Gramps Mourns: Fernando Di Leo We Hardly Knew Thee

If you’re a cinemahead and sometimes your friends or peers give you an odd look when you almost climax over simply hearing the name of your favorite film or actor, we feel your pain. However, when it comes right down to it, sometimes we do damn near explode with ecstasy; this is the beauty of film, no? It’s our first love and, excluding the pre-nup, I presume our relationship will still be hot ‘n’ heavy decades down the road. Case in point: Fernando Di Leo. I consider myself a massive fawkin’ fan of Italian genre cinema–not an expert, but a stalkerish fan. I’m reading some articles on Lucio Fulci after re-watching his City of the Living Dead or Gates of Hell or any of the other 2o names it has, and like a bitch-slap from Andy Dick I see the name–for the first time–of Fernando Di Leo.  I read words such as ‘maestro’ (like every Italian genre director), ‘classic,’ mafia,’ ‘crime-drama,’ ‘extremely influential.’ I’m thinking: what the fawk? Where have you been all my life and why don’t you call anymore? Apparently he is the auteur of the famous “Milieu Trilogy” about the Mafia in 70s Italy (who better to make a Mafia flick than an Ital?). They’re harsh, un-glorified, and accompanied by incredible 70s guitar riffs. I may have fallen in love all over again…

The three films of the “Meliu Trilogy” are: Hired to Kill, Calibre 9, and The Boss. I was lucky enough to find Calibre 9 and Hired to Kill; however, like many Italian genre pieces, I was unable to score consistent English language tracks or reliable subtitles. Ya know what? Doesn’t matter. It’s all about style, operatic drama, and–of course–machismo (lots O’ lots of machismo). Excuse me while I slick back my hair and adjust my tie to the beats of Luis Bacalov. Here. We. Fawkin’. Go.

Calibre 9 was like a bullet to my guts. The opening scene, pre-credits, depicts a package of money passing from hand to hand in Rome in order to avoid police detection. By the time our Mafioso’s find the package the money’s been replaced by paper. Well, it’s not Argento or Fulci level violence, but the demise of the members involved in the money exchanges, let’s say, meet an untimely death at the hands of a cave, rope, gags, and three packages of dynamite, which equals: DYN-O-MITE! Oh ya, there’s an interesting snippet in a barbar shop involving a striaght razor and some dude’s cheek. All in all, within 5 minutes, I’m hard as rock. This is before Bacalov’s score kicks in for the opening credits, reminding me that the Italians know how to produce ‘the epic’–a quality that tucks your balls into your stomach, while causing every hair to stand on end (bag and body…).

It’s got lots of familiar faces too: Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli of spaghetti western fame; Gastone Moschin of Godfather II and The Conformist; and, it’s my pleasure of introducing, Mr. Mario…. Adorf! The other guys we’ve seen before; Wolff, Pistilli, and Moschin are mostly bit players, but Adorf is like Di Leo’s muse. He’s got sort of a dirtbag appeal (yes, there is such thing), as he looks like a greased out, mustached, hard-as-fawk Guido. However, he gives the steely, stoic Moschin (the protagonist) a run for his money as the front-man of this film. Moschin plays a character out of Jean-Pierre Melville’s world: strong, silent, and deadly. Adorf is more like Chaplin in a Mafia film (the voiceover certainly doesn’t help…), yet somehow his ‘over-the-top-ness’ does not derail or distract from the serious, tense crime-drama that is Calibre 9. Adorf’s is a rare screen charisma that one can’t help but be attracted to. It’s like Bronson, but the complete opposite.

So, the cast and style is all there, but what about the story Gramps? Is it on par with Zombie 2, Suspiria, and For a Few Dollars More? Well, on first viewing, no. “Well then why the fuck are you building it up like it’s Christ on a cracker?” It’s a solid, solid crime tale; it’s the combination of cast, style, and story that make it a top contender Gangster (not Gangsta) flick. It’s got that Italian bravado… that oozing machismo… that “OH! Go fuck ya Motha” attitude (by the way, Happy Mother’s Day). Honor, respect, silence, and most importantly of all: false loyalty. Ahhh, everyone wants to be the boss, but Di Leo just proved to me that, minus Springsteen, he’s my new boss of Italian genre cinema.

Shit, I forgot about Hired to Kill. Well, Adorf is given center stage and he kills (literally). Throw in Woody Strode with biceps like whole hams, and Adolfo Celi (yup, the bad guy from Thunderball) and you got yourself a stew goin’. It’s not as good as Calibre 9, as it mixes American B-actors with the Italian faithful, and the plot feels Americanized in terms of it’s action cliches. Again, the saving grace? Mario “The Grease Ball” Adorf! Another factor in this inferior offering in comparison to Calibre is the fact that I had the subtitled version and most of the cast is North American (well, at least the big players, and I think Adorf speaks English as well). So, Woody Strode just sounds and looks weird as hell with some Italian guy’s voice. He’s a B.M.F. but, presumably, some white guy’s voice does him no justice. Still, I’m jacked for the final installment (whenever and wherever I may find it), The Boss!

Official Synopsis? Mafia Mayhem… Any questions?

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