Saturday, May 26, 2012

El Professore Movie Review: The Italian Connection (aka Manhunt)

The Italian Connection (aka Manhunt)

Director: Fernando Di Leo
Starring: Mario Adorf, Henry Silva, Woody Strode, Luca Canali, Luciana Paluzzi
* * * *
Luca Carnali (Mario Adorf in a decided offbeat casting decision), a small time mobster and pimp in Milan, finds his world turned upside down when he is made the unwitting fallguy by the local Godfather and framed for a shipment of heroine that goes missing en route to New York. A pair of hitmen from the Big Apple (a loud and obnoxious Henry Silva and a nearly mute Woody Strode) are dispatched to Italy in order to kill him "in the most brutal and conspicuous way possible" in order to send a "message". After his wife and daughter are murdered, Carnali loses it and turns from hunted to hunter as he seeks revenge on The Don, the hitmen and anyone else who stands in his way.

Full review after the jump!

Fernando Di Leo was until recently, one of the unsung heroes of the Italian 'B' gangster/action genre that came in the wake of 'The Godfather'. Completely lacking in subtlety both in narrative and character development, Di Leo's films exist as crazed pop art visions. This was the second in an unconnected trilogy of films, following 'Caliber 9' and preceeding 'The Boss'. Of the three, The Italian Connection (retitled Manhunt for some prints during it's U.S. theatrical release) offers the best mixture of cool characters and over the top action, violence and sleeze. The highlights are many; topless go go dancing in swingin' 70s style clubs, Silva and Strode's fist fight with local thugs (resulting from a hooker kneeing Silva in the nads), Adorf's heavy duty headbutts (the best seen this side of a shaolin monk in action), an incredible midfilm chase by vehicle and on foot that serves as the flick's centerpiece (ranking right up there with the likes of Bullet, The French Connection and The Seven Ups) and the tense filnale which pits Adorf against Silva and Strode in a junk heap. But the sequence that stands out the most is the penultimate faceoff between Carnali and The Godfather in the latter's office. It is an unpredictable exchange that will likely stay with you long after the movie ends.

Di Leo's decision to give the lead role to half Italian/half German Mario Adorf (surely one of the more unlikely protaganists ever to grace the screen) was a daring one. Previously seen in the more expected role of a slimey thug in Caliber 9, Adorf proves to have the chops to pull the antihero role off. Despite being a lowly pimp, audiences are almost immediately drawn to his character's side through his humor and humanity. Of course, it also helps that he is by far the least loathesome character in the film and a much put upon one as well. Henry Silva and Woody Strode are both note perfect as the nearly inhuman assassins. So good and so memorable are they here (Strode in particular) that the film could have easily centered around them as opposed to Adorf. Quentin Tarantino has said that he based his Pulp Fiction pairing of John Travolta and Samuel Jackson off of these two. Personally, I don't really see it other than that they are two hitmen and one happens to be black and the other, white (Hispanic actually). Personality wise, they could hardly be more different.

Complete with a too cool to be true soundtrack (one that would make for ideal listening to in one's car), The Italian Connection shapes up as one of the great ones of the decade. Despite some admittedly choppy editing, it is otherwise a nearly seemless thriller that invites repeat viewings.

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