The Lookout (aka Le guetteur)

The Lookout, aka Le guetteur

The Lookout

Anyone hankering after a slice of 1970s style Eurocrime could do a lot worse than check out Michele Placido’s The Lookout (aka Le guetteur), a slick, well made Italo-French production which got variable reviews when it had a customarily tiny release last year. The film – which flickers back and forth in time as it the modern way – starts off with hardboiled cop Daniel Auteuil interviewing Mathieu Kassovitz, an ex-Army sniper who has become the head of a successful gang of bank robbers. Needless to say, he manages to escape, and the rest of the running time looks set to reveal (a) what happened in the aftermath of their latest escapade (b) who it was who informed on him and (c) whether the police can recapture him.

However, the plot then takes a thoroughly leftfield curve which is both welcome and thoroughly outrageous (although the kind of thing that people seem to accept without question in Scandinavian thrillers). Auteuil, Kassovitz and Olivier Gourmet (a Dardenne brothers regular) are all excellent, and Placido – who started off in 70s Eurocrime films and directed Romanzo Criminale – keeps his foot on the fourth gear. It’s not as epic as Placido’s excellent Romanzo criminale, but well worth checking out.

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Bitter Rice

Bitter Rice, aka Riso amaro

Bitter Rice, aka Riso amaro

The image of Silvana Mangano, clad in tight shorts and black stockings, picking rice and looking to the camera. It’s one of the iconic images of Italian cinema, and Bitter Rice, the film it comes from, is one of the much-too-ignored classics of the postwar period. It’s a fusion of neo-realism and noir, with Mangano as an agricultural worker who befriends Doris Dowling, a thief on the run with a valuable stolen necklace and the cops on her trail. Dowling begins to bond with the women rice pickers, but then her cold-hearted boyfriend Vittorio Gassman appears and things go to pot.

With a script by talented future Italian directors Carlo Lizzani, Gianni Puccini and Mario Monicelli, this is a very good film, mixing a documentary examination of Italian agricultural life in the 1940s, part pacey thriller (including a climactic gun fight in a meat locker), part meditation on the intrusion of mass media, creeping Americanisation and dilution of traditional Italian culture. This has dated a lot better than many Italian films of the time. Note: Doris and her sister Constance Dowling had fascinating lives and caused quite a scandal in Italy; Constance was involved with the poet Cesare Pavese who committed suicide after their relationship broke down (one of his last poems, allegedly about her, was called ‘Death will come and she’ll have your eyes’)

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Slap the Monster on the Front Page

Slap the Monster on the Front Page

Slap the Monster on the Front Page

A couple of years after playing a corrupt, evangelically right wing, borderline sociopathic cop in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Gian Maria Volonte played a corrupt, evangelically right wing, borderline sociopathic newspaper editor in Slap the Monster on the Front Page. He’s Bizanti, the top dog at Milanese paper Il Giornale, who’s always on the lookout for new ways of justifying the publication of anti-communist, anti-youth, anti-working class rhetoric. And he sees a great opportunity for more of this nonsense when a young anarchist is named as the likeliest suspect in the murder of his attractive and thoroughly middle-class ex-girlfriend. So he works with the police to ensure this poor sap’s conviction, plastering accusations on the front page and blaming it all on the increasingly liberal modern society… even though he knows full well that he isn’t the real killer.

It’s a surprisingly short film, which is good because it ensures that the pace is maintained even though it’s dialogue heavy and regularly veers into then-trendy political diatribe. The photography is wonderful and Marco Bellochio’s direction is efficient. Volonte contributes a powerhouse performance, but even so it’s not as memorable or impressive a film as Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (which it seems to have been partially inspired by).

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The Master Touch

The Master Touch, with Kirk Douglas

The Master Touch, with Kirk Douglas

The Master Touch was a high profile heist film from the reliable Michele Lupo. Its big coup was in managing to get Kirk Douglas, a top American star who had previously had little involvement with Italian cinema, to play the protagonist, Steve Wallace, a gentleman robber back on the streets after a short spell in jail. Tempted out of retirement by the prospect of breaking into an apparently impregnable vault stocked up with millions of dollars – natch – he hooks up with a young trapeze artist, Marco (Giuliano Gemma). Their plan is to set Wallace up as the prime suspect for another robbery while he’s actually breaking into the aforementioned vault. Things, however, don’t work out as planned.

