Release Date(s)Various (June 22, 2021)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B+
- Overall Grade: A-
Italy’s crime thriller mystery genre, poliziottesco, didn’t get as much attention outside of Europe during the 1970s. Its blend of action, violence, nudity, and unsavory characters made it a popular box office draw in its home country, particularly during an era when Italy’s crime rate was rising. Whether the films were about wayward policemen looking to clean up the streets with their own brand of justice or low life thugs committing heinous acts with a police inspector hot on their trail, Italian audiences ate them up in droves. Meanwhile, American audiences were mostly saddled with Italian westerns, thrillers, and horror films, giving directors like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Sergio Leone legendary status. Still, there are many poliziottesco titles worthy of any deep-seated film fan’s attention, and Arrow Video has put together a fine boxed set of five films in particular. Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers – 1973-1977 collectively features Savage Three, Like Rabid Dogs, Colt 38 Special Squad, Highway Racer, and No, the Case Is Happily Resolved.
In Vittorio Salerno’s Savage Three (Fango bollente), three close friends (Joe Dallesandro, Gianfranco De Grassi, and Guido De Carli) perform menial day jobs and spend their evenings committing increasingly violent crimes, managing to elude the authorities. However, a seasoned police inspector (Enrico Maria Salerno) is slowly closing in on them as they get sloppier. Like a lot of these types of films, the violence tends to be over the top, including a couple of very effective moments: a man is hit by a car and after the brakes are applied is thrown off a bridge, and a naked woman is impaled with the receiving end of a forklift. Performances are good and the film moves pretty briskly, barreling towards its conclusion and leaving the door open for a potential sequel. (Sensitive viewers take note that the film opens with a minor bit of animal violence.)
Similar in story is Mario Imperoli’s Like Rabid Dogs (Come cani arrabbiati) in which three students from wealthy families (Cesare Barro, Luis La Torre, and Annarita Grapputo) kidnap young women, particularly hookers, to play mind games with and eventually rape and murder. On their trail is an obsessive, hard-nosed police inspector (Jean-Pierre Sabagh) and his fellow officer and lover (Paola Senatore). Quite frankly, this one’s a mess. It’s tonally inconsistent, jumping from comedic moments to rape and back again (the chaotic score doesn’t help much), while characters come and go with little regard to story. Because of this lack of narrative thrust, it feels much longer than its 98-minute running time, giving us a series of scenes to titillate rather than create suspense. A moment of potential assault upon Paola Senatore’s character is possibly the strongest scene in the film, not to mention the opening and closing car chases. It’s an essential watch for fans of the poliziottesco genre, but certainly not one of its more effective entries.
Changing things up for the better is Colt 38 Special Squad (Quelli della Calibro 38), directed by Massimo Dallamano (What Have You Done to Solange?). Crime boss Marseilles (Ivan Rassimov) is setting off explosives all over the city, and after having police captain Vanni’s (Marcel Bozzuffi) wife killed, Vanni vows to bring Marseilles’ deadly and destructive syndicate down. He’s given a special group of men to go after him, eventually going beyond the limits of the law. One of the most entertaining films in this release, Colt 38 straddles the line with exploitative police action with car chases, explosions, and shootouts, and tiptoes into real world events, showing the awful devastation of what Marseilles and his men can accomplish with a few sticks of dynamite. It’s strong stuff. The film also moves quickly and features spectacular stunt work. Look no further than Vanni driving a car on top of a train, moving from car to car, and smoothly driving off onto a nearby dock. Characterization and drama aren’t really at the core of the film’s identity, but regardless, it’s an enjoyable slice of genre goodness.
In Stelvio Massi’s Highway Racer (Poliziotto sprint), Marco (Maurizio Merli) is an overly zealous police officer who wants to be the fastest driver on the road, but after a tragic accident, he temporarily walks away from police work. Bringing him back into the fold is his mentor, Tagliaferri (Giancarlo Sbragia), who teaches him how to be the best driver on the force in order to catch criminal mastermind and driver extraordinaire Nizzardo (Angelo Infanti). Here we have a story based upon Armando Spatafora, a famous Italian police officer who drove a Ferrari as a patrol vehicle. Your price of admission are the spectacular Bullitt style car chases and stunts, complete with hubcaps flying off of wheels and massive crashes and explosions. The story is fairly straightforward and the performances are strong, giving you just enough connective tissue to keep you entertained in between moments of action. Whether it’s jumping a massive gap in a dirt pit or driving down one of Italy’s most famous landmarks, the Spanish Steps of Rome, it’s easily one of the most enthralling entries in the genre.
Last, but not least, is No, the Case Is Happily Resolved (No il caso e felicemente risolto), also directed by Vittorio Salerno. Out for a relaxing afternoon, Fabio (Enzo Cerusico) hears a woman nearby calling for help. He comes upon the scene of a man (Riccardo Cucciolla) standing over the body of a dead woman whom he’s murdered. Fabio runs, fully intending to tell the police, but the man, who turns out to be respected school professor Eduardo Ranieri, gets to them first and informs them that Fabio killed her. While paranoia begins ripping Fabio apart, avid newspaper reporter Don Peppino (Enrico Maria Salerno) does his own investigating. A taut and compelling thriller, No, the Case Is Happily Solved is effective in its simplicity. Performances from all are strong and sound design and presentation are unique, even if the ending is a tad clunky (which makes sense knowing that it was altered). However, it has enough strong material to sustain it that it can be forgiven.
