The release of Raro Video's Italian Crime Collection from cinematic auteur Fernando Di Leo in 2012 proved quite popular amongst the Euro-cult faithful, creating an almost immediate demand for a second volume.
Numerous delays-including subtitle issues, AV quality and the selection of films-to this sequel set only added fuel to the fire for clamoring fans in the year and a half following Raro's initial issuing of Di Leo's classic 70s crime films on DVD and Blu-Ray, with anticipation set at an all time high for another round of the Italian director's stylish-yet-gritty artistic vision.
The Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2 assembles three of Di Leo's films on DVD and high definition Blu-Ray disc-one less from the previous collection's quartet of features-presenting a set which, although perhaps comparatively short on obvious action and thrills, delivers the proverbial goods with a well-rounded sense of variety.
The oldest film in the set is Naked Violence, originally released in 1969 as one of Di Leo's early directorial efforts, after spending time as a writer for numerous spaghetti westerns throughout the 1960s. The film opens with a disturbing sequence of a young teacher's gang rape and murder at the hands of her criminal students, all of whom then adopt a code of silence to protect the higher source orchestrating their crimes.
This relatively brief sequence is displayed over the film's credits, yet retains all of its shock factor and force some forty-plus years after Naked Violence first shocked Italian audiences in '69. Di Leo adopts a more procedural approach after this initial bit of violence, however, following closely the interrogation and interview methods of Duca Lamberti, a righteous and tough cop out to solve this case at any cost.
Pier Paolo Capponi's portrayal of Lamberti is riveting as he sets out to systematically unravel the stories of each of young suspect, a performance which is aided by Di Leo's detail and attention to the everyday police work which goes into the detective's investigation. Lamberti doesn't shy away from bullying and humiliating these suspects, either, blurring the lines between right and wrong in his pursuit of the truth.
If Naked Violence could be considered "slow" by fans when placed up against the burning aggro of Di Leo's Italian Connection/Caliber 9 styled action infamy, these reservations will likely be silenced upon viewing 1974's Shoot First, Die Later, a film which probably provides the closest connection with the films contained within Raro's first collection of Di Leo films.
Shoot First, Die Later-like all three of the films contained here-has already enjoyed a stand alone release on DVD and Blu-Ray prior to this collection, yet its inclusion still stands as a welcome addition to the set, a film which probably provides the most traditionally-minded action for Di Leo fans.
The film follows the corrupt Domenico Malacarne-played by genre vet Luc Merenda-a cop on the take from a group of powerful local mobsters who exchanges drug bust information in exchange for cash. This situation is mutually beneficial for both parties...that is, until a piece of incriminating evidence lands in the hands of Malacarne's father, a lower level policeman who has no idea about his son's dirty laundry.
Shoot First, Die Later then becomes a tragic race against time, as Malacarne attempts to save his father's life, obtain the evidence and escape from under the mob's thumb. It's a morality tale the way only Di Leo can shoot it, moving briskly from weighty dialog sequences to brutal, bullet-riddled action pieces. A warning, however: there is one scene of disturbing animal cruelty which could offend some viewers; discretion is advised!
The 1975 film Kidnap Syndicate is the most recent selection in the set, and once again stars Luc Merenda, this time as a humble mechanic whose young son is kidnapped for ransom, alongside the son of a wealthy businessman, played by James Mason. The first half of this film sets up the characters well, paying particular attention to the class system of 1970s Italy while also referencing the Red Brigade (Brigate Rosse) crisis of the decade, a time when this paramilitary Marxist organization terrified the country via a series of kidnappings, robberies and assassinations.
Mason's character of Filippini stubbornly and greedily refuses to pay the kidnappers demands, escalating tensions to an insurmountable point in the film, an apex of which Di Leo takes full advantage, exploding into a revenge-soaked and stylish final act. This second half takes full advantage of the film's earlier exposition, resulting in a satisfying and enjoyable film which ranks amongst the writer/director's best works.
Raro's Italian Crime Connection Vol. 2 is arrives armed with dangerous extras, as well, with each disc containing its own featurettes, as well as an informative booklet with liner notes on each film. The picture quality does contain some grit throughout, although this is to be expected with films of this age and rarity, while the audio for Kidnap Syndicate possesses a persistent, although not distracting, level of hiss. Subtitles are well done for the most part, with only minor spelling errors popping up now and again, most noticeably in Shoot First, Die Later and a brief typo in Naked Violence.
In 2013, Raro Video announced a collaboration with Kino Lorber for distribution of their titles, including Fernando Di Leo's Italian Crime Collection Vol. 2. One can only hope that this second volume achieves as much success and acclaim as the bullet-proof first set, as a number of Di Leo's films still await a proper home video release. In the meantime, consider this as yet another essential purchase for fans of classic Italian genre cinema.
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