Death Rage (1976)
Death Rage is an Italian mafia action movie from 1976, a fairly high-quality effort from famed director Antonio Margheriti (credited here as Anthony M. Dawson). It stars a couple of American ex-pat actors at the end of their careers (though winners of two Oscars, no less), a lot of bad 1970s Euro fashions and a pretty complicated and convoluted plot about revenge and honor and gun crimes. Not bad, not bad at all.
The DVD I'm reviewing is a 2006 DigiView transfer of fair to middling digital quality. This movie has been floating around in various media for a long time now and various versions can be found under a variety of titles. My version has been edited heavily for naked boobies and the like, but is intact enough to make a rather entertaining 98 minutes.
And now on to our show...
We open in New York City (well, we open with some stock footage of NYC, but the actual principal photography is all in Italy), at a groovy club called "Sam Samuelson's Junk Yard". The band playing over the opening credits is actually quite good (they have an early Yardbirds or The Who sound and look to them), and the chick in the orange dress is pretty cute. I'd pay 99 cents to download that track...
New York City!
At the end of the scene, as the credits come to a close, we see a man in the audience get shot by a sniper hiding in the roof. Who is this man? We never learn, and it never really matters to the rest of the plot, but it is a stylish mafia-movie-type of opening.
And now we go to Naples, the fabled port city on the western coast of Italy. Just thirty years removed from being bombed to rubble by the Fifteenth Air Force, Naples still has a crumbly, ancient look to it that is just hovering on the edge of chaos. The mafia is strong in Naples and violence and crime seems to be endemic enough that few people seem to even notice or care anymore. There are also a lot of VW Bugs on the roads, but that's not important right now.
We begin at a horse track on a busy sunny day. At the track we meet Angelo, a small time hustler and petty crook who will prove to be one of our movie's "heroes". Angelo is played by 25-year old Massimo Ranieri (star of Priest of Love, A Gun for a Cop, Chaste and Pure, and Hot Potato).
Angelo's gig is preying on rich out-of-towners who are novice betters. He offers his "expert advice" and "uncanny predictions" to the clueless rich guys, for a nice tidy cut of the profits, of course. Not exactly illegal, but not the line of work you'd like your kids to get into either.
Angelo's latest mark is an elderly American tourist. Angelo and his two partners (both old washed-up jockies with nothing better to do) convince him to bet on the longshot, horse #6, which Angelo has a feeling will win. As Angelo predicted, horse #6 (named Carousel) wins! The horse pays out at 25-1, a considerable sum of lira. Angelo goes to cash the ticket out as the American steps outside to take a smoke.
The American tourist is actually a New York mafia lieutenant named Sal Leonardi, who is here in Italy on vacation to the old country. His bodyguard is lurking nearby, keeping a low profile.
Also at the track this day is Naples mafia boss Gennare Gallo, a tall balding man who likes trenchcoats and Ferragamo shoes. Gallo is played by 50-year old Giancarlo Sbragia (star of The Camels, Convoy Busters, Big Guns, The Bloodstained Butterfly, and War Gods of Babylon). Gallo was once part of the New York mafia himself, but was recently deported by the American police and now owns a "legitimate export business" (wink wink) here in Naples.
Gallo spies the American and recognizes him as part of the New York mafia. Gallo motions for three of his goons to go kidnap the man, and take him back to Gallo's place for a little friendly chitchat. Gallo doesn't want to kill the man, just ask him why he's here in Naples.
Unfortunately, as Gallo's hoods go to hustle the American into a waiting car, his bodyguard jumps in. Guns are drawn, shots are fired, bystanders scream and blood is spilled under the hot Italian sun. In the end, the American Sal Leonardi and his bodyguard are dead of bullet wounds, as are two of the goons. The third goon, though wounded, manages to jump in the car and squeal off.
Angelo runs out in time to cradle the dying American in his arms. The police show up quickly (a track is a good place to be), though they don't seem too worried about all this gunplay (this is Italy after all...). The cops take Angelo's winnings (the American's, really), claiming them as "evidence".
As the police clean up the crime scene, we meet the "Inspector", a paunchy white-haired career cop. The Inspector is played by 57-year old American-born actor Martin Balsam (star of The Silence of the Hams, The Brother from Space, The Octopus 2, The Smell of Onion, Smiling Maniacs, and The Hassled Hooker. Oh, and he was also in Eyes Behind the Stars, where he was pretty good).