Savage Three features an inherited HD master in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but with additional color grading by Arrow. It’s a good-looking presentation with tight grain and high levels of detail. Colors pop well enough, particularly when a little crimson is spilled, and skin tones are fairly natural. Blacks are deep with a tad bit of crush, but shadow detail is excellent. The opening and closing titles are much softer than the rest of the presentation, but it’s otherwise solid with good contrast and no obvious leftover damage.
Like Rabid Dogs also features an inherited HD master in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It’s not quite as nice as the previous master, but it has many positive qualities. Colors are certainly more robust with respect to reds and blues. Greens from foliage also offer excellent saturation. Certain sequences have less clarity, mostly early on. In these scenes, detail isn’t as strong and grain is a tad chunkier. Blacks are also a bit crushed. Elsewhere, grain levels are nice and tight and detail is more pronounced. Mild speckling, especially along the left edge, is visible, but inconsequential.
Colt 38 Special Squad is sourced from a new 2K restoration of the original 35 mm camera negative and presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Finely-encoded grain and high levels of detail are on full display. Shadow detail is also impressive with deep blacks and good contrast. Staining has been addressed as much as possible, but there are still faint traces of it visible, more obviously so during brighter shots. The image is otherwise clean and stable with good saturation outside of mild speckling and a minor amount of stock footage towards the end.
Highway Racer also features an inherited HD master in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It fares a little better than its previously inherited HD counterpart with more solid grain levels and higher levels of fine detail. The color palette offers a nice range of hues, particularly for the different cars used in the film, the local signage around the city, the foliage outside of it, and the dirt pit at the end. Blacks are deep with good shadow detail and contrast. The overall image is stable and clean outside of a few faint lines, which are a little tough to spot without heavy scrutiny.
No, the Case Is Happily Resolved is also sourced from an inherited HD master in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but with additional color grading by Arrow. It too has many of the same positive qualities of its predecessor with solid grain and excellent fine detail, particularly in the shadows. Blacks are deep with ideal contrast, while the color palette offers a rich and vibrant selection of hues, whether it’s the gold of the wheat field in the opening of the film, or the multiple colors of cars, signage, and clothing within the city. It too is stable and clean with nary a sign of leftover damage to be seen.
Savage Three and Like Rabid Dogs feature audio in Italian Mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles, which play automatically when starting each film. Both tracks are narrow, as to be expected, but dialogue exchanges are clear and sound effects have decent impact. Each film’s score, especially Savage Three’s amazing hard rock theme song that plays repeatedly throughout, doesn’t have as much push as it could, but comes through well enough. Both tracks are also clean and free of any hiss, crackle, or distortion.
Colt 38 Special Squad and Highway Racer are presented in either Italian or English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles on both tracks. Note that the English subtitles for the Italian track plays automatically when starting the film. The Italian audio is on par with the previous films; clear dialogue exchanges and decent impact for sound effects. The scores have more power, but only marginally so with moderate bass. The English tracks are pitched higher with slightly elevated treble and the dubbing is more obvious, as to be expected. They’re otherwise clean and free of any leftover hiss, crackle, or distortion.
No, the Case Is Happily Resolved is presented is Italian Mono LPCM with optional English subtitles, which play automatically when starting the film. This is a film that makes particular use of its sound and one could easily see a 5.1 track being created for it. As is, it’s pretty narrow outside of the score and music. Dialogue, especially the internal monologue that occurs in the mind of Fabio, is fully elevated. Sound effects have decent impact as well. It’s actually the most immersive track of the five films offered in this set. Like the others, it’s also free of leftover damage, such as hiss, crackle, and distortion.
SAVAGE THREE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A-/B
LIKE RABID DOGS (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/B+/B
COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/A-/B
HIGHWAY RACER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B+/B
NO, THE CASE IS HAPPILY RESOLVED (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/B+/B+
Each disc contains the following extras:
DISC ONE: SAVAGE THREE
- Rat Eat Rat (HD – 40:49)
- The Savage One (HD – 40:56)
- Poster (HD – 1 in all)
Rat Eat Rat is a 2017 interview with writer/director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard. They discuss how tight money was for Italian filmmakers in the mid-1970s, which lead to the formation of the Comma 9 production company; how real life incidents inspired scenes for the film; choosing the cast; working together; the shooting locations; the stunt work; the use of violence; the ending; the cinematography; the music; and their thoughts on the final film. The Savage One is a very eclectic 2017 interview with actor Joe Dallesandro who talks about working with Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey, moving on afterwards to Italian and French films, working with Vittorio Salerno, various off-the-wall moments that occurred during his time there, eventually returning to the US, and giving up drinking. Not included from the Camera Obscura DVD and Blu-ray releases is a German audio commentary with film historians Christian Kessler and Pelle Felsch, which featured optional English subtitles.
