One of Italian cinema’s last widely exported genre cycles gets a bemused history/homage in “Eurocrime!” Mike Malloy’s long but lively documentary taps a first-rate lineup of surviving participants to reminisce about their “Me” Decade spent toiling in molto Italio ripoffs of the era’s blockbuster U.S. cop capers and Mafia mellers. A fun ode to an arcane exploitation subgenre a la “Not Quite Hollywood,” the pic will maintain shelf life as the films it showcases make their way into home-format release (notably via Rarovideo) and build a cult following that already includes (natch) Quentin Tarantino.
The intensely fad-driven Italo film industry had already burned through sword-and-sandal peplum and spaghetti Westerns by the early 1970s. Seeking a new flavor to wring dry, producers were inspired by the massive international success of “The Godfather,” but even more by rogue-cop actioners “The French Connection” and “Dirty Harry.” These models offered infinite opportunities for violence, sex and violent sex, without requiring their organized-crime figures to take forms that might discomfort Italy’s own (some of whom were rumored to have shadowy involvement in the film biz). Their influence was clear in three hits that kicked off the craze in 1972-73: “Execution Squad,” “The Violent Professionals” and “High Crime.”
Sometimes the imitations were blatant, but these Italian potboilers’ borrowed elements were spun in energetic, trashy directions distinct from Hollywood’s. Budgetary restraints meant thrills had to come cheap — mostly in the form of blood and boobs, with extreme misogynist mayhem often wreaked on women to handily combine both. (Unsurprisingly, there’s just one female among the many interviewees here, and notably for an Italo ingenue of the era, Nicoletta Machiavelli refused to do degrading scenes.)
The producing nation’s real-life violence (criminal and terrorist-political) was occasionally reflected onscreen, but more often the films soft-pedaled their origins for export purposes. To that end, they frequently employed faded or B-list English-language thesps (Martin Balsam, Henry Silva, John Saxon, etc.), some getting second-career winds after being blacklisted back home. Some of the genre’s biggest stars, however, were actors who had significant B.O. clout everywhere but the U.S. — among them Luc Merenda, Maurizio Merli, Richard Harrison and Chris Mitchum.
The films’ popularity at home was fed by their amplification of working-class economic/poltical frustratation, as well as Italians’ heavy moviegoing habits when there were still very few TV channels to choose from. But that began to change by decade’s end, and the arrival of VHS dealt another blow. Also, unlike spaghettis and peplum, the poliziotteschi never made much of a splash in the lucrative U.S. market, perhaps because the often crudely dubbed dialogue that American auds didn’t mind when characters lived in Ancient Rome or the Wild West seemed more off-putting in these modern, urban thrillers.
Myriad excerpts bear out the genre’s distinctive qualities in style and content, notably the frequent use of zoom lenses, reckless stuntwork (often shot sans permits on busy public streets) and vicious violence. There’s no end of colorful stories from interviewees that encompass just about every major surviving player (local superstar Tomas Milian being one notable exception). Nearly all are nostalgically good-humored, though the senior Antonio Sabato brandishes an undiminished ego as florid and unironic as his shocking-pink garb. Further enlivened by periodic animation, the pic only falters in that all seven themed chapters are equally high-energy, leading to a certain monotony over the long haul.
Assembly is sharp, complete with cool retro-style original soundtrack. Vintage clip quality is generally high-grade.