Milano odia: la polizia non pu sparare
Almost Human aka The Kidnap of Mary Lou
(Umberto Lenzi / Italy / 1974)
Umberto Lenzi didn't always have a good reputation as a filmmaker, due mainly to his output in the 80s, which includes such questionable 'pearls' of the cannibal sub-genre as his widely loathed Cannibal ferox (1981). But in the age of DVD and the director's cut, many 'lost' films are resurfacing again, and some directors suddenly appear in a new light. Or one could also say that previously neglected and censored films lead to a necessary re-evaluation of a director's career. No matter how you put it, I'd suggest that Umberti Lenzi is one of those filmmakers. If I'm not completely misinformed he was already praised in his early days as a director and his reappraisal has already been underway for some time now.
Nevertheless I'd like to add some lines of my own.
My first film by Lenzi was introduced to me by a friend who wanted me to see it mainly because of its extremely corny German synchronisation. Something that was quite common here in the 70s, most notably in the films of Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer, was to create what was probably considered a humorous German synchronisation of the original dialogue. While it was at best at least mildly entertaining in the desired form, in most cases the dubbing felt not only forced but extremely speculative and unintentionally funny.
While this is sometimes also the case with this endeavor into the profundities of artistic liberties in the German film industry of the 70s, (with such classic lines as "When I'm rich I'll wash my dick with champagne") it didn't really distract from the overall quality of the acting and the direction, as well as the cinematography and the editing, which were in my book practically flawless.
Cult figure Tomas Milian plays a deranged psychpath who also likes to kill for the pleasure he finds in it. A pleasure which he mostly derives from a feeling of superiority towards his unsuspecting victims. He has achieved nothing in life until the beginning of the film, and is introduced to us in his first scenes as a complete coward. He is also envious of everything and everybody else around him, and being not only a hothead but an egotist of the highest order, this mixes badly with his feelings of inadequateness (in one scene he is even shown to be impotent) . Through his actions in the film, his inferiority complex evolves into delusions of grandeur which are harrowing to behold. Nevertheless his deserving death at the end of the film serves not simply as a morally justifiable conclusion to the story, but in a highly symbolic final shot that equals the best in cinema history, reveals his case to be only a small part of a larger problem which is a part of society itself. Umberto Lenzi seems to say that Italy has spawned him and Italy has brought him down. Although there are small hints at this throughout the film, I was still shocked at the final revelation which makes Milian's character an almost iconic figure and another victim, in a long line of victims in the film and history itself.
Umberto Lenzi cannot be complemented enough for his direction which is energetic as well as full of significance,
revealing subtle moments in the fiercest of situations. It is indeed a rare mixture, and the only satisfying comparison I know at the moment would be to the films of Michael Mann. And if we are aware of Mann's impressive knowledge of film history it doesn't seem too bold to assume that he might have been inspired by Lenzi himself. But of course there were many examples of this kind of critical filmmaking in "commercial" productions of the 70s, and not only in Italy, as one shouldn't forget the example of "films policiers" which were made in France at about roughly the same time.
Much of this film and the whole sub-genre of the Poliziotteschi as well as the Giallo films has to do with the political climate during the 60s and 70s. A significant increase of police violence and acts of terrorism, along with massive corruption and a general mistrust of politicians and the ability of the state to offer any reasonable solutions were important problems throughout Europe (see for instance Alexander Kluge's collective project Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn / 1978) which displays an overpowering atmosphere of helplessness). But it was in Italy that popular cinema seemed to reflect those issues most prominently, with politically aware directors like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Damiano Damiani, Marco Bellocchio or Umberto Lenzi dissecting the (often historical) problems in their films with an often operatic, over-the-top approach, and a similar urgency that can be felt in all of their films despite their often differing stylistic approaches.
Though a cynical view of the subject matter was often the case, the best of these films also display a humanist stance, even in the face of defeat. If you cannot change the problems of society, you can at least lay bare how society opperates and point to the roots of some difficulties. Sometimes education and entertainment go hand in hand and as a warning to future generations the films have lost little of their significance.
This film has also appeared as a Region 1 DVD. Here's a link to a review by DVDBeaver with screencaps.