Back to New York City now (or at least somewhere in Italy that looks like NYC), to the funeral for Sal Leonardi (the dead guy at the track). The New York mafia don is talking with his lieutenant about what to do next. They agree that they have to send someone over to Italy to exact revenge, but they have to send the best or he will just end up back here in a coffin like Sal. The lieutenant, named Cannavale, knows just who to send.
Cannavale is played by 51-year old Giacomo Furia (star of Isabella Duchess of the Devils, Sharp-Shooting Twin Sisters, I Am a Fugitive from a White Slave Gang, and The Machine That Kills Bad People). His role in this movie is odd, as he shows up only in the first five minutes and the last two minutes, though he turns out to be a major plot motivator.
So Cannavale goes out to the Bronx waterfront near the Brooklyn Bridge (seen in stock footage). He's here to see Peter Marciani, a one-time mafia hitman, now retired and enjoying the life of a homeless vet. It seems that he was living the good life of a mafia killer when one day (maybe six years ago), his brother was gunned down in front of him by an unknown assailant. This traumatized Peter enough that he quit the business.
Our film's Designated Hero, Peter is played by 61-year old Russian-born naturalized American actor Yul Brenner (star of Fuzz, Romance of a Horsethief, The File of the Golden Goose, The Poppy Is Also a Flower, and Once More, with Feeling!. Oh, and I think some play about a king or something...). Peter is totally bald, rather ugly, and has these piercing blue steel eyes that seem to dig a hole through your heart when he looks at you. He also wears a really shiny coat.
Cannavale tells Peter that the man who killed Sal Leonardi at the track is Gallo, and that Gallo is also the one who ordered his brother killed! At this news, Peter jumps up and demands to know where to find Gallo so he can go and kill him.
Off to Naples, Italy now. Peter has checked into the Excelsior Hotel under his own name (which seems pretty stupid) and is now out about Naples with a Nikon camera taking long-lens photos of Gallo and his henchmen (preparing for the hit).
As he walks about the streets of Naples, we can't help but notice the screamingly bad floppy haircuts, thick porn star mustaches, Farah Fawcett flips, disco chains, bell bottoms, and tight pants seen on almost everybody. Fortunately, the mobsters still wear the traditional, never out of style suits and ties. We also can't ignore just how butt-ugly European cars from the 1970s were. Fiats, Volgas, Citroens, Volkswagens, Peugeots, Renualt, and Alfas, hideously malformed affronts to the automotive dieties fit only for the scrapyards and demolition derbies.
Nasty, just nasty.
Back now to Angelo, who is trying to get his cut of the dead American's winnings still (technically he's owed them, but has little chance of seeing any). To get it, he's come to the Police Headquarters to see the Inspector. The cops at the door won't let him in, of course, but Angelo manages to sneak and con his way into the station and up to the Inspector's office.
There he's quite rudely tossed out by the Inspector (sans money), but not before overhearing about Peter checking into the Excelsior Hotel.
Seeing an opportunity to meet another American with money (this one clearly very important to the police), Angelo goes to the Excelsior Hotel to find Peter. Not sure how he knows what Peter looks like (though perhaps he caught a glimpse of the photo that the Inspector had), but he stops Peter in the lobby. Angelo offers his services, whatever Peter wants, though he's not well-received. As Peter walks off, however, Angelo mentions that he was there when Sal Leonardi was killed. This makes Peter pause, and Angelo takes the opportunity to tell him that he can be reached at the track.
Back now to the horse track, where Peter has come (we assume to meet Angelo, but you can't be sure). Angelo and his partner hook up with him and Angelo tells him not to bet on horse #6 even though it's the favorite because he predicts it will pull up in the turn. Angelo can make this claim because his secret is that he goes into a shack once the race starts and shoots the horses with a BB gun! Damn! I wonder if this happens in real life?
We also see that Gallo is here at the track (he seems to be a heavy better) and he and Peter lock eyes dramatically. Even though Gallo recognizes Peter from his New York days, he isn't sure why he's here in Italy now. Gallo then leaves quickly. You can just see the smoldering hatred in Peter's piercing gaze as he watches Gallo leave.
Off now to a nightclub near Peter's hotel. We see Angelo, all dressed up in a fancy suitcoat and shirt, is here to meet his friend Anny. Anny is a beautiful blonde woman who likes to hang out in bars and date mafia goons (she digs the bad dangerous boys). Anny is played by 33-year old German-born Barbara Bouchet (star of The Swinging Confessors, How to Lose a Wife and Find a Lover, Sex with a Smile, Sex with a Smile 2, My Pleasure Is Your Pleasure, Don't Torture Donald Duck, The Corpse Which Didn't Want to Die, and Hot Bed of Sex. Oh, and she was in an old Star Trek episode where Kirk made out with her).
