Michael Mackenzie gets down and dirty in the crime-infested streets of 1970s Genoa and reviews Street Law, the first of three releases from Blue Underground of poliziotteschi helmed by Enzo G. Castellari. This 1974 offering stars the inimitable Franco Nero and features an interesting commentary and featurette.
Carlo Antonelli (Franco Nero) is a normal, everyday businessman until, one day, he finds himself on the wrong side of three vicious bank robbers. When he fails to comply with their demands, they take him hostage and brutally assault him. With the police apparently unwilling to do anything about the attack, Antonelli decides to take the law into his own hands. Much to the chagrin of his on-off girlfriend Barbara (Barbara Bach), he is drawn deeper and deeper into a web of corruption as he enters the very bowels of Genoa’s underworld.
As the giallo craze of the early 1970s was beginning to wind down in Italy, a new trend was already emerging: the poliziotteschi, a tough, gritty brand of urban thriller, swapping the whodunit nature of the giallo for shoot-outs, crime syndicates and cold-blooded revenge quests. Significantly less defined upon traditional notions of “goodies” and “baddies” than their American counterparts, much of their power comes from their focus on everyday individuals driven to the point of despair and forced to become ruthless vigilantes in order to protect themselves and their families after the law has failed them.
Considered to be one of the finest poliziotteschi directors in the business, Enzo G. Castellari infuses his film with a sense of urgency and constant frustration. The film moves at a frenzied pace, with even the quieter moments overflowing with tension. In stark contrast to the baroque colours and grandiose architecture found in so many gialli, meanwhile, Street Law as a rough and ready appearance to it, taking place in a harsh concrete jungle of side streets, factories and backwater bars. The shooting style, too, is deliberately coarse, with an emphasis on handheld camerawork, jump cuts and a rough, grainy texture to the film stock.
The film’s greatest asset, however, is its star, Franco Nero. A performer who believed passionately in what he was doing, no matter the role, Nero throws himself into the part of Carlo Antonelli and makes the audience truly believe in his plight. His style of acting might unkindly be described as scenery-chewing, but it seems appropriate to the overblown, larger than life nature of Antonelli’s story. Much like his appearance in the giallo The Fifth Cord, which also saw a recent release from Blue Underground, he dominates every scene in which he appears (which constitutes a good 90% of the running time) and makes up for his lack of subtlety by pummelling the audience into submission through his sheer intensity.
The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Barbara Bach, who, despite receiving top billing alongside Nero, has little to do other than look pretty and furrow her brow appropriately. Her part is paper-thin and could probably have been excised completely without it making any difference to the running time, which, ultimately, reinforces the fact that the poliziotteschi world is decidedly male-oriented – a stark contrast to gialli, which, despite their at times misogynistic attitudes, at least gave their female players something to do.
The ultimate message of Street Law is that the end justifies the means, as, in his quest to take revenge against his attackers, Antonelli becomes every bit as brutal and ruthless as them, and he quickly discovers that everyone is in it for themselves. With its brutal, unflinching portrayal of violence and crime, the film is arguably as potent today as it was on its original release. A stellar example of the poliziotteschi genre, Street Law is not to be missed.
Street Law arrives on DVD courtesy of Blue Underground with their usual style of presentation. Presented anamorphically in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image is watchable for the most part but suffers from noticeable edge enhancement, resulting in prominent haloes around the actors’ heads, as well as some aggressive filtering, which severely limits the available detail, in addition to freezing the at times prominent grain patterns. It’s not a bad transfer, but it could have been so much better.
The audio is restricted to an English dub, presented in its original mono format. Since, as usual, Franco Nero dubs his own voice (the rest of the cast don’t fare quite so well), this would probably have been most people’s preferred listening option, but it would be nice to have been given the chance to hear the Italian version as well. As usual, there are no subtitles.
Audio commentaries have, so far, been fairly sparse on Blue Underground’s releases, so it comes as a pleasant surprise that Street Law includes a feature-length track with director Enzo G. Castellari, his son Andrea Girolami (assistant director on The English Patient), and Blue Underground chief Bill Lustig. It’s a good track, with some intelligent discussion regarding casting choices, the lean, mean shooting style, and how film production in the 1970s differs from that of the present day, but it does unfortunately contain quite a few lapses into silence, while Lustig at times seems slightly too eager to blow his own trumpet. Still, this is very much required listening for fans of Italian crime cinema.
Castellari returns for a featurette entitled Laying Down the Law, where he and Franco Nero (recorded separately) discuss Street Law‘s influences and their collaboration together. The two men are full of praise for each other, which, were it not justified, could quickly have become quite insipid, but their discussion is for the most part quite restrained and intelligent and, at 17 minutes, the featurette doesn’t outstay its welcome. Only some poor quality clips from Catellari and Nero’s first collaboration, High Crime, mar this piece.
The film’s Italian theatrical trailer (with English audio) and a blurry, washed-out US TV spot complete the package.
Blue Underground have brought a highly regarded example of the poliziotteschi genre to DVD, with the studio’s usual mediocre image quality slightly marring the experience, but the insightful bonus features going some way towards making up for this shortcoming. Highly recommended for veterans of Italian crime cinema, as well as those looking for an antedote to the comparatively more moralistic American variants of the genre, Street Law has lost none of its edge.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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