As the old adage goes “every cloud has a silver lining”
In the case of the Italian filone cinema the lining was perhaps that its general decline sometimes afforded those who were still able to make films the opportunity to work with the kind of talent that likely would otherwise have been unavailable to them.
Claudio Fragasso's Naples-Milan One Way is a case in point, with the writer-director getting the opportunity to work with actors Giancarlo Giannini and Stefania Sandrelli – actors who, twenty years before, were more likely to be found working with Wertmuller and Bertolucci respectively – alongside internationally recognised composer Pino Donaggio.
But while the film certainly benefits from their respective contributions, the real surprise is Fragasso's own direction. Not only does he handle the various action set pieces extremely well while sustaining a high level of tension throughout, but he also allows for the characters and the story to develop.
Admittedly the last is derivative, with Ricky Tognazzi's La Scorta and Umberto Lenzi's From Corleone to Brooklyn coming to mind in the modern and classical eras of the poliziotto respectively.
But it's also a story that was still relevant at the time and, if Gomorrah is anything to go by, today: the extent to which the tentacles of organized crime have reached through the establishment and the often thankless task of those who challenge this power.
More importantly, Fragasso also navigates his own path between such models, providing more genre thrills than Tognazzi’s film whilst avoiding the more unrealistic aspects of Lenzi and Merli’s work. (Another notable difference between the two periods is that Fragasso’s film features policewomen as part of the team, with their gender going unremarked and their abilities unquestioned by their peers, in sharp contrast to the masculine, woman-as-victim world of the 1970s poliziotto film.)
The altogether more vulnerable Giannini plays a mob accountant, Turi Leofonte, known as “the computer” for his ability with numbers and capacity for memorising everything. He's been named by an informer as someone who knows all the secrets and will divulge them if given the right prompting.
Before word gets out, a hand-picked police squad is hastily assembled, with leave cancelled. Their job is to take Leofonte into custody and transport him to safety. It should be a more or less routine task, but the mission is compromised from the start.
Narrowly escaping an ambush – albeit at the cost of the lives of some of the police escort and Turi’s family alike – the survivors are forced to continue to Milan alone, not knowing whom they can trust.
Drama is added by the well-defined internal conflicts within the group. Understandably paranoid, Turi worries his escort has been selected precisely because of their youth and relative lack of experience, while they in turn are frustrated by his general attitude. In the middle is Turi’s rebellious and naïve teenage daughter, Chiara, who starts to develop a mutual friendship with the youngest of the policemen.
Fragasso recently made a sequel, charting the return voyage from Milan to Naples, which features Merli's son, Maurizio Mattei Merli…