Archive for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

The ’68 Comeback Special: Banditi A Milano

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2013 by dcairns


Continuing our trawl (Scout Tafoya & I)  through the unscreened films in competition from the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, a project I share with Scout Tafoya of Apocalypse Now.

BANDITI A MILANO is an obscure polizzi directed by Carlo Lizzani, and it’s (to me, anyway) one of the more surprising selections in the ’68 line-up. Lizzani has some impressive credits (his 1967 spaghetti western REQUIESCANT, aka KILL AND PRAY, featuring PP Pasolini, is highly regarded), but is mainly a genre specialist, and the crime genre is usually not particularly respected at Cannes unless in the hands of the Americans. Lizzani is also one of the few directors from that line-up to be still alive AND working.

The movie begins as a mockumentary, and a not entirely convincing one. Tomas Milian as a youthful police commissioner with a long cigarette holder seems unable to pause convincingly to suggest extemporaneous speech. Then we meet a retired hood who can do that kind of thing brilliantly, and it becomes clear that stylistic consistency isn’t going to be the film’s strength… but then things get interesting…

With a sometimes-handheld look, Lizzani blunders about from anecdote to anecdote, seemingly attempting a kind of MONDO CANE portrait of criminal life in one Italian city. The glimpses into protection rackets etc don’t seem to offer any insights you couldn’t get from THE PUBLIC ENEMY, but the fast movement of the narrative is a compensation. There’s a bit about an aspiring female singer who gets abducted and set on fire, all set to swooning romantic music (by Riz Ortolani), thereby echoing the weird eros-thanatos admixture of the giallo genre. And then Gian Maria Volonte shows up as a bank robber and we settle into a longer story, and things get really quite interesting — (1) because this sweaty, lipless motormouth is a magnetically repulsive presence, tirelessly ranting, each phoneme jabbing like a stubby finger (2) because long stories have more room to engross than short ones and (c) because the very notion of beginning a film with a series of sketches and then lunging with no warning into a more developed storyline is a weird and interesting structural approach. So we award points for originality at least.


Then there’s an action climax at the one hour mark where VO introduces us to a cluster of civilians going about their separate business, all on a fatal collision course with the latest bank robbery — the novelistic device of sharing future knowledge with the audience is one too rarely used. The movie’s cynicism climaxes in a “happy” ending where justice is seen to be done but nobody in the audience is likely to be satisfied.

Volonte’s media-savvy crook isn’