Milano Calibro 9 Review
“The Mafia is dead”
Released after a three-year term in prison for a bungled robbery, Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin, The Conformist) plans to lead the straight life for a while. But no sooner is he back on the street than he’s picked up by a bunch of hoodlums under the employ of his former boss, 'the Americano’ (Lionel Stander, TV series Hart To Hart) – among them, the psychopathic Rocco (Mario Adorf, The Tin Drum) – who are convinced that Ugo stole $300,000 from them. The gang forces Ugo to resume working for them in the hope that he’ll eventually lead them to their missing loot.
After writing several screenplays both for himself and other directors (including Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More or Sergio Corbucci's Navajoe Joe), and after directing a handful of dramas at the end of the 60s, Fernando Di Leo achieved posterity at the beginning of the 70s with Milano Calibo 9 which participated in the explosion of one of the very popular Italian genre of the 70s: the Italian crime thriller, also referred as poliziottesci.
In a sense, Milano Calibo 9 is typical of the 70s Italian politic cinema as it deals with several themes (social inequalities, rise of anarchists, North and South division, rich vs. poor and immigration) which were symptomatic of the climate of the early 70s in a country torn between extreme right and Marxist ideologies (the sub-genre arose at the end of the 60s drawing from Italia's difficult political and social climate at the time). This is particularly apparent in all the dialogues in the police station between the fascist Commissioner, played by Frank Wolff, and his communist colleague Mercuri, played by Luigi Pistilli during which they discuss many of these issues in what somewhat seems like another movie (Fernando Di Leo was quoted as regretting leaving theses scenes in the final movie as, retrospectively, he thought they undermined the efficiency of the movie).
However at its heart, Milano Calibo 9 remains a true crime drama in which we follow Ugo's attempt to deal with a bunch of colourful characters ranging from exotic dancer to fallen godfather. In that sense, the movie actually appears more in the lineage of another famous genre, the Film Noir, very popular in the 40s/50s, and in which a burly introverted character comes out of prison and has to face disloyalty in a world where one cannot count on anyone.
Fernando Di Leo mentioned as his cinematic inspirations the movies of John Huston and Jean-Pierre Melville. Therefore, it is not a coincidence if Gastone Moschin's character strongly reminds some of these directors’ characters such as Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle or Lino Ventura in Le Deuxieme Souffle.
Fernando Di Leo draws inspiration from his masters however the style of his cinema is more hand crafted. This could have a detrimental effect on the movie and undermine its efficiency but it actually plays in Milano Calibo 9's favour as the movie completely assumes its caricatural and excessive style. As a result, the lack of precision of certain scenes is compensated by a fascinating atmosphere.
This is particularly relevant in the opening and middle scenes where the director depicts, in a particularly austere and gray Milan, a succession of exchanges of a package which immerses the audience in symbolic places such as Piazza del Duomo or the Milano Centrale railway station. If the city is portrayed in this manner it is because it was actually prone to crime at that time. It is a recurring element of the genre to shoot on actual locations to illustrate the urban violence raging there. These sequences do not play a pivotal role in relation the plot but illustrate the fact that the director can divert us at any time from the story to privilege the atmosphere of certain situations (this can be applied similarly to the police station scenes mentioned earlier).
Similarly, in the same manner that there are two visions of the police, there are also two types of crime in Milano Calibo 9, illustrated by the contrast between the band of the Americano, who does not hesitate to hit women or to cause explosions in public places, and Don Vicenzo (Ivo Garrani) and his nephew Chino (Philippe Leroy), which embody the “old school” Mafia, respectful of the codes of honor. In the same way Fernando Di Leo clearly indicates his preferences in the police scenes, he does the same during the gangster confrontation ones with the character of Chino, the only one able to go against the Americano's influence, and who is treated with a respect and admiration which tend to iconisation.
If Milano Calibo 9 is not a movie which will appeal to everybody’s taste, it remains an extremely effective piece of cinema and remains one of the best examples of why this kind of cinema was so popular in the 60s/70s and a good explanation of the cult it still has among numerous cinephiles over the world.
Arrow Academy released Milano Calibo 9’s combi blu-ray and DVD discs on 15th June.
The blu-ray disc features a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative which is presented in a glorious high Definition 1080p transfer. There is a very notable improvement in comparison to previous DVD edition of the movie and I don’t think it will look better on video for quite some time. A very impressive achievement which confirms the label’s love for this kind of cinema.
On the sound side, Arrow Video has included the original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM). The tracks are both very good but anybody who enjoys this kind of cinema should watch the Italian version (even if the majority of the actors are dubbed) to enjoy Rocco’s over-the-top soliloquies. There is also the possibility to view the Italian version of the movie with newly translated English subtitles or the English version with English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The bonus section is mostly reprised from the 2004 DVD edited by Raro Video.
Calibro 9 (30 min)
Calibro 9 is a 2004 making-of documentary featuring interviews with, most notably, director Fernando Di Leo and stars Barbara Bouchet and Philippe Leroy. It is particularly interesting to hear the director's opinion about the original book written by Georgio Scerbanenco, and the similarity between their style and ideas, and his explanations about the difference between the classic poliziottesci, in which the main character is usually a “fascist who does everything”, and the direction that he took with his movies.
The producer and editor also mention the violence of the movie which led the Italian censorship committee to cut several shots of the movie during the final scene.
Philip Leroy reminisces his work on the movie and with his co-stars.
Barbara Bouchet, filmed in a weird bright white light, explains how different she is from the character she plays in the movie and how she was famously photographed for an Italian newspaper during her dance scene.
Composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov is also interviewed and explains his relationship with Fernando Di Leo and his work with the group Osana who collaborated on the score.
Fernando Di Leo: The Genesis of the Genre (40 min)
This is a documentary charting the filmmaking career of the Milano Calibro 9 director. It covers Fernando Di Leo’s involvement, as screenwriter, on the 4 first Italian Westerns that made the genre (Duccio Tessari’s A Pistol for Ringo and its sequel The Return of Ringo and the 2 first movies of the Dollar Trilogy), his interest for the Noir genre and his characters (cops and women).
Scerbanenco Noir (27 min)
This is a insightful look at the work of Italian crime writer Georgio Scerbanenco, author of the original Milano Calibo 9 novel with interventions from various Italian writers reflecting about his style and the context of his books.
Gastone Moschin audio interview (4 min)
The anecdotic audio interview is illustrated by promotional material for the movie (including one showing American actor Martin Balsam who is not in the final movie!). The actor remembers his involvement in the movie, Fernando Di Leo, his co-stars Barbara Bouchet and Mario Adorf.
Italian Violenta (18 min)
The only new bonus added to this edition. In this new video interview, Matthew Holness, writer and star of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, offers up an appreciation of Milano Calibo 9 and the Italian poliziotteschi sub-genre. Holness covers interesting elements such as the origins of the genre, the Italian climate at the time and how Milano Calibo 9 both influenced the genre while retaining very specific qualities inherited by Film Noir movies, and in doing so, nonchalantly spoils the ending of the movie... He also makes a fascinating link between the atmosphere of Milano Calibo 9 and the one found in Mike Hodge's Get Carter which brings an interesting perspective to the movie.
The remaining bonuses are the usual trailers: the identical, aside from the voice over, US and Italian trailers.
Arrow Video's disc also includes a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, author of Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 with a beautiful artwork by Reinhard Kleist.
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9 out of 10