Tony Arzenta has a wife and a small child. On the day of the boy's birthday Tony has to leave in the middle of the party to kill a man. Since he is not some fantasy character who can successfully juggle a career of murder with bourgeois family responsibilities, he lets his boss (Richard Conte) know that he wants to retire. Both men realize that this is a cliched situation, and that however Conte feels, the mob isn't going to let Arzenta just walk away. Sure enough, despite some feeble protest from Conte, Arzenta is targeted for death by car bomb. Guess who borrows the car?
Conte is disgusted by the botched hit, but presses forward, telling an underling that the blood of Mrs. and Master Arzenta can be washed away only with Tony's blood. At the same time, he admits openly that if Arzenta kills him he'll deserve it for killing Tony's family. And that's what Tony intends to do, despite the warning from a friendly priest that "God's anger is far greater than yours, and so will be his revenge." Unfortunately, Tony has nothing else to do with his life. His family and his killing work had been everything. He lets his home go to pieces as he broods and plans his revenge, so that even his one remaining buddy can't help noticing the dust on the coffee table. This is a film with very conscientious art direction that emphasizes Arzenta's spiritual emptiness and his inability to function normally without a good woman in his life. One will come along (in the form of Carla Gravina), but until then a cat-and-mouse game spreads across Europe from Milan to Copenhagen as the cops look on, rooting for Tony to do their work for them, and mobsters use him as a pawn in their own power games. But as Tony warms to a potential new love, Conte tires of the game, having never really liked it, and looks for a peaceful resolution. The promise of reconciliation and a return to normal life, however, leave Arzenta at his most vulnerable to men's revenge if not to God's....
Delon leaps into action more than once during a vigorous stint as Tony Arzenta.
Videoasia's widescreen copy of Tony Arzenta in the Thug City Chronicles collection is a revelation of Duccio Tessari's directorial vision. I knew him only for Three Tough Guys, which Videoasia presented some time ago in a nasty looking standard-frame copy. Here we can see the command with which he can film stylish or barren interiors as well as vast urban spaces. He's an energetic director who really puts Delon through his paces, but he also effectively envisions Arzenta's muted yet self-consuming grief. He also gets a fine performance from Richard Conte, who lent gravitas to all manner of crime roles in the Seventies, most notably as Barzini in The Godfather but in numerous Italian films as well. Conte did his own dubbing, while Delon, who at least mouthed the film's English dialogue, is dubbed by another actor. That's probably what makes Conte's work stand out, but he also has an intriguing character to work with, one who's unrepentant about the vicious things he does or orders people to do, but still clearly doesn't like having to do them.
The action scenes are terrific, most notably an ambush in a Copenhagen square and a brutal shooting on a train that sends Arzenta's victim halfway through a window, to be smashed repeatedly against passing pillars and posts. Tony Arzenta can be elegant at one moment and vicious in the next, but that's the character's world, or the one he's stuck in once his dream of domestic bliss is destroyed.
Duccio Tessari worked with cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti and production designer Lorenzo Baraldi to achieved the diverse settings of the film, from the coldly modern to the richly sleazy.
Tony Arzenta is one of the better European crime movies I've seen from the Seventies. It may not seem very ambitious at first glance (especially if encountered under its official alternate title, Big Guns), but fans of Alain Delon, at least, will not be disappointed with it, nor will Euro crime fans. And having looked at it twice in two days, the second time on the computer to harvest screen caps, I can say that it rewards multiple viewings with nuances that may be overshadowed by the spectacular mayhem the first time through. Not everyone needs to see a lot of European crime films; for them, Tony Arzenta should be on the short list for the genre.
Here's an Italian trailer uploaded by jonnyredeyes and including that theme song.