This is a really enjoyable film, much more serious and gloomy than you’d expect from the normally lightweight Lupo. It’s got some great cinematography and a low-key but effective Morricone score; the central heist is well handled and there’s an excellent car chase through the streets of Hamburg. Kirk Douglas looks very dapper and doesn’t seem as embarrassed as some American imports did – he’d return to Italy for Holocaust 2000 – and there’s good support from Gemma and Florinda Bolkan.

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Il caso Pisciotta

Il caso Pisciotta

Il caso Pisciotta

Italy
1973
Director: Eriprando Visconti
Cast: Duilio Del Prete, Carla Gravina, Tony Musante, Marcella Michelangeli.
Running time: 98′ min.

Here’s another film to deal with the fallout of the controversial murder of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano, a kind of unofficial sequel to Francesco Rosi’s acclaimed Salvatore Giuliano, made a decade earlier. It starts as that film ended, with the murder of Salvatore Pisciotta – Giuliano’s right hand man, confidant and quite possibly killer – poisoned by a doctored cup of coffee in a Palermo jail. Idealogical young magistrate Tony Musante is called in to investigate, and despite the advice of both family and friends he refuses to drop the case, eventually settling on a powerful Mafia don (Nino Terzo) as his main suspect.

But the Mafia grows increasingly anxious about his investigations, and resolve that they should do all they can to ensure that the killer remains unpunished. It’s a decent enough film, although not as powerful as Damiano Damiani’s similarly themed L’istruttoria è chiusa: dimentichi. There’s an excessive amount of dialogue and some rather stilted sequences around Musante and his family / girlfriend. But the cinematography and editing are good and Eriprando Visconti – a weird filmmaker who started out as an art-house darling before making increasingly trashy films throughout the seventies – directs it all capably enough. Not bad.

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High Risk

High Risk, aka Alto rischio

High Risk… Low Tension!

aka Alto rischio
1993
Italy
Produced by Pietro Bregni for PAC (Produzioni Atlas Consorziate)
Distributed by PAC
Director: Stelvio Massi
Story: Teodoro Agrimi, Gianmaria Vismara
Screenplay: Stelvio Massi, Domenico Paolella, Francesca Bregni
Cinematography: Roberto Brega
Music: Walter Rizzati, the song “Heaven” is sung by Shana Joy
Editor: Alessandro Gabriele
Art director: Marta Zani
Cast: Stéphane Ferrara (Mike), Isabel Russinova (Vera), Angelo Infanti (Sjberg), Massimo Lodolo (Anatolj), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Olga), Giovanni Oliveri (Johnson), Dale Wyatt (Mitzi), Giammaria Vismara (Alex), Plamen Manassiev (Stefan), Stefan Dimitriev (Jordan), Gabriele Torsello (Barman), Francesca Benny (Oshka)

In the early nineties, some experienced Italian directors were obliged to scout for work in the emerging film industries that were being established in former Soviet countries; financing was hard to find in Italy, where film production had gone into free-fall and labor was cheap beyond the former iron curtain, making location work there ideal for low budget productions intended for local and international distribution. Guido Zurli, who was used to making films in countries as diverse as Indonesia and Turkey, made Rodjen kao ratnik in Serbia in 1994, Ruggero Deodato shot The Washing Machine in Hungary (93) and Stelvio Massi made two films in Bulgaria, The Balkan Runner (94) and High Risk (93). Both of Massi’s films were produced by P.A.C., one of the few production houses still churning out films in the early nineties, extending the careers of classy but under appreciated directors like Sergio Sollima and Aldo Lado in doing so. P.A.C. seemed to have a special fondness for Bulgaria, with other of their productions – Berlin 73 (93), for instance – also being shot there. Of course, P.A.C. were merely ahead of the time in their penny pinching efforts, and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria have since become thriving locations for international co-productions.

Maria Grazia Cucinotta in High Risk

Never accuse The WildEye of failing to post a picture of the atteactive Maria Grazia Cucinotta in negligee

Unfortunately, High Risk is really a very poor film, and while Massi and producer Teodoro Agrimi’s dedication to the cause can’t be doubted, the results really don’t justify their efforts. A group of hackers – ok, one hacker – financed by ex-spook and general moneybags Sjberg (Angelo Infanti) have managed to break into the New York stock exchange and are planning to destroy its computer systems in order to erase some of Sjberg hefty debts. It’s up to C.I.A. agent Mike (Stéphane Ferrara) and local computer programmer Vera (Isabel Russinova) to spoil their plans. But they have a coterie of killers on their trail – well, three of them – including the deadly femme-fatale Olga (Maria Grazia Cucinotta).

