Saturday, 1 August 2009

La legge dei gangsters / Gangster's Law / Quintero

We open in medias res, with the robbery of bank robbery. This is followed by a series of flashbacks, introducing the various robbers and how they came to be together on the job. Then, it is revealed that there is a traitor in the men’s midst…

It could be a brief summary of Reservoir Dogs or any of a number of Hollywood crime films inspired by it, but in fact it’s the opening half of Siro Marcellini’s 1969 Italian thriller Gangster’s Law.

Given the absence of flashbacks from the second half of the film and the way in which it then proceeds in a linear manner, it seems likely that the heist was chosen as a starting point to grab the viewer’s attention and give top-billed Klaus Kinski some early screen time.

Kinski, one minute in

Absent for the next forty or so minutes, he’s also predictably the traitor…

This said, the extended flashbacks also allow Marcellini and his co-writer Piero Regnoli to introduce an element of social comment as the background story of each of the gangsters, Kinski’s Reiner excepted, is given in turn. (Curiously, in the version I watched, Regnoli is credited as Dean Craig with his real name given underneath.)

Citti, in a characteristic proletarian role

Franco Citti’s Bruno Esposito is the southerner who has come north – in this case to Genoa – in search of a better life for himself and his dependents, only to find that he is habitually treated without respect by the northerners. Getting beaten up in a nightclub after he seeks to dance with a local girl who is already spoken for, he is the one picked up by the police afterwards and who then loses his job as a panel-beater as a result.

Poli; in an Italian crime thriller it's a bad idea to get into a car with him to perform a heist (cf. Rabid Dogs)

Maurice Poli’s Rino Quintero is, like Reiner, a professional criminal, but at a different position in the criminal class hierarchy. Quintero is recently released from jail, whereas Reiner has always keep his hands clean. Quintero needs Reiner’s money to bankroll the job, while Reiner needs someone like Quintero to pull it off: Significantly it is not that Reiner is the brains and Quintero the muscle, but rather than the Reiner is the capitalist.

The other two robbers, Franco and Renato, are young rich kids involved with the counter-culture. Renato is bored and looking for ways to kick against the system he is otherwise destined to be a paid up member of, while Franco has some gambling debts his Countess mother is unwilling to pay off.

Between them they thus hatch a plan to have the Countess’s villa broken into that brings them into Quintero’s orbit.

Their presence also allows for some of the more awkward social comment, precisely because it is inserted into the film as a piece of speechifying via Renato’s girlfriend:

“Its so easy for us to change everything, to try to freak out [..] to put down morality, conventions, to try to break with the past and its taboos. But where do we stop trying to change things? For your sake I hope you realise that your 'joke' wasn't just your fault but a whole generation's fault, and that now you have a responsibility.”

The female characters in turn are also one of the film’s weak points as a whole. They were obviously felt necessary in box-office terms but are both underwritten by comparison with their male counterparts – the long-suffering moll girlfriend type is prominent – and by thus taking up screen time lessen the extent to which the 90-ish film can explore masculinity more deeply compared to Reservoir Dogs.

The distanced opening heist

Marcellini’s direction is hit and miss. The opening heist and chase are largely perfunctory. Some of their counterparts later on do, however, have more energy to them, with there also being some nice long tracking shots and good use of dockside locations and - yes – a fairground haunted hose for one shoot-out, with all the opportunities it affords being taken.

Images from the haunted house; note that the film makes use of blue-yellow contrasts in a number of places

Didn't we see this spider in Bloody Pit of Horror as well?

The film also benefits from wonderful Piero Umiliani score that supplies the right mood for each and every scene, be it 60s disco for the club Esposito visits, psychedelic-tinged grooves in the hipper underground venues habituated by Renato and Franco, or just straightforward crime-jazz suspense cues.

The preparation for the heist also sees Marcellini experiment with stopping the music momentarily in time with the freeze-frames of the photographs the men take.

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