Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977
The 1970s were a time of intense uncertainty and instability in Italy. Political corruption and widespread acts of left and right-wing terrorism, alongside a breakdown in social cohesion and a loss of trust in public institutions such as the government and police, created a febrile atmosphere of cynicism, paranoia and unexploded rage. Throughout this period, these sentiments found expression in a series of brutal, often morally ambiguous crime thrillers which tapped into the atmosphere of violence and instability that defined the so-called Years of Lead.
This box set gathers five films from the heyday of the “poliziotteschi” – the umbrella term used to describe this diverse body of films. In Vittorio Salerno’s Savage Three (1975) and Mario Imperoli’s Like Rabid Dogs (1976), random acts of violence committed by vicious young sociopaths threaten the fragile fabric of respectable society. In Massimo Dallamano’s Colt 38 Special Squad (1976) and Stelvio Massi’s Highway Racer (1977), renegade cops battling against red tape and political corruption turn to new and morally dubious methods to dispense justice. Finally, class dynamics are explored in Salerno’s No, the Case is Happily Resolved (1973) as an innocent man finds himself under suspicion for a savage crime committed by a highly respected member of society.
Decried by critics for their supposedly fascistic overtones, the poliziotteschi were in fact more ideologically varied and often considerably more nuanced than such superficial readings would suggest, and proved a huge hit with theatergoers, who responded to their articulation of present-day social concerns.
For the first title in their Italian crime thriller box set Years of Lead, Arrow Video presents Vittorio Salerno’s Savage Three. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. Arrow was supplied the high-def master by Intramovies and no further notes have been provided around where it was sourced from, though I'm going to guess an interpositive at least (CORRECTION: the scan apparently does come from the negative). The film shares the first dual-layer disc of the set with Like Rabid Dogs.
At times the master can have a dated look, rendering grain in a somewhat noisier manner, but when all is said and done the film still comes out looking good. Even if grain isn’t perfect it still has a stable photographic look, and the image stays sharp and crisp all throughout. The restoration work has also been thorough, no blemishes sticking out.
Where the image is a bit iffy is in the area of colour grading. Arrow’s notes state they did do some of their own grading and I suspect the master they were supplied with probably had a heavier yellow look about it. Arrow has more than likely toned this aspect down and though the image still has a warmer look it’s not severe, whites still coming off white-ish at least, and I suspect it's pretty close to how it should probably look. Unfortunately the black levels can appear crushed or heavy in places, eating up detail in darker shots. I suspect it’s a byproduct of the master’s original colour grading and maybe little could have been done about it. Still, it's a not a bad looking presentation in the end, warts and all.
(As a note, the disc is encoded at region A and B, but region B players will play an alternate version of the film that trims out footage involving a rather bloody fight between mice.)
The film features a lossless Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtrack. It’s about what I expected due to the post-dubbing: it’s incredibly flat, lacking depth and fidelity, and there is a detached feel from the events in the film. Even the more action-oriented sequences come off one-note and simple. Worst of all, there is this central rock song that plays during the film’s tense scenes that tries to push the volume levels a bit only to come off tinny and harsh. It’s obviously all baked into the source materials, and I doubt much could have been done outside of filtering things (which would have just made the track even flatter), but I found the whole thing generally unpleasant.
The set packs in a number of supplements across the set, and they are all organized by film. This disc holds both Savage Three and Like Rabid Dogs awith features for both films. From the opening menu you are asked to select either film, and upon selecting the film you are then take to its respective menu where you can then look through the supplements specific to that film. This review section will only focus on the features for Savage Three.
Outside of a solo image gallery featuring the film’s poster (it’s literally an image gallery with that one image) Savage Three only includes two significant supplements, an interview featuring director Vittorio Salerno and actor Martine Brochard (both recorded individually) along with a solo interview with actor Joe Dallesandro. Both were recorded for a previous Blu-ray and/or DVD edition in 2017.
Admittedly the supplements don't look like a lot at first, but both segments run 40-minutes each. The Salerno/Brochard one is more along the lines of a general recollection of the production, with Salerno taking up far more of the feature’s time. Outside of the film Salerno does touch on the film Italian industry of the time, explaining how he was able to make the film thanks to what sounds like the creation of a type of co-op for directors, and this was due to plummeting budgets at the studios. This was all thanks to the politcal climate of the time, which Salerno referring to it by its handle, the “years of lead” (hey! that’s the title Arrow bequeathed upon this set).
It’s a nice rundown on the film and even other films from the time, leading to a nice intro to the other films in the set. But the star supplement here, and the star supplement of the entire set so far (I’m only three titles in as I write this), is Dallesandro’s contribution. It’s about what I expected from the cult star, who is pretty blunt and doesn’t hold back. Thankfully the interview is more along the lines of a career retrospective, Dallesandro recalling how he first went down to see “that soup guy” (Andy Warhol obviously) making a film before getting roped into appearing in that same film, all with the expectation of maybe getting some soup out of the deal (it sounds as though he thought Warhol worked for Campbell). This then led to other Warhol films including those directed by Paul Morrissey, before severing ties and making his way to Italy, where he got a steady bit of work. He ends up being amazed at what he remembers about the time, confessing to being a heavy drinker then, but he talks about his work in Italy (including this film), the directors of his films, his co-stars (referring to Savage Three he says Brochard was a “nice lady” and Enrico Maria Salerno was “an asshole”), and then his “stunt work.” On this latter topic he recalls the numerous times he was hurt thanks to “pretty stupid stunt guys” and a number of other “stupid things” that happened to him. Amusingly enough it sounds as though the star has never seen the films, and when talking about the fork lift scene in Savage Three (which he thought was one of the more bizarre things he ever filmed) he still had no idea how the sequence ended. This interview’s great and is the one I would most recommend watching.
Again, the supplements don’t look all that impressive in the beginning, but the two interview segments are both terrific additions, the Dallesandro interview just putting a big grin on my face.
A decent enough presentation but the included interview with Joe Dallesandro is the stand-out.