This is another film by the non-mondo Franco Prosperi, a man whom I've managed to confuse with his better known counterpart on at least one previous occasion. The date of the film, 1966, makes it easier to distinguish between the two men, however, since the other Prosperi would have been busy with Africa Addio around the same time.
The story is nothing special. Clint Harris, an ageing hitman, is hired by the shadowy organisation to do one last job before retirement: locate and terminate Frank Secchy, an independent who is suspected of making a deal with the authorities.
After Harris's brother is murdered, he agrees to take the job although the high fee he requests and receives – $200,000 compared to the initially offered $50,000 – leaves it open whether the matter is more business or personal.
Admittedly there are complications that would justify the fourfold increase in price. The first is that no-one knows what Secchy looks like, as he has undergone face changing surgery of variety seemingly much more common as a movie McGuffin than in real life. The second is that Harris, who normally works strictly alone, is required to take an up and coming youngster, Tony Lo Bello, along on the job and show him some of his hard-won professonal wisdom.
It's a collection of clichés, yes, but certainly provides a solid framework for the requisite action scenes that demonstrate Harris's no-nonsense professionalism and further allow for the development of his and Lo Bello's personalities and relationships with one another. Even if they don't quite emerge as fully rounded, believable individuals, they are nevertheless something more than instantly forgettable types. Nor is this the fault of the actors or the writers, instead simply being the archetypal effect that the filmmakers were going for.
One point of comparison that comes to mind is Point Blank: if Boorman's film is more complex in its narrative structure in disrupting chronology and making it hard to tell what is real and what being imagined by the protagonist, Lee Marvin's Walker is nevertheless is a similarly memorable instance of an impossibly single minded man on a mission, a human Terminator. (As another similarity both films also feature a drug-addicted supporting female character.)
Crucially, however, it is not that Robert Webber, who plays Harris, represents a poor man's Marvin, nor that Tecnici di un omocidio is merely a more straightforwardly structured version of Point Blank for the Italian vernacular audience and its international counterparts. Boorman's film, after all, wasn't released until after it.
Prosperi's mise en scene, use of location and the urban landscape impress
Rather, it's that both Prosperi and Boorman were drawing inspiration from the same hard boiled, film noir world and seeking to adapt its premises to an ever more technocratic, bureaucratic world in which romantic, independent figures were concomitantly more and more of an anachronism. (The lone avenger of Fuller's Underworld USA, with his one man vendetta against the faceless organisation that was responsible for the only business death of his father, would be another case in point.)
This is also reflected by Tecnici di un umodicio's visual style. Prosperi makes extensive use of the zoom, moving in and out on his characters from a distance. It is however excessive in a meaningful rather than overused sense, neatly establishing a shared paranoiac atmosphere. Harris is never sure if he is under surveillance by the organisation, his younger counterpart or the mysterious Secchy and the spectator of which of these points of view – if any – he or she might be momentarily sharing / occupying. Adding to this effect is the director's neat use of unusual angles to isolate and dwarf the characters against their environs, a probing use of hand-held camera and a persistent self-referentiality through repeatedly bringing techologies of vision and surveillance to the fore.
Paul Virilio or the panopticon?
The main attraction for many Eurocult fans will, of course, be the presence of a young Franco Nero in the role of Lo Bello. Clean shaven and wearing thick framed glasses and a sports jacket, he's almost unrecognisable compared to Django, with the part allowing him an early opportunity to demonstrate his range and avoid the typecasting that Corbucci's film and other spaghetti westerns could so easily have led to. (With regard to the spaghetti western, it's also worth noting that the relationship between the older and younger hitmen has some similarities with the Van Cleef / Eastwood pairing in For a Few Dollars More and the various films in the Day of Anger mould in which Van Cleef played a mentor figure; Unforgiven also fits this pattern somewhat, albeit with a more complex take on the relationship between the old timers and the newcomer out to make a name for himself.)
Robby Poiventin's score, all big-band brassy crime jazz, is another major asset, beginning with an opening theme that really draws one into the film's world and never really letting up thereafter.
Well worth a look.