Barbara Bouchet as that Trek babe!
Peter shows up at the club to meet with Angelo (prearranged). Angelo shows him some photos of Gallo's hoods that he's taken and lets Peter know that he would make a great gopher. Angelo's eagerness to get involved with this unknown, but certainly dangerous American in disconcerting. We just hope it doesn't get him killed.
Peter seems amenable to Angelo's offer, but leaves before agreeing to hire him. Outside the club, Peter is suddenly approached by two men with guns. Peter is being kidnapped by Gallo's hoods! They take him to a car and they drive off.
Their car soon happens upon a vice raid! Cops are out in force, rounding up the hookers and scaring off the johns, and blocking off the roads in the area. With the car suddenly surrounded by armed cops (though they are not paying attention to them), Peter knows that he can just smile savagely and get out and walk away and the hoods don't dare try and stop him.
The hoods do pull over as soon as they can and the two of them jump out and chase Peter on foot. Peter flees down into the subway (strangely empty of people at this late hour) and runs into the darkened tunnel by the tracks. He kills both men separately and walks back to the street.
Peter here has the first of several weird red-tinted flashback scenes to the day his brother was killed. These flashbacks seem to haunt him, blurring his vision and driving him crazy, coming most often when he's about to do something deadly. This is a neat bit of character development that makes this movie a welcome element of quirkiness.
What the hell!
Peter now goes to see a local eye doctor about this flashback problem. Peter just wants some eyedrops like the one's he's had before, thought hte doctor tells him that there is nothing wrong with his eyes and he should get some help for his memories. Peter just wants the drops and leaves with a script.
Ok, now to a local open-air market near Peter's hotel. Peter is wandering about for some reason and has a chance meeting with Anny, who is looking for some crockery to toss out the window for some upcoming festival. They talk a bit and in about ten seconds have fallen deeply in love! What the hell! Well, I guess they had to get these two together somehow and we can't waste time. Peter is twice Anny's age, however, and they make an odd couple from the start. If the actor playing Peter was younger and more attractive, it wouldn't be a problem to see the two of them so gushy together.
Anny also vouches for her friend Angelo. Peter now lets Angelo know he's on the team, telling him to go buy a fast car (with a wad of lira he hands him). Like a good puppy, Angelo runs off to do his master's will. I hope this kid knows what he's getting himself into.
A quick interlude now, as we see Gallo packing up and leaving town. As he leaves, he puts a price on Peter's head and sends his henchmen off to collect.
Back to Peter's hotel room, where he and Anny have already reached the point of boinking! He's down in his robe, she's scantily clad (PG-13 still at this point however) and they do some kissing on the bed. Good god, Anny gives all good Italian girls a bad name.
My, what a big gun you have!
Peter's eye drops are now delivered to his door (I guess he had the desk clerk call in the prescription). He goes into the bathroom to put them in, but manages to stop himself just in time. The drops are not soothing medicine, but deadly skin-melting acid!
Wow! Peter seems pretty nonchalant for having narrowly avoided being blinded for life! Mafia hitmen are cool as ice. He even moves to pick up right where he left off with Anny's soft pouty lips. The phone rings, however, and its the Inspector (!). He wants to see Peter and have a chat.
To a local sidewalk cafe we go now, to see that the Inspector and Peter are having a polite lunch. Hmm...this looks strangely like that classic scene in Heat when Di Nero and Pacino meet in the cafe. The conversation is surprisingly full of straight talk, as the Inspector knows full well why Peter is here. He offers to let Peter walk if he leads them to Gallo, though he won't condone Peter killing Gallo. It seems that Gallo has proved impossible to pin any crimes on, but Peter might be able to catch him doing something (like trying to kill him).
Suddenly, Peter spots a man on the roof opposite them. Shots fired! But who is the target? Is it the Inspector or Peter (almost certainly Peter). The Inspector fires back, chasing the gunman off target. It seems, however, that a whole bunch of mafia goons were in on the attempted hit and they all scatter when it goes bad.
The Inspector then calls in back-up and chases after one carload of bad guys, while Peter runs after another man, who also jumps in a car eventually. Angelo shows up along the way, driving a shiny new black sedan, and he and Peter team up.
Now we have a most excellent car chase through the crowded streets of Naples, with the police pursuing the hoods in their beat-up white Alfa Romero Giulia 1300 sedan. The cars zip through traffic, onto sidewalks, over fruitcarts, through signals, and even down stairs like in Godzilla vs. Megalon! This really is one of the better car chases I've seen recently, especially for such a low-budget movie.
