While the Poliziotteschi genre is one that has been generally covered by other writers here at Blood Brothers, it’s incredibly hard not to want to immediately dig into Arrow Video’s latest Blu Ray box set, Years of Lead. This set contains five films and enough special features to make most cinephiles ill with joy. It’s an impressive set, on the whole, and the following series of reviews will dive into the various films contained within. If anything, just as a taster, Italian cinema fans or those who enjoy cult cinema will want to add this to their collection even if they already own some of the titles. Nonetheless, if any questions remain, the next few articles will go through the films included.
This article contains a review for the first two films in the set, Savage Three and Like Rabid Dogs.
SAVAGE THREE (1975)
Director: Vittorio Salerno
Notable Cast: Joe Dallesandro, Martine Brochard, Enrico Maria Salerno, Gianfranco De Grassi, Guido De Carli, Carmen Scarpitta
In the aftermath of stealing a taxicab and then proceeding to hit the driver with it, thrusting his presumably dead body into a pool of water, one of the three protagonists in Savage Three states in a rather monotone manner, “People nowadays are so strange.” This sequence is then followed by the three men picking up two women in the cab to take them to a warehouse where unsightly events occur and one woman is impaled on the end of a forklift’s arm - in a relatively kick ass special effect. Sounds odd? It is. The Italians have always played loose with the rules for their genre films, establishing their own formulas to just toss them out of the window for the sake of a clever angle or stylish gimmick. With that said, Savage Three was not what I expected as the first film in Years of Lead.
The film clearly sets up the classic cops n’ robbers approach to the Poliziotteschi subgenre of Eurocrime and 70s action that was popular at the time. It also regularly teases firebombing its plot and characters into complete nihilism, a tactic not foreign to the genre either. However, the choice to focus on the three villains of the film as the protagonists, driving the action forward in a way befitting some of the sleaziness of the plot, is bold. The performances tend to slide from impressively layered to a tad excessive, particularly from the leading three which is anchored by Joe Dallesandro. The injected social commentary, where the stress and pressure on modern young men pushes three individuals into acts of random violence, is perhaps the most intriguing thing about the film. When director Salerno leans into the police investigation desperately trying to pin a motive on the crimes, that’s when the film works best though. Not that the more exploitative elements aren’t entertaining, Savage Three has a handful of incredibly tense moments and I did mention that a woman gets impaled by a forklift, but when the film leans further into its nuanced characters and writing, balancing the flawed police and the villains, it works best. Enough so that, despite its flaws, Savage Three ends up being quite the statement to start with in the set.
LIKE RABID DOGS (1976)
Director: Mario Imperoli
Notable Cast: Piero Santi, Annarita Grapputo, Paola Senatore, Cesare Barro, Luis La Torre, Gloria Piedimonte, Mario Farese, Silvia Spinozzi, Mario Novelli, Anna Curti
Partnered together on the same disc as Savage Three, Like Rabid Dogs is a fascinating double feature with the previously mentioned film. At its foundations, both films are stating the same themes and ideas in regards to entitled individuals running amok and the flawed police officer aiming to take them down. It just so happens that Like Rabid Dogs is the far sleazier and less effective film at accomplishing those tasks. Enough so that many of its intended messages or character pieces are muddled in the process to near obscurity, lost in a haze of nudity and broadly painted caricatures.
Directed by Mario Imperoli, Like Rabid Dogs tells the story of a trio of thieves, two men and a woman, as they rob massive cash-flush businesses - including a soccer stadium in a rather impressive opening sequence. Their crimes start veering wildly into violent territory, particularly after a police officer is killed, and the local police commissioner is tasked with hunting them down. Sound familiar? The basic concept of the film is essentially the same as Savage Three. The film more equally balances time between the crooks and cops and it features an intriguing subtext about the entitlement of the rich and powerful to just take what they want. The problem arises that the film doesn’t know how to dig into any of the more interesting layers of its stories or performances. Instead, it slathers the entire experience with misguided character beats and almost unrelenting use of sex and nudity. A romantic tryst between police officers, for example, is often mishandled for the sake of injecting forced charm and sexual tension.
What makes the choices made in the film even more baffling is that, despite its best effort, Like Rabid Dogs ends up being a sluggish cinematic affair. It starts off with a bang, cooking with heat for 20 minutes, but it quickly loses its rolling boil in trying to craft its dual narrative. It retains a few moments of effective execution, but even compared to the previous film, this one feels like a shadow of the same ideas. For those looking for a more exploitative effort, Like Rabid Dogs might fit the bill, but for those looking for something a bit deeper, one might want to look elsewhere for it.