Boasting the most hideous late 80s fashions (Bulgaria was obviously some years behind the West in clothing terms, baggy stonewashed jeans are the order of the day here) this is an incredibly ugly, crude looking film, which is especially disappointing considering it was also photographed by Massi, an accomplished cinematographer as well as director. One can only assume that its lack of artistry is down to the low production values, reducing the amount of time available to set up and light sequences. The choreography, too, is very poor, only highlighting just how good the stunt-work actually was in low budget Italian films, which Massi seems to have realized because he limits the action sequences as much as possible, leaving it as an action film without action, a thriller without thrills.

Hang glider action from High Risk

Oh no, not the dreaded hang-glider stunt sequence…

It’s not helped by the script, which despite being co-written by the veteran director Domenico Paolella, lacks drama and propulsion. It attempts to be in vogue – by including clunky technical trimmings that you sense the writers don’t really understand – but merely seems dated, not least because of the antique looking computer terminals that everyone taps away on. It’s always a giveaway when a film features a hand-gliding sequence; hang-gliding never looks cool, you might as well pin a notice of a film poster saying ‘this is going to be rubbish’. It all gears up to a James Bond style siege sequence in an orthodox monastery, but this fizzles out because there only appear to be five guards and it ends on a freeze-frame of Sjberg being… captured. To be honest, despite the number of films he made I’ve never been entirely convinced by Massi as a director. He had some talent, but even his poliziotteschi, which he’s most famous for, tend to fall short when compared to directors like Castellari or Lenzi. High Risk, unfortunately, comes across more like something that Bruno Mattei or even Jess Franco would have put together.

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Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

I’m very pleased to announce the publication – at last! – of the second WildEye book. Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond is an in-depth look at the career of Italian actor Giorgio Ardisson. Here’s the blurb:

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Giorgio Ardisson might not be the best known actor in the world; outside Italy his name was almost totally unknown and even in his own country his brush with fame was short-lived. But his career, which lasted from the end of the 1950s to the early 1990s, was fascinating. Not just because of the sheer variety of films and filmmakers that he was involved with, but because in many ways his story is also the story of Italian film itself.

He started out in the glory years of cinema in Rome, when it was the glamorous centre of a thriving and much respected industry, working in a variety of popular genres including peplums, swashbucklers and comedies. While the films of Sergio Leone were propelling Italian popular cinema onto a world stage, Ardisson carved out his own niche with a series of exceedingly profitable spy films which sold across the world. For a few years he was much in demand with producers looking for a lead actor with an American look. But then, with the arrival of the 1970s, things changed. Budgets dried up, genre lifespans reduced drastically and distribution networks collapsed. There was less call for good looking leading men as a grittier, more downbeat trend took hold of Italian cinema. So Ardisson re-crafted himself as a supporting actor in an increasingly peculiar selection of weird and wonderful films. Many of these were seen by almost nobody, many are still impossible to find and many of them are entirely rubbish.

This book is the first detailed look at the curious career of Giorgio Ardisson, including reviews of his most important films, interview material – much of which is published in English for the first time – and contemporary reviews. It’s lavishly illustrated throughout, including eight pages in full colour.

The book is 220 pages long and Royal size (234mm x 156mm).

220 pages
Size: Royal (234mm x 156mm)
Binding: Perfect Bound
Lamination: Gloss

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  • You can buy a copy at my online shop for £10.99 (plus postage):
  • It will also be available through Amazon
  • And I’ll also be selling imminently through EBay

Please, please, please… if you are interested, don’t buy through Amazon, they charge a 60% commission on the cover price which basically means that any copies I sell through them I sell at a loss (plus the fact that they’re a horrible corporate monster, of course). The shop on my site uses Paypal so it’s fully secure and I’m pretty reliable when it comes to posting books out!

Here are some photos to give an idea what it’s like:

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond - internal B&W page with photos

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond – internal B&W page with photos

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond - internal B&W page

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond – internal B&W page

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond - internal colour page

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond – internal colour page

Posted in Books & Magazines, Giorgio Ardisson - The Italian James Bond, Latest News | Tagged , | 14 Comments