GANG WAR IN MILAN (Milano Rovente)
1973, dir: Umberto Lenzi
Umberto Lenzi is a man with many talents. A quick search on IMDB will show that not only has he directed over 60 films, but also dipped his toes in to many genres. This is no surprise as during the late 1960’s up until around the mid 1980’s, Italian cinema saw many important phases and trends. If Hollywood produced an influential film, you can be rest assured that Italian producers and directors would cash in on the popularity with their own versions. Sure, these films were often cheap and not as polished, but more often than not, the Italian take was more entertaining than the original film in question. Umberto Lenzi was more than just a hack director mimicking his American counterparts. Without his film Deep River Savages, we would not have had the jungle film boom. Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Sergio Martino’s Mountain of the Cannibal God amongst others, would not exist. Lenzi’s venture in to the gialli also gave us wonderful films like Eyeball and Spasmo. Horror fans out there also have films like the schlocktastic Nightmare City and Ghosthouse. I could spend all day going over Lenzi’s impressive body of work. Today however, I am talking about a film from probably my favourite sub genre Lenzi tackled, the Italian crime genre, otherwise known as the poliziotteschi. For me, Lenzi’s greatest films fall in to this genre. Stand out films include Violent Naples and Almost Human. There are too many to mention (maybe someday!) so I’m going to cut to the chase and talk about his 1973 effort, Gang War in Milan. His first venture in to the genre.
In the starring role we have Antonio Sabato (Grand Prix, Escape from the Bronx) playing as Salvatore “Toto” Cangemi, a produce grower by day and pimp by night. All is well for both his business and prostitution racket until one of his girls is found dead in a swimming pool. Almost immediately Cangemi finds himself confronted with the man responsible, rival gang leader Roger Daverty, played by French actor Phillippe Leroy (The Night Porter, La Femme Nikita). What seems like an attack on Cangemi is actually Daverty’s way of wanting to do business (that’s one way to win Dragon’s Den!). Daverty proposes that Cangemi allow his girls to peddle drugs. Cangemi turns down the offer and then triggers off, just like the title suggests, an all out gang war. The film from then on sees both gangs retaliating to each others actions. This includes Daverty’s gang posing as police officers to take Cangemi’s girls off the street all the way to cold blooded murder (with a nice slice of penile torture thrown in for good measure).
There is of course more to the film than that. Even though the film is structured as one gang attacks, the other retaliates, it’s done with such style. What makes it even more interesting is that unlike most films of this type, there really is no social commentary or underlying message. What we have here is something of a morally ambiguous experience for the viewer. There is no hero or ‘good guy’ in this film. You may find yourself beginning to root for Cangemi. You want him to succeed and defeat his rival even though he himself is a criminal. Sabato plays Cangemi brilliantly and helps make the character one you sympathise with. Overall, the film is very well acted throughout. What this film lacks in social commentary, it makes up for in style and entertainment value. There is enough action and bloodshed to satisfy your twitchy death nerve, even though it’s not as violent as other films from the genre. You don’t have to be a seasoned veteran to the poliziotteschi to appreciate this film. For me, it’s crime cinema where Lenzi really shines in the style department. This film is a perfect example of that, especially when it comes to the use Lamberto Caimi’s (Revenge, Il Posto) cinematography. Not only that, but the score from Carlo Rustichelli (Divorce Italian Style, City Under Siege) is filled with moody saxophone and compliments the visuals perfectly.
Overall, Gang War in Milan is an enjoyable film and works as a great entry point in to the seedy world of the poliziotteschi. Raro have once again done a fine job with this release. Even though I am only going off the DVD transfer, they have restored this film brilliantly from the original 35mm negative (as they always seem to do). The release is somewhat lacking on special features however. What you get included is a video introduction and informative liner notes from Mike Malloy (whose documentary on the poliziotteschi genre, Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70’s is a must watch for newcomers and veterans alike) as well as both English and Italian dubs with newly improved English subtitles for the Italian dub of the film. It would have been nice to have included a trailer or even a potential featurette/interview with Lenzi or someone involved with the film, but maybe I should just be happy with the fact that this film is available on home release in the first place. Go grab yourself a copy of this film now, it’s a must own.
Gang War in Milan is available on DVD and Bluray from Raro Video.