Friday, January 22, 2010

MISTER SCARFACE (Il Padrone della Citta, 1976)

This is the first film from Fernando di Leo that I've seen since I examined his great "Milieu" trilogy of crime films last fall -- Milano Calibro 9, Man Hunt and Il Boss. Those three films in their violence, cynicism and deromanticized view of organized crime stand comparison with the great Seventies crime films from the U.S. and Japan, but they don't quite prepare you for Mister Scarface. This later film is more of a comedy-drama, but di Leo has trouble maintaining a balance of comic and deadly-serious elements.

The opening sets us up for a revenge storyline as we see Jack Palance betray and kill his partner in crime. He earns the "Scarface" name for what really looks like a small wound suffered here as the partner throws a glass bottle at his head. The victim's son witnesses it all and with a dreamlike calmness walks past his father's body toward Palance as the killer collects his loot. The boy grabs a gun and gets the drop on Palance, who raises his hands almost mockingly. He knows that the gun is empty. He slaps the kid aside and goes his way.

"Mister Scarface" doesn't really seem worse for wear after his prefatory disfigurement. The film could well have been called "Mister Cigarette Holder" instead.

In the present, we're introduced to Tony (German actor Harry Baer), a hard-working enforcer for Luigi, a local loan shark (legendary Hollywood dud Edmund Purdom). It looks like Tony is being set up as a Terrence Hill sort of comic hero. As he tries to collect for his boss, he displays acrobatic fighting skills and a sort of wit -- about half of one. When one recalcitrant debtor tries to fend him off with a whip, he quips, "You may be Marquis de Sade, though I don't swing that way." The English dubbing is mostly adequate, but other odd phrases turn up. Later, Scarface, aka Signor Manzari, tells Tony, "You seem to like playing the fool." Tony answers, "It breaks my day." Throughout the early part of the film, Tony fights with his fists exclusively, which worried me. It'd be a lame crime film if no one got shot.

Tony befriends Rick (Al Cliver), a former minion of Manzari who's been beaten from the ranks for allowing himself to be suckered at cards in Luigi's club. Investigating the scene himself, Scarface writes a 3,000,000 lira check to cover his losses, but later refuses to cash it for his creditor. Luigi and his gang fear Manzari ("Just looking at him, my asshole twitches," says Vincenzo Napoli, a flamboyant oldster who becomes the primary comic relief), but Tony, looking for a shortcut to advancement in the gang, vows to get the money from Scarface. Rick helps him figure out a scheme; they hire an actor to join Tony in playing finance ministry auditors who demand to see Manzari's books. The panicky Scarface agrees to the suggestion to bribe the government men. Bribe in hand, Tony gives Luigi his money, but doesn't let his boss know that he and Rick have kept 7,000,000 lira for themselves.

Luigi didn't expect to see the money and isn't happy to. He knows that Scarface will take it out on him, especially when Tony was dumb enough to leave the original check with Manzari so he'll know exactly where his money went. Fearing the heat, Luigi skips town while Manzari's gang tears up his club. When an unfaithful minion, Peppi, learns of the extra 7 million, he realizes that Tony, an enemy who humiliated him in an earlier fight, must have the loot. Peppi kills his cowardly boss and, instead of hunting Tony down himself, allies himself with Scarface. Manzari's men kill the actor but Tony and Rick, with Napoli as advisor and intercessor with the saints, prove a tougher proposition as the film grows steadily more violent and lethal.

Edmund Purdom cashes in just as the film becomes a bit less comic.

What does all this have to do with the early murder and the boy who lived? My first assumption was that, Tony being the apparent main character, he must be the boy grown up into a life of crime. But Tony's too much the happy-go-lucky sort to be an avenger. That leaves Rick, but di Leo does just about nothing to build up anticipation for the inevitable revelation. When it comes, in the middle of a climactic showdown between our heroic trio and Manzari's gang at an old slaughterhouse, it leaves you wondering. Was Rick's stint in Scarface's crew an attempt to get close to his enemy in order to take revenge. It seemed like nothing of the sort at the time. Di Leo does so little with the revenge storyline that you could believe that whether Rick or Tony would be the avenger might have come down to a coin flip. For a story element introduced at the start of the film, it seems a lot like an afterthought, and it really is superfluous, adding nothing to the film.

Al Cliver has his revenge. So?

We're dealing with something far below the level of di Leo's earlier trilogy, but the film has its moments. Most of these are later action scenes, including Tony leading a foot chase through the streets of Rome as well as the big finale at the slaughterhouse, which includes machine guns, a dude on a meathook, motorcycle jumping, gigantic walkie-talkie antennae and an exploding car. Also, few di Leo films, it seems, are complete without a nightclub scene with some hot nearly naked women dancing, and in this respect Mister Scarface does not disappoint. Nor is it lacking in the music department, as Luis Enriquez Bacalov contributes a tense score that never succumbs to comic temptations.

My copy of Il Padrone della Citta is a crappy fullscreen edition that's one of five films in Pop Flix's cheapo Mafia Kingpin collection, which also includes three widescreen Umberto Lenzi cop films and Bruno Corbucci's Cop in Blue Jeans. I don't know if better copies are available, but regardless of condition, as long as you don't expect something with the power of Il Boss or Calibro 9 and you like Jack Palance, you should find Mister Scarface a mildly entertaining trifle for an hour and a half.

There's no trailer on line, but oneinchpunch77 has uploaded an American radio spot to YouTube.


Nigel M said...

Not sure what state my copy is as its been a while since I looked at it and it is very grey market anyway. To be honest I remember little about the film beyond the title and a promotional image with palance- I will get round to watching again before long but I am confident that Di Leo wont let me down :)

venoms5 said...

I have the Raro DVD (which is English friendly and has a documentary) and was anticipating this movie to be very good based on some of the things I'd heard about it. I was very much disappointed. Outside of a nice opening sequence, it was pretty much downhill from there. This was part of Di Leo's second 'trilogy'. The other two are NICK THE STING and LOADED GUN.

The Raro disc for NICK has no English options, but I have a fair quality bootleg of the film. It's more lighthearted than RULERS OF THE CITY (MR. SCARFACE).

You may want to avoid LOADED GUN. That's an awful movie. Unless you wanna see Ursula Andress naked throughout, you may want to steer clear of it. It's like a TRINITY version of a Eurocrime flick. The Raro DVD for is English friendly and has a very interesting doc on the films making that is more interesting than the film itself.