The chase ends down by the docks as the hoods jump out of their car and make for a boat to steal. The cops have them cornered and a furious gun battle erupts. In the end, one police man is down with a gunshot wound, two hoods are dead and the third is alive and captured.
Meanwhile, Peter and Angelo are chasing the other car with two hoods through a different part of the city. Angelo proves himself to be a pretty good driver as he keeps up with the fleeing hoods. This is helped by the near total lack of foot traffic, and very few other cars on the road.
The hoods abandon their car near a big ornate cemetery and run inside. Some shooting between parties results in one of the hoods being wounded, but the other escapes. Peter catches the wounded hood and demands he tell him where Gallo is hiding. The hood is reluctant to talk (good henchman, give him a raise), even when he knows he's got little choice.
Angelo, gladly stepping up to the role of enforcer for Peter, punches the wounded man in the face to "encourage" him to talk. The hood relents and tells Peter that Gallo is hiding out at some villa (hard to hear where). Peter then shoots the hood dead! Angelo is shocked (what did he expect?), and Peter just smiles that scary smile and walks off.
Peter and Angelo then drive to an abandoned hanger somewhere (maybe an old seaplane hanger?), where Peter gets cleaned up and they plan out their next move. Angelo is sent to the "station" (train station?) to get a bag for Peter (must have mailed it there).
Angelo also goes to a payphone and calls Anny (on Peter's orders). He won't tell her where they are, but he does pass along the news that, "Peter loves you!". Anny has dated enough mafia types to know by now that often the less info she knows the better for her, but she's still upset about the thought of her dear sweet Peter out there in danger.
We go now to the Police Headquarters, where the hood that was captured at the docks is in a cell under guard. A thin, greasy-looking man with a briefcase approaches the cop on guard and says he's the suspect's lawyer. The cop lets him in (without checking to make sure). Once alone with the suspect, the "lawyer" opens the briefcase and takes out a pistol with a silencer (!). Bang. The lawyer then exists calmly.
The Inspector receives the word of the killing with a bitter grimace, though he's not really that surprised. A neat bit is the cop who was on guard is worried about his job since he screwed up, and the Inspector tells him, "Well, you aren't getting any medals for that."
Back now to Angelo, as he drives to the station and gets the bag from the storage locker for Peter. As he pulls away, we see that he's being followed by a car (full of Gallo's hoods). Angelo, being a crafty driver, manages to quickly elude them by zipping into a parking garage unnoticed. However, we see that a second car then follows Angelo, unbeknownst to him.
I've noticed this all movie, but vehicular traffic in Naples looks a lot like the crazy-ass traffic in some squalid Asian Tiger capital like Rangoon or Saigon. Drivers seem to ignore traffic laws (if there are any) and everyone just fights their way through the massed cars and snarling congestion. This was 1976, but hopefully in the last 30 years they've worked on that, otherwise I'm not about to visit Naples on my next European vacation (who am I kidding, I've never been to Europe...but I have been to the Olive Garden).
The Inspector now goes to see an old man in wheelchair at what is maybe a private villa (or maybe a nursing home, who can tell). We saw this man earlier with Gallo. Is he the mafia kingpin and Gallo his second? Or maybe his son? I wish they'd explain this better. This whole movie is full of confusing things like this, that may have been explained better in the full, un-cut version.
The Inspector tries to lure Gallo into a trap by hinting to the old man that Peter is out to kill him. Not sure exactly what the Inspector is really up to here, it seems like he's playing both sides against each other. In light of later events, this whole scene could have been cut and not affected the plot.
We now see Anny getting roughed up by Gallo's thugs outside her apartment, they wanting to know where Peter is. She doesn't tell them anything (she doesn't even know), and is saved by an old woman who yells she's calling the cops. Anny goes to the hospital for treatment.
Back to Angelo, who is driving back to the hanger with Peter's bag (which looks to be a Michigan State Spartan's track duffle). He's still being tailed by a car with just a driver. Along the road near the hanger, as the tail passes, Peter steps out and fires a single shot that kills the driver. The car careens out of control and plunges off a cliff into the sea! Every good action movie must have a car flying off a cliff, it's a SAG requirement.
Angelo meets up with Peter (the kid didn't even realize what Peter had done, didn't even notice the car following him) and they open the bag together. Inside is a disassembled bolt-action scoped sniper rifle (and a Spaulding tennis racket).
Which is more dangerous!
