Fernando Di Leo, glorious bastard - Page 2

Europudding casts, past-prime Hollywood actors, and a verve that influenced Tarrantino in Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection

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Henry Silva and Woody Strode in 1972's The Italian Collection (

Mario Adorf, cast as the loudest, most obnoxious of Ugo's mob tormentors, becomes the lead in that same year's The Italian Connection, playing a small-time Milan pimp framed for a heroin shipment's theft — and as a result hunted by two imported U.S. hit men. They're sleazy career villain Howard Silva and John Ford's towering, poker-faced fave Woody Strode, who both worked for Di Leo again. (He enjoyed repeatedly working with certain actors.) They provided the model for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson's scrapping double team in 1994's Pulp Fiction.

A private-screening-room massacre at the start of 1973's The Boss doubtless provided blueprint for the fiery climax of 2009's Inglourious Basterds. Not that the two are otherwise related — this tale of Sicilian mob wars has a don's university-student daughter kidnapped by rivals as revenge for that earlier act, then "rescued" by Silva's stone-cold contract killer.

But the misogyny that surfaces fairly briefly in Caliber and Connection takes alarming precedence here: adapting to her gang-raping captors like fish to water, Rina (Antonia Santilli) proves a nymphomaniac pothead alcoholic, insatiable every which way. She's a degrading "rich bitch" cartoon that must have horrified its few female viewers at the height of women's lib. (No wonder Santilli abandoned her short screen career almost immediately afterward.) At least The Boss outruns that sour shit with a last lap of spectacular twistiness. A professed womanizer, Di Leo now seems like an auteur who should have left female characters the hell alone.

The RaroVideo box ends with 1976's exceptionally stylish and perverse Rulers of the City, a.k.a. Mr. Scarface, in which a child survivor of a mob slaughter (Fassbinder regular Harry Baer) grows up to avenge himself on don Jack Palance ("Just looking at him and my asshole twitches," an underling opines), who exercised reptilian zest decades before his exhibitionist-pushup Oscar comeback. But he's not the only one: a Shirley Temple-bewigged chanteuse vamp (Gisela Hahn) in see-through lingerie sings about abortion just before being glimpsed in a postcoital five-way with participants including too-pretty ice-blond Al Cliver (a.k.a. Pierluigi Conti). Culminating in a foot race as clever as the automotive climaxes of Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection, this is a baroque, self-mocking melodrama you'd be hard-pressed not to love.

Di Leo ended the decade with two highlights among many lurid debtors to 1972's Last House on the Left: Notorious To Be Twenty (1978), whose free-spirited young heroines meet a brutal fate all the more shocking for its coming out of the blue after 80-odd minutes of comic frivolity; and Madness (1980), wherein Joe Dallesandro terrorizes a bourgeoisie household. But the films Di Leo liked to make were now unfashionable in a shrunken market, Italian financiers favoring crass new local tastes for gore-horror and softcore sleaze. After two dispirited mid-1980s action films he retired, still in his early 50s. Before his 2003 death he enjoyed revived attention thanks to cult enthusiasts led by guess who. These movies all look sharp in their DVD restorations, offered English both dubbed and subtitled. (There were precious few "original language" Italian features then — everything was post-synched, into whatever required languages.) The box set's accompanying booklet features a 2001 interview with the director in which he's both frankly self-critical and astonishingly hubristic.

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