The Big Racket (1976)

Original Title: Il grande racket
Country: Italy
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Starring: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Renzo Palmer, Orso Maria Guerrini, Glauco Onorato, Marcella Michelangeli, Romano Puppo
Music: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis

In 1987, when Robocop was released at the cinemas, I was living in the Central Victorian city of Bendigo. Like most of my peers, I hopped along to the Golden Twin cinemas to see Paul Verhoeven’s cyborg action flick. What really impressed me was not the stylised violence but the moderate language. It proved you could make a good blood and guts movie without every second word being ‘fuck’!

Of course, when it was released on video, with the language re-instated, I released that the version I had seen at the cinemas had been edited and it wasn’t the director’s vision to have ‘clean language’ in his film. That brings as to the Eurocrime thriller The Big Racket, which is a pumped up, tough, stylised cop movie from director Enzo G. Castellari. The English dub of this film is almost laughable in it’s restraint. Instead of calling a character a ‘bastard’, they call him a ‘basket’ (I guess – short for ‘basket case’). And the word ‘shit’ is replaced with ‘diddly’. So in the film, there are great dialogue exchanges like, ‘…we’re up diddly creek without a paddle…we’re in deep diddly…’ It’s a sad reflection on my character, but strangely, this crazy dialogue only added to my enjoyment of the film.

I know that Eurocrime films are formulaic, but one of the reasons I enjoy watching them is ticking off the set pieces I expect to see. In The Big Racket nearly all the boxes are ticked. Fabio Testi, plays Inspector Nico Palmieri. Palmieri is a tough cop, who is continually frustrated by the system and his superiors (tick). Palmieri, is a tough cop, whose partner is killed in the line of duty (tick). Palmieri, is a tough cop, who is kicked off the force for using unconventional methods (tick). Sadly, as each of these scenes is played out on my television screen, I cry out ‘YES’ and pump my fist into the air with approval. The one thing the film is missing, is a car chase through the streets of Rome, and a fruit vendor stall being knocked over – I guess we can’t have everything.

The Big Racket does have a plot about a vicious gang who run a collection racket. As far as Eurocrime plots go, it’s more cohesive than most. But you really don’t need me to outline more than that – it’s loud, dumb, violent – and as far as I am concerned, it’s a great night’s entertainment.

The Big Racket (1976)

Revolver (1973)

AKA: Blood In The Streets
Director: Sergio Sollima
Starring: Oliver Reed, Fabio Testi, Agostina Belli, Daniel Beretta, Paola Pitagora
Music: Ennio Morricone

There’s one trait in Italian crime thrillers that I really admire. Nearly all of them, no matter how hyper stylised and cartoon like they may be during their running time, at the end they have a touch of realism. Rarely does the hero ride off into the sunset with his girl by his side. Think about EuroCrime favourite Maurizio Merli – how many times has he been shot in the back during the final reel?

Revolver is a not a cop film in the usual sense – American or Italian. It can be argued that the hero, Vito Cipriani (Oliver Reed) does make it to the end, and he has his girl by his side, but the film still ends on a cynical, realist note. Just before the credits roll, Cipriani’s wife, Anna (Agostina Belli) pulls away from him, disgusted at the man he has become. But as usual, I am getting ahead of myself – I am talking about the end credits and I’ve only just started the review.

Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi) and his best friend are small time hoods. When this film opens it finds them running from the police after a robbery has gone wrong. Ruiz’s friend has been shot in the stomach and is losing a lot of blood. Ruiz manages to hot wire a car and the two of them make their getaway out of town. They pull up beside a stony river bed. Ruiz’s friend pleads not to allow the police to find his body. He doesn’t want to be taken to a morgue and chopped up by the coroner. Ruiz promises that won’t happen. After his friend has died, Ruiz buries him under some rocks by the river.

Some time later, we meet Vito Cipriani – the warden of an Italian prison. One afternoon he is called into the prison to deal with a prisoner, armed with a knife who is causing a riot in the prison’s hospital. Cipriani handles the situation quickly and effectively and then returns home to his wife, only to find she isn’t in the house. Cipriani then receives a telephone call from two men who have kidnapped his wife, Anna. They demand that Cipriani arranges the release from his prison, a prisoner named Milo Ruiz, or his wife will be killed. Cipriani hasn’t go much choice, but explores every avenue possible before agreeing to release Ruiz.

But rather than take the blame for Ruiz’s release, Cipriani makes it look like an escape. Cipriani takes Ruiz into an interrogation room and beats the crap out of him. This results in Ruiz being transferred to the prison’s hospital. Then Cipriani calls away the hospital guard giving Ruiz the opportunity to escape.

Ruiz grabs the opportunity with both hands, but once over the wall he is picked up at gunpoint by Cipriani. He isn’t the type to ‘hope’ that the kidnappers keep their side of the bargain. He wants Ruiz as a bargaining chip to make sure they keep to their word.

Trading Ruiz for Anna doesn’t go as planned. The kidnappers try to double cross Cipriani, and when that doesn’t work they flee with Anna to Paris. Meanwhile Ruiz and Cipriani form an uneasy alliance and both choose to follow the kidnappers to Paris to find and release Anna.

Revolver is a pretty good tough thriller. It may not have the same heart pounding car chase scenes that other popular Italian thrillers have, but it doesn’t need them. This film has a solid centre in the form of Oliver Reed. Reed gives a characteristically intense performance that drives this film on. Fabio Testi’s performance is lighter, and it times it seems like it is all a game to Ruiz. And in some ways it is a game. Not a particularly nice game, and one that seems to have the odds stacked fairly against the two anti-heroes.

Revolver (1973)