Maurizio Lucidi’s 1973 film Stateline Motel is one of that branch of Italian crime films to ditch the cops and concentrate primarily on the robbers, who are making a distinctly bad job of pursuing their chosen trade. Similar examples include the likes of Redneck, Liberi armati pericolosi, Gangster’s Law and so on. To a certain degree, it feels like a more French approach, and with its deliberate pacing and slightly gloomy feel, Stateline Motel certainly feels closer to a trashy Melville than a Lenzi or Castellari.
However, it also scores additional points for some original touches, all of which combine to make it feel like a rather atypical genre entry. For one thing, it’s set – and was partially filmed – in Canada, a strange, desolate location that, in all honesty, could just as easily have been the Italian Alps. Secondly, after beginning like a standard crime film, it veers suddenly into a different type of territory, becoming a heavily melodramatic giallo. It’s actually the kind of thing the Coen brothers would make a decade later, and it feels like it’s influenced as much by James M Cain as any contemporary cinematic trends. In fact, it was based on a novel by the pulpy Italian author Franco Enna (whose work was also adapted into Date for a Murder and Gang War in Milan among others)
Fresh out of jail for car theft, American lowlife Floyd (Fabio Testi) is given 48 hours to get out of Canada, which gives him just enough time to hook up with his old cellmate, Joe (Eli Wallach), and rob a jewelry store. Unfortunately, and inevitably, it all goes wrong: they manage to make of with the jewels, but an innocent young man is killed in the process. With the police hot on their tail, they decide to split up and try and make it across the border separately, before meeting up a day later back in the States.
Unfortunately, Floyd manages to run his car off the road before making it out of the country. Forced to hang around in a small town while it’s being repaired, he stays in ‘The Last Chance Motel’, run by Fred Norton (Massimo Girotti) and his wife Michelle (Ursula Andress). Increasingly antsy, Floyd embarks upon an affair with the sluttish Michelle, who doesn’t take long to work out his real identity. In fact, the only person who doesn’t seem to realize he’s on the run is the local cop (Carlo De Mejo), even though he spends most of his free time hanging out at the motel with the attractive chambermaid Emily (Barbara Bach).
Before long, things go completely tits up for Floyd: he discovers that his moneybag – which had contained half the jewels – has been stolen; the dodgy mechanic (Howard Ross) is murdered and Michelle becomes increasingly insistent that he should take her with him when he leaves. Furthermore, Joe turns up, worried that he’s been double crossed and determined to recover the missing booty… at any cost.
It’s all involving enough stuff, although not without its share of problems. At times it does feel extremely slow and circuitous, while some of the cinematography is extremely murky (although this could well be down to the shoddy prints that are generally in circulation). It also lacks the emotional punch and virtuoso moments of some of the better crime films, making it more of a slow burner than many flashier examples of its type.
Maurizio Lucidi, though, was a capable director, and it’s all well enough made even if it isn’t one of his best. He was also someone who could command high profile international casts for what were essentially b-grade movies, which always gives his work an additional frisson. Wallach and Testi are both great as the somewhat hapless protagonists, and there are fun performances from the two Bond girls: Ursula Andress, who started looking like a transvestite at some point in the early 70s and Barbara Bach, who is very fresh-faced. There are a selection of decent performances in support as well, making this an above average, unusual genre entry. Lucidi also made the fun crime pic The Sicilian Cross, which featured Roger Moore and Stacey Keach.
The UK DVD is, well, murky, and looks to have been mastered from a VHS print. Much as it’s nice to see this kind of thing turning up at HMV, it would be nice to see this in an uncut (the UK version allegedly loses about 15 minutes) and remastered version.