Carlo Lizzani – Banditi a Milano AKA The Violent Four (1968)


Description: As public outrage mounts against organized crime in modern-day Milan, four robbers meticulously plan a timed assault on several major banks within a period of 40 minutes. Led by the mastermind Cavallero, the men have pulled off other robberies in the past, keeping their identities secret by leading seemingly law-abiding lives. While making their getaway after one robbery, however, there is a slip-up, and the men must blast their way through the streets with submachine guns, killing several innocent bystanders in an effort to escape from the police. Three of the robbers escape, but a fourth, Rovoletto, is wounded and captured. The city is blockaded with the latest electronic devices, and police inspector Basevi questions Rovoletto, who finally breaks down. Lopez, the youngest gang member, is easily captured in his home, but Cavallero and Notarnicola evade the police dragnet. Before long, however, they are tracked down and cornered in an abandoned farmhouse. While being brought back to headquarters by Basevi, Cavallero boasts that his crimes have made him as famous as the Sicilian bandits of old, but he is shocked when a mob of irate citizens surround the police car, cursing and spitting at him.
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Alvin Rakoff – Passport to Shame AKA Room 43 (1958)

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Synopsis by Michael P. Rogers
Before Eddie Constantine became a French pop icon as the slapdash “Lemmy Caution,” he played Johnny, a straightforward London taxi driver. When his new taxi is smashed and he needs a big loan, he agrees to a five-minute marriage to Malou, a naive French girl, so she can become a British citizen. As planned, the two part after the nuptials, not realizing that this has all been rigged as a recruiting scheme by Nick (Herbert Lom), the boss of a Soho prostitution ring. Malou learns of Nick’s plans for her future and tries to escape but is drugged and locked up. With help from the head “girl,” Vicki (Diana Dors), Johnny learns of Malou’s peril, and hatches a plan to free her. This dark action thriller has a few clever twists, and Dors is gorgeous, but her fans may be disappointed at the smallness of her role. Continue reading

James Foley – At Close Range (1986)

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One of the overlooked films of the 1980s, perhaps because it is such a downbeat tale of an amoral family. Sean Penn plays a kid whose small-time criminal impulses are stoked to a new level when he falls in with his father (Christopher Walken), a vicious career criminal for whom no problem is so large that it can’t be solved by a murder. At first exhilarated by the attention from his father (and the jobs he gives him to do), he gradually catches on to just what a bad guy Dad really is. But when he tries to extricate himself, he discovers that Dad now has him squarely in his sights. Penn is terrific in a role of emotional complexity, while Walken, king of the creeps, is positively frightening as this soft-spoken but highly lethal patriarch. Continue reading

Bertrand Tavernier – L.627 (1992)


After recently watching Bertrand Tavernier’s “In the Electric Mist”, that film made me miss “L.627” all the more. While “In the Electric Mist” isn’t a complete failure, it’s mixture of Southern gothic, hard boiled detective novels and clunky exposition doesn’t seem to represent the best of Tavernier’s senses. A French filmmaker not afraid to put himself on the line and film a quintessential “American” story (see “Round Midnight”, even though it documents the musician’s exploits in France), Tavernier’s 1992 film “L.627” is his masterpiece…. and still not available for digestion on region 1 DVD. Continue reading

Alfred Hitchcock – Blackmail (talkie version) (1929)


Alice White is the daughter of a shopkeeper in 1920’s London. Her boyfriend, Frank Webber is a Scotland Yard detective who seems more interested in police work than in her. Frank takes Alice out one night, but she has secretly arranged to meet another man. Later that night Alice agrees to go back to his flat to see his studio. The man has other ideas and as he tries to rape Alice, she defends herself and kills him with a bread knife. When the body is discovered, Frank is assigned to the case, he quickly determines that Alice is the killer, but so has someone else and blackmail is threatened. Continue reading

Pierre Chenal – Le Dernier Tournant AKA The Last Turning (1939)


Plot summary:

Frank, a vagabond, arrives at a service station on a mountain road near to Marseilles. The kindly old owner, Nick, offers him a job which he accepts. Frank is instantly attracted to Nick’s young wife, Cora, and they have a passionate affair. The two lovers plan to kill Nick so that they can profit from his life insurance. Having made Nick’s death look like an accident, they are acquitted of his murder. However, fate has a cruel twist in store… Continue reading

Rainer Werner Fassbinder – Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)


This shattering adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s masterpiece – made for TV in 13 episodes with a two-hour epilogue – offers a level-headed account of protagonist Biberkopf’s key weakness: his quasi-sexual infatuation with the psychotic pimp Reinhold. Aided by great design, cinematography, and, not least, performances, Fassbinder tells the story surprisingly naturalistically. Then in the epilogue, he offers a disturbing meditation on his own fantasies about Biberkopf. This phantasmagoria is Fassbinder’s most daring act of self-exposure: a movie time-bomb that forces you to rethink the series as a whole. The work of a genuine master with nothing left to lose or hide. Continue reading