After watching way too many poor transfers of Euro films from the seventies, it's a real treat when I get a chance to see them released by a studio that actually cares what the final product looks like. In my opinion, Raro Video did an outstanding job with these four films, from the production value of the transfers to the package as a whole. I'm not going to imply that each one of these films is a five-star effort - even though fans of this director and this genre will most likely rate them very high, while others may nitpick at them - rather that it is the collection itself that I'm rating as top of the line, one that any enthusiast of Eurocrime or seventies cinema will find it well worth their time to track down.
Were I to rate them separately, I would give each film four stars - they all have their plusses and minuses, which seem inextricably linked in each. The first three films - Caliber 9, The Italian Connection, and The Boss - are part of Di Leo's 'Milieu Trilogy', a loosely linked series that doesn't follow a continuous storyline, but rather examines the criminal landscape of Italy in the early 1970's. Taking inspiration from the stories of Russian-born émigré Giorgio Scerbanenco, 'Caliber 9' (Milano Calibro 9) may very well be the overall best of the three, with Gastone Moschin taking up the part of the just-released convict Ugo Piazza, whom the berserk Mario Adorf suspects of having stolen money from his organization prior to the start of his three year-prison sentence. Labeled as noir by some, with a plot twisting and turning as well as anything by Chandler or Hammett, this film has one remarkable ending.
Mario Adorf returns in 'The Italian Connection' (La Mala Ordina) as a small-time pimp and hustler Luca Canali who gets served up as a fall-guy for two American hit men (Woody Strode and Henry Silva), who are sent to Milan to make an example of the man who stole a shipment of heroin. On the run, with nothing to lose, its either fight back against the overwhelming odds or die. This one is also based on a Scerbanenca story, and though I don't think it's quite on the same level as 'Caliber 9', it is still an extremely entertaining film. Henry Silva is back again in the trilogy's final installment, 'The Boss' (Il Boss), as bit-player Nick Lanzetta, and the film tracks his violent climb to the top of the organization. Somewhat talky, which slows down the film in spots, Silva still shines as an ice-cold killer.
The last film, supposedly exclusive to this box set, is 'Rulers of the City' (I Padroni della Città) with Jack Palance, Al Cliver and Harry Baer. This film seems somewhat mislabeled as a comedy - it is a bit more light-hearted than the others, but that's about it. Baer (looking like nothing so much as the younger brother of Robert Downey Jr.) and Cliver, a couple of nobodies trying to get ahead in the world, scam Palance's organization out of 10 million Lira. Getting the money was easy - getting away with it is the hard part.
All four films are highly entertaining, though time and distance mutes some of the social commentary that di Leo peppered his films with. All but 'The Italian Connection' include a soundtrack by Luis Bacalov, which reminds me (especially in 'Caliber 9') of the outstandingly funky pinball theme from Sesame Street. I watched all the films in Italian, but they all come with both English and Italian options. From my understanding, all Italian films from this time were re-dubbed after filming, even for Italian audiences, and 'Caliber 9' has probably the worst dubbing of the four films, though I consider this somewhat to be expected with these films and don't subtract much because of it. The 'Milieu Trilogy' films are all in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1; 'Rulers of the City' is non-anamorphic wide-screen (black bars on top, bottom and sides). Above all, these films look terrific. Restored and remastered, they pop off the screen. Extras include five documentaries spread out over the four discs, consisting of interviews with Di Leo, his actors and crew, and historians to address different subjects relating to each film. Also included in the box set is a small booklet containing excerpts of the Di Leo interview.
While its understandable that anyone can get a lemon, I thought the packaging in this collection was fine - each film comes in its own case, and which are exactly the same as regular DVD packaging except that they are half as thick. The DVD itself is affixed to a spindle to keep it in place (as it is in traditional cases), and unlike some cheap sets, the tension on the spindle is sufficient to keep the DVD from slipping off and banging around loose inside the case. All my DVD's arrived in good shape and played well, and I highly recommend the entire set.