Peter now teaches Angelo how to fire the gun (which he's already a pretty good shot) and tells him that he better learn it well because, "Tonight you're going to kill a man." Angelo takes that better than expected and they work on the three phases of a successful hit--the preparation, the shot, and the getaway. Angelo even shoots a lit cigarette out of Peter's hand (!!!) as a final test. This is by far the stupidest thing that Peter does all movie, and really dumb considering how "professional" were are supposed to think he is.
Ok, to the local hospital where the Inspector is visiting Anny, whose fine, if bruised. She won't tell him anything (still doesn't know anything, really) and the Inspector pleasantly tells her she's going to jail until she does. Just then Peter arrives! He and Anny hug and Peter tells the Inspector that he wants police protection for he and Anny at a secluded cottage. Later we see that this was just a way for Peter to get an alibi for the coming night (he's still gamely keeping up appearances as just an innocent tourist).
To that same cottage now, and we learn that it's New Years Eve (who knew?)! While a gaggle of cops keeps guard outside the building, Peter and Anny are inside getting cozy, drinking wine and kissing. Anny disrobes to a blue slinky nightie and it looks like someone's getting lucky tonight, but the good parts are cut out of this version of the film (sadly...).
Close as you get to porn, sorry!
Over to the Inspector's office for a minute. Angelo's partner, the old ex-jocky, has been caught at the track shooting horses with the BB gun. I guess in Angelo's absence, the old man decided to keep the con game up himself but got caught. Our movie's greatest line comes when the Inspector looks at the BB gun and says, "You're going to shoot someone's eye out with this".
Ok, it's still New Years Eve and we go that night to a family party for the mafia on an open porch. Gallo is here, as is the old man in the wheel chair, and about thirty assorted hoods and lieutenants. Angelo is also here, up in the woods overlooking the party, sniper rifle in hand. He has Gallo in his sights twice, but is too scared to pull the trigger.
Just shoot already!
Just then Peter shows up! I guess he sneaked away from the cottage (as planned, I assume, though we are a bit surprised to see him here) and takes the rifle from Angelo. I guess it would have been strange to have Angelo kill Peter's nemesis, considering the build-up to this moment all movie long. The dialogue between Peter and Angelo in this scene is almost impossible to hear as the music from the party is overlayed on the soundtrack so loudly that it drowns out the voices.
Lining up the crosshairs, Peter pegs Gallo with one shot. But before he does so, he has another one of those red-tinted flashbacks to when his brother was killed. Only this time, he sees a bit more, he sees the ghostly face of Cannavale (the mafia guy from New York who came and got him in the Bronx, supposedly someone on Peter's side) in the car with the guys who shot his brother. What does this mean? It means that his former comrade actually ordered his brother killed, not Gallo.
More on that later, right now back to the present. Peter exposes himself too long after the shot (bad form for a sniper, these flashbacks are clearly effecting Peter's thinking), and he takes a bullet himself from one of the bodyguards, who are returning fire into the darkened woods. The round catches him in the thigh or the leg, and he hobbles off to get away.
Angelo helps the wounded Peter limp off. They are pursued on foot by a number of mafia goons from the party, all seeking to avenge their dead leader. Peter, with the rifle and then his pistol, kills four of them, but takes another bullet in the chest in the end.
Mortally wounded, Peter clutches Angelo. Making some asinine comment about broken dishes or something, Peter expires against a cold metal railing, his revenge quest finally fulfilled.
Death of Peter!
The cops show up, Angelo runs off, Anny gets the call that Peter is dead, all in all a pretty crappy New Years Eve.
The final scene is back in New York City as Peter's body is laid to rest. At the outdoor funeral is all the New York mafia bigwigs, and Angelo, who has come here to deliver a "message" to Cannavale from Peter. The message is two shots from a pistol to the chest!
I guess Peter somehow told Angelo about Cannavale's involvement in his brother's killing. But it seemed like he didn't fully realize this until right before he died, so I don't see how he had the time to pass it on to Angelo. And we never understand why Cannavale ordered the hit on this brother in the first place. And was he trying to get Peter killed by sending him to Italy? I don't have any firm answers.
Let's wrap this up. This being the strange world of organized crime, Angelo killing Cannavale earns him a job with the New York mafia as a hitman. Go figure.
The Sopranos: The Early Years.
Bonus! Some handy statistics for you:
0: Number of girly nipples seen, which really surprised me.
4,215,646,154: Number of ticketable vehicular moving violations seen.
7: Number of VW Bugs seen.
20: Number of men killed in entire movie.
12: Number of cigarettes smoked by our cast.
94: Percentage of hits attained by Peter, with 16 hits out of 17 bullets fired over the entire movie, with a total of 10 kills. Awesome marksmanship.
Written in March 2007 by Nathan Decker.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...