DISC ONE: LIKE RABID DOGS
- When a Murderer Dies (HD – 51:57)
- It’s Not a Time for Tears (HD – 32:55)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:49)
- Music Sampler (HD – 6:01)
- Poster Gallery (HD – 3 in all)
When a Murderer Dies is a 2013 interview with cinematographer Romano Albani, which is introduced by film historian Fabio Melelli, who also intersperses the interview with comments about the various films that Albani mentions. Albani talks about his early career in commercials, getting into working in film, working with Mario Imperoli, violence and censorship in Europe at the time, and the importance of Like Rabid Dogs in Italian cinema. Eventually, Melelli takes over almost completely and talks about other aspects of the film. It’s Not a Time for Tears is a 2014 interview with assistant director Claudio Bernabei in which he discusses how he got into the film business, working with various directors, working on Like Rabid Dogs, real life crimes that inspired the film’s story, the politics of the day, being organized on the set, various scenes from the film, and his reflections on the film. The Music Sampler presents two tracks from the film’s original 45 release. The Poster Gallery offers 3 posters from the film. Not included from the Camera Obscura DVD and Blu-ray releases is a German audio commentary with film historians Christian Kessler and Marcus Stiglegger, which also featured optional English subtitles.
DISC TWO: COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD
- Introduction by Stelvio Cipriani (Upscaled SD – :45)
- A Special Groove for a Very Special Squad (Upscaled SD – 25:48)
- A Tough Guy (Upscaled SD – 9:31)
- Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 3:31)
- Poster Gallery (HD – 4 in all)
Composer Stelvio Cipriani offers a 2006 introduction to the film while also playing the film’s opening title music on piano. In A Special Groove for a Very Special Squad (mislabeled as Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes on the main menu), he continues to talk about the film’s score while playing selections from it. He also speaks about how he got involved with the project, working with Massimo Dallamano, the film’s place within the poliziottesco genre, and other films and filmmakers that he’s worked with. A Tough Guy is a 2006 interview with editor Antonio Siciliano in which he also discusses working Dallamano, his background in editing, the projects he’s worked on, the content of the film, shifting scenes around, working on the film’s soundtrack, and how well the film was shot. The Poster Gallery offers 4 posters from the film. Not carried over from German Anolis DVD release is an audio commentary with film historians Christian Kessler and Peter Blumenstock and the Super 8 version of the film.
DISC TWO: HIGHWAY RACER
- Faster Than a Bullet (HD – 19:42)
- Poster Gallery (HD – 3 in all)
Faster Than a Bullet is an interview from 2020 with film historian Roberto Curti. In it, he discusses the state of Italian cinema at the time of the film’s release, Maurizio Merli, the film’s finale, the original ending, themes present in the film, the real life inspiration for the film, Stelvio Massi’s filming techniques, and the other actors. The Poster Gallery offers 3 posters from the film. Not included from the German Camera Obscura Blu-ray release is a photo gallery.
DISC THREE: NO, THE CASE IS HAPPILY RESOLVED
- Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead (HD – 20:17)
- Mother Justice (HD – 40:36)
- Alternate Original Ending (HD – 4:02)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:33)
- Poster Gallery (HD – 4 in all)
Poliziotteschi: Violence and Justice in the Years of Lead is a new visual essay by film critic Will Webb in which he discusses the poliziottesco genre and the violent crime wave in Italy that inspired its creation. Mother Justice is an interview with director Vittorio Salerno and actress Martine Brochard from 2015. In it, they discuss the discovery of the script, casting the leads, shooting the film quickly, the first day of filming, shooting various scenes, the beast that dwells within the killer, working with the actors, the source of the internal monologue, the atmosphere on the set, the cinematography, the score, the controversial original ending, and the reception to the film. The original ending, presented here separately, fits so much better than the ending that was used and it’s too bad that a branching version couldn’t have been employed to incorporate it back into the body of the film. The Poster Gallery offers 4 posters from the film. Not included from German Camera Obscura DVD and Blu-ray releases is a German audio commentary with film historians Marcus Stigglegger and Kai Naumann with optional English subtitles, and a photo gallery.
Also included is a 60-page booklet featuring cast and crew information for each film, Don’t Trust the Man: No, the Case Is Happily Resolved and Italian Genre Cinema of the 70s by Troy Howarth, Animal Instinct: Savage Three and the Ideology of Violence by Michael Mackenzie, Fighting Fire with a Colt 38: Law and Order in Colt 38: Special Squad by Rachael Nisbet, Like Rabid Dogs: Class, Privilege, and Sadeian Women by Kat Ellinger, The Car’s the Star: Highway Racer, Tribute Elegy and a Whole Lot of Burning Rubber by James Oliver, and information about each film’s transfer. The discs are housed within three separate clear amaray cases with reversible artwork inside a rigid slipcase.
Arrow Video once again does what it does so well with boxed sets like these: highlight films that many don’t know about or have forgotten. In the case of Years of Lead, many are bound to discover a set of important films with excellent presentations that will drive them to want to see more of them. Here’s hoping that a second volume is not far in the offing. For fans of Italian genre cinema, this set comes highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons