Milano Calibro 9 (Caliber 9) Reviews
Italy in the '70s made some really enjoyable films of this sort and I'd say that this one is a great jumping on point for other novices like myself.
The movie is very spartan and rushes you along into the underworld of the Italian mob. Fernando di Leo doesn't waste time romanticizing about the mafia like Coppola does and instead presents you with a far better image of the mob, a gang of ruthless killers that will do anything for money. They claim to follow the rules of the mafia and respect each other but those rules are dropped whenever it is convenient and profitable.
Ugo Piazza has just gotten out of prison after serving a 3 year sentence and his former employers seem to think he has stole $300,000 from his boss, the Americano. Ugo is firm and unchanging in his story that he did not steal any money from his employers. The movie revolves around the $300,000 and everyone's quest to find that $300,000.
This is an excellent example of film noir as there are no good guys, just people with a varying degrees of morality. I strongly recommend this film.
The three films of the "Meliu Trilogy" are: Hired to Kill, Calibre 9, and The Boss. I was lucky enough to find Calibre 9 and Hired to Kill; however, like many Italian genre pieces, I was unable to score consistent English language tracks or reliable subtitles. Ya know what? Doesn't matter. It's all about style, operatic drama, and--of course--machismo (lots O' lots of machismo). Excuse me while I slick back my hair and adjust my tie to the beats of Luis Bacalov. Here. We. Fawkin'. Go.
Calibre 9 was like a bullet to my guts. The opening scene, pre-credits, depicts a package of money passing from hand to hand in Rome in order to avoid police detection. By the time our Mafioso's find the package the money's been replaced by paper. Well, it's not Argento or Fulci level violence, but the demise of the members involved in the money exchanges, let's say, meet an untimely death at the hands of a cave, rope, gags, and three packages of dynamite, which equals: DYN-O-MITE! Oh ya, there's an interesting snippet in a barbar shop involving a striaght razor and some dude's cheek. All in all, within 5 minutes, I'm hard as rock. This is before Bacalov's score kicks in for the opening credits, reminding me that the Italians know how to produce 'the epic'--a quality that tucks your balls into your stomach, while causing every hair to stand on end (bag and body...).
It's got lots of familiar faces too: Frank Wolff and Luigi Pistilli of spaghetti western fame; Gastone Moschin of Godfather II and The Conformist; and, it's my pleasure of introducing, Mr. Mario.... Adorf! The other guys we've seen before; Wolff, Pistilli, and Moschin are mostly bit players, but Adorf is like Di Leo's muse. He's got sort of a dirtbag appeal (yes, there is such thing), as he looks like a greased out, mustached, hard-as-fawk Guido. However, he gives the steely, stoic Moschin (the protagonist) a run for his money as the front-man of this film. Moschin plays a character out of Jean-Pierre Melville's world: strong, silent, and deadly. Adorf is more like Chaplin in a Mafia film (the voiceover certainly doesn't help...), yet somehow his 'over-the-top-ness' does not derail or distract from the serious, tense crime-drama that is Calibre 9. Adorf's is a rare screen charisma that one can't help but be attracted to. It's like Bronson, but the complete opposite.
So, the cast and style is all there, but what about the story Gramps? Is it on par with Zombie 2, Suspiria, and For a Few Dollars More? Well, on first viewing, no. "Well then why the fuck are you building it up like it's Christ on a cracker?" It's a solid, solid crime tale; it's the combination of cast, style, and story that make it a top contender Gangster (not Gangsta) flick. It's got that Italian bravado... that oozing machismo... that "OH! Go fuck ya Motha" attitude (by the way, Happy Mother's Day). Honor, respect, silence, and most importantly of all: false loyalty. Ahhh, everyone wants to be the boss, but Di Leo just proved to me that, minus Springsteen, he's my new boss of Italian genre cinema.
Shit, I forgot about Hired to Kill. Well, Adorf is given center stage and he kills (literally). Throw in Woody Strode with biceps like whole hams, and Adolfo Celi (yup, the bad guy from Thunderball) and you got yourself a stew goin'. It's not as good as Calibre 9, as it mixes American B-actors with the Italian faithful, and the plot feels Americanized in terms of it's action cliches. Again, the saving grace? Mario "The Grease Ball" Adorf! Another factor in this inferior offering in comparison to Calibre is the fact that I had the subtitled version and most of the cast is North American (well, at least the big players, and I think Adorf speaks English as well). So, Woody Strode just sounds and looks weird as hell with some Italian guy's voice. He's a B.M.F. but, presumably, some white guy's voice does him no justice. Still, I'm jacked for the final installment (whenever and wherever I may find it), The Boss!
Official Synopsis? Mafia Mayhem... Any questions?
Gastone Moschin portrays Ugo, a Mafia hitman recently released from prison. As soon as he leaves the prison he gets hassled by goons from his old boss about 300,000 lira that he supposedly stole. On the other side he gets hassled by the cops to get them information on his old boss. He hooks up with his old girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet) and somehow gets hired by his old boss. Can he find the people that took the money before he gets nailed by his boss or the cops biting at his heels?
"Caliber 9" is not your average Poliziotteschi thriller as it is much more serious and character driven then most of the other popular films in the genre. The acting here is surprisingly excellent with not a weak actor in the bunch. The standouts for me are Mario Adorf as a skeezy hitman and Frank Wolff as an eccentric, loud police commissioner. I've seen Frank Wolff in dozens of these genre films and this is by far his best performance that I've witnessed.
Fernando Di Leo's directing style is a lot more restrained and less flashy than his director brethren. His approach is much more standard with the focus of the film being more on the intriguing characters and plot. To be honest I do prefer my Italian films to be me more flashy in the directing department hence why I'm such a big fan of Enzo G. Castellari's and Umberto Lenzi's crime outings but there's no denying Fernando's characters and plot are much stronger and intriguing making for a much better, respectable film.
I can't say I enjoyed "Caliber "9 more than other films in the genre like "Rome Armed to the Teeth" and "The Big Racket" because I didn't. I enjoyed those films for different reasons as they were more over-the-top with violence and action with dynamic directing with flashy camera angles. "Caliber 9" is more classy, elegant and respectable as it focuses more on characters, plot and all around good filmmaking. For that I give the film respect and that is why I say it is, arguably of course, the best film the genre has to offer... just not the most entertaining in my eyes.