fascist' and how many of the problems that the film deals with are still relevant today.
Angel Face For A Tough Guy is a new video interview with actor Massimo Vanni that runs for forty-three minutes. He covers how he came to know Castellari in his younger days as he was close to his father, how the director gave him his start in film, the director's tendency to work with actors who were also stuntmen, Castellari's willingness to attack social issues head on in his films, how he himself was a victim of crime, how he befriended many of the other cast members during the shoot, the professionalism of everyone on set, forming a true connection with Testi, the quality of the work that the production design team did on the film, the impressive stunts featured in the film, working with Castellari's daughter in a particularly tense scene, what Vincent Gardenia brought to the movie and the difficulty of having to die in slow motion.
King Of The Movieola is a new video interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci that runs for twenty-eight minutes. It covers how he got his start in the film industry at fourteen years old, working long days and chain smoking while he worked his way up the ladder and eventually getting a job as an editor, some of the early films that he worked on, meeting Castellari and developing a relationship with him over time, what the editing rooms were like work in back in the sixties and seventies and the very manual process that it involved, working together with the cast and crew to make a quality film, how Italian films were received internationally and in America during the boom years compared to how French films were received, what it was like working on The Big Racket and how he feels about the film in hindsight.
The last of the new featurettes is The Great Racket, a new appreciation and career retrospective of composers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon. He speaks here for forty-five minutes about the De Angelis brothers and their reputations as hit makers in Italy, how they started a 'new soundtrack vibe' in the seventies with their work on different genre films, how they'd often sing in English, some of their pop hits, the specifics of the sound that they helped create, some of the standout soundtracks that they worked on, what they were able to bring to The Big Racket's soundtrack and how their work sets the tone for the movie, and some of the scores that they did later in their career.
A theatrical trailer, still gallery, menus and chapter selection options round out the extras on the first disc.
Disc Two: The The Heroin Busters:
Extras on the second disc again start off with an audio commentary track from Adrian J. Smith and David Flint that covers the different shots showing off the different international locations in the opening scene, Goblin's career and their work on the film's score, how the film has a bit of a documentary feel, details on the different cast members that appear in the film, Testi's wardrobe, Castellari's cameo in the film, how the film does a good job of not glorifying heroin use, the requisite J&B cameo, the stunt work in the film, the editing style in the film and plenty more. These guys are clearly having a good time with the film and it makes for good listen and it's also pretty packed with information and opinion.
As to the featurettes, Endless Pursuit is a new video interview with co-writer/director Enzo G. Castellari that runs for twenty-four minutes and covers how he really wasn't all that familiar with drug use before working on this project and some of the research that he had to do when writing it, why they decided to shoot parts of the film in Hong Kong, Columbia and other locations, the different crew members he worked with and what they did behind the scenes, accidently eating hash brownies once when he didn't really know what they were, his working relationship with Fabio Testi, working with the other actors on the shoot, his thoughts on some of the characters, how the film's score came together and more.
Drug Squad is a new video interview with actor Fabio Testi that runs for sixteen minutes and which goes over the drug use situation in Italy at the time the movie was made, his friendship with Castellari, getting along with the film's producer, how he came up with his own costumes for the film, how his friendship with an actual cop inspired the film a bit, what he tried to bring to his character in the movie, shooting at the different locations, getting along really well with David Hemmings and his other co-stars, Castellari's insistence on shooting an airplane chase scene and how he feels that the film still feels very topical to this day.
Actor Massimo Vanni is up next in a new video interview titled The Drug Dealer, where he spends twenty-one minutes going over his experiences. He talks about how he was a gym rat and a health food addict and never did drugs, which required him to do some research for the part, as well as what it was like shooting in Rome, working with Castellari, Testi and Hemmings, what he did to make the character his own, how he got into acting, shooting his fight scene with Testi, the chemistry that existed on set, doing his own stunts, Castellari's involvement in the editing and his wanting to see the footage as soon as it could be processed and how grateful he is to have had the career that he did.
Editor Gianfranco Amicucci is interviewed in How They Killed Italian Cinema, another new interview piece, this one clocking in at twenty minutes. He talks about the difficulty in putting together the plane set piece, the tight shooting schedule and low budget that they had to deal with, how Castellari's enthusiasm was infectious, getting along with the film's producer, Castellari's working process as a filmmaker and their great working relationship, how other directors have been more difficult to work with, the boom years of the Italian film industry and the economic boom that came with it, how he feels modern Italian politicians are responsible for the death of the Italian film industry, the effects of VOD on the film industry, and the effect that rising tickets costs have had on the movie going public in Italy. He also covers advances in technology and the effects that they've had on filmmaking and editing.
A Cop On The Set is a new video interview with retired poliziotto and criminologist Nicola Longo that runs for twenty-four minutes. He talks about the film's setup, how it was based on a lot of short stories, trying to work in real life tactics of anti-drug police forces, how he got into police work and criminology in the first place, how he originally wanted to join the air force and be a pilot, how he came to be good friends with Testi, some of the real life undercover cases that he worked on, his admiration for Castellari as a director, his thoughts on the script, why he didn't want his name in the credits and his thoughts on drug addiction and drug trafficking.
The last of the featurettes is The Eardrum Busters, a new appreciation and career retrospective of composers Goblin by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon that runs for thirty-nine minutes. He talks here about Goblin's career, the 'classic years,' what each member of the band brings to their sound, the influence of bands like Pink Floyd, their relationship with label Cinevox, how they first got into doing soundtrack work, some of the more noteworthy films that they've worked on and specifically their work with Castellari. He also covers the band's tendency to experiment often, the organic feel that they bring to their soundtrack work, some more their more recent work and what's happened to the band and the different members of the band in more recent years.
A theatrical trailer, still gallery, menus and chapter selection options round out the extras on the first disc. Note that the director's commentary tracks that were included on the Blue Underground DVD releases have not been ported over to this collection.
It's also worth pointing out the packaging here. Each disc is housed in its own clear keepcase and also comes with some nice reversible cover art. These cases fit inside a sturdy, side-loading cardboard box that also holds a nice, full-color booklet that contains cast and crew information for each film as well as details on the transfers, credits for the Blu-ray release, and new writing on the film from Roberto Curti and Barry Forshaw. There are also twelve double-sided postcard sized lobby card reproductions included in the set as well.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray release of Rogue Cops And Racketeers offers up two rock solid cop films from Castellari's heyday in very nice shape and with some pretty choice extras as well. Both The The Big Racket and The The Heroin Busters hold up really well, offering lots of crazy characters, solid action and tight suspense. Great stuff, 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.