Sunday, April 26, 2009

REDNECK (Senza Ragione, 1973)

Don't let Silvio Narizzano's name fool you. He is a Canadian who has worked in Britain for most of his career. His best known film is Georgy Girl, though he also directed Die, Die, My Darling! for Hammer. I doubt if any of his prior filmography would prepare anyone for this insane Anglo-Italo crime film, which makes up in sheer nuttiness and madcap acting by its American star what it lacks in the usual bloody trappings of an Italian genre film.

It begins with a bungled robbery of a jewelry store by a two-man gang. One partner is an expatriate American named Memphis, the title character for American audiences. This son of the Old South is played by none other than Telly Savalas toward the end of his pre-Kojak Euro sojourn, a period that gave us indelible work like his Cossack chieftain in Horror Express and the sinister butler in Lisa and the Devil. Those are great performances, but Memphis tops them both. His partner in crime is Mosquito, played by the industrious Franco Nero -- who gets to speak his own English dialogue this time. The Movieflix synopsis describes Mosquito as "mindless," but this is unfair, though anyone might seem to lack personality alongside Savalas in full rant. Rant is practically all he does in this picture, though I use the term broadly to cover hymn singing and a vocalese rendering of the can-can in collaboration with Nero.

Anyway: because the proprietor manages to close off the vault, Memphis and Mosquito are only able to get away with a few cases of valuables. A standard Italian car chase ensues, resulting in a standard Italian car wreck that forces the duo and their moll Maria to switch cars. Their modest carjacking proves to be a kidnapping, as unbeknownst to our criminal masterminds there's a boy inside the stolen car. He turns out to be Lennox, the son of a prominent UN official. As Memphis calculates, Lennox is also their "passport" out of Italy. Not only can they claim ransom for him, but the cops will hold back in their pursuit rather than risk the kid's life.

Lennox rather than Maria proves to be the movie's third main character. He's played by Mark Lester, that brat from Oliver!, now in his early teens but still an impressionable youth. He gets the only real character arc in the story, since Memphis is consistently insane and Mosquito is, in theory, mindless. He seems to have been a neglected child, his father being hard pressed to think of a "pet name" for him when questioned by the police. As he overcomes his initial terror, and releases some nervous energy by kicking Memphis in the nads, the boy begins to form a strange attachment to both criminals, and his ordeal begins to seem like a big adventure.

They are soon a threesome rather than a foursome when Maria splits, not liking the direction things are going in. She's Mosquito's girlfriend, but when Memphis sees her leave, he tracks her down. While they're off, Mosquito and the kid wake up, and "mindless" Mosquito assumes that he's been abandoned by his partners. Lennox has to set him straight after a failed attempt to leave the kid by the side of a road -- Mosquito couldn't find a road. Maybe mindless is right, after all.

The storylines diverge for a bit as Memphis tracks down Maria. We've had it established that he has an itchy trigger finger when he shot a shepherd kid off a bridge who was watching him chase Lennox earlier in the picture. Maria is understandably eager not to provoke such an outburst. So she spreads a fur coat on the ground and offers herself to him. The next thing we see, Memphis is dragging her dead body into a car and pushing the car down a steep hillside, all the while singing, "Just As I Am."

Meanwhile, Mosquito and Lennox find shelter in a mansion where the lady of the house doesn't suspect their identities. There follows an unsettling bit of father and son style bonding as Lennox watches Mosquito shave. In reviews posted to IMDB there's a controversy over this scene regarding whether Lennox is simply watching Mosquito shave or, as the audience is invited to do, watching Franco Nero's naked butt.

Consider this dialogue before answering.

Lennox: Mosquito, are we just friends?
Mosquito: Yes, we are friends.

I think I heard it right. Anyway, how many kids have watched their father figures shave and imagined the day when they'll be able to? But how many of those then strip down themselves and pretend-shave with their boyish butts hanging before the camera, only to be watched through a window by Telly Savalas? At least give the boy credit for being frightened.

Fearing an unhappy reunion, Mosquito and Lennox flee into the woods, but Memphis catches them. Fortunately, the kid manages to defuse the situation (as if negotiating between parents?) so that they're a team again. Their trek through the woods takes them into the campground of a vacationing German family. "Krauts. Damn Germans," Memphis drawls, "You know, my folks have been fighting them for two generations." So before you can say "funny games," the gang has stolen the family's food, Memphis has loaded them into their camper after singing "Rinky Dinky Parley Voo" and thanking them for their "Southern hospitality," and the camper has accidentally come unmoored so that it rolls helplessly into a rushing river. Memphis is distraught, though the word hardly does justice to Savalas screaming "Why? Why?" and throwing himself into the river, only to come up for air crying, "It's not my fault!" and blaming Lennox for the disaster.

The funny thing is, Lennox believes this himself. The funnier thing is, he doesn't really feel guilty about it. In fact, he tells Mosquito that he found it all "exciting" while musing, "I wonder if they're bloated now?" The boy now wants to stay with his kidnappers, since he considers himself a criminal. Memphis himself sees "real potential" in him -- enough to be a light sleeper while Lennox plays with a switchblade and ponders cutting Memphis's throat. This tender scene is interrupted by Mosquito returning from the Franco-Italian border town he'd been sent to on an errand to find some conveyance for Memphis, who claims to be busted up inside and incapable of walking further. He found a sled to drag Memphis in, a circumstance that reminds the Redneck of the Flight into Egypt. Seeing his friends' confusion, he notes, "I can tell your religious training has been neglected."

We're set for a climax that has Mosquito bolting off on his own as the carabineri close in, with Memphis threatening to kill the kid if Mosquito doesn't come back. I'll leave you some suspense, but I must note that the very end of the picture, with a hymn-singing Lennox emptying a pistol into empty space, is icing on a pure nuttiness cake.

Franco Nero deserves a lot of credit for managing to maintain a pretty memorable performance, straight man though he is, in the teeth of the hurricane that is Telly Savalas in this picture. He has one mad scene to himself in a junkyard where he smashes cars in frustration over friends' failure to rendezvous with him, and he shares a good long Peckinpavian laugh-out with Savalas when they discover that they've stolen cutlery instead of jewels. But this is indisputably Telly Savalas's show.

Savalas isn't often listed among the champion American scene chewers, but he should earn a mention in the discussion with this turn. I don't know if Cameron Mitchell or Dennis Hopper or anyone else who comes to mind could keep it going at full throttle the same way Telly does here. It may be because he's not as closely identified with genre pictures or thespian madness as other actors that Redneck isn't as well known as it probably should be.

Here's the only English-language clip from Redneck I could find. A Savalas hymn and a car wreck do make for a representative sample, though.

Narizzano has made a morally rugged picture and taken advantage of outdoor locations to portray Lennox's descent from presumably pampered civilization into a moral wilderness. The crappy copy you can see on Movieflix, which comes with Dutch subtitles, makes you wish for a proper DVD restoration, especially since there's a few minutes' discrepancy between the advertised running time and what Movieflix shows. A DVD would probably also do justice to what IMDB alleges to be the one and only movie score by Marizio Catalano. I thought it sounded pretty good.

Redneck doesn't have the pile-it-on momentum of the more authentic Italian product, but it does have a more cumulatively sinister effect than some more effects-laden efforts. Savalas is the real special effect of the picture, and anyone who appreciates extreme thespianism will probably get a kick out of it.

1 comment:

Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Was curious about this one on the Thug City set. Great write-up just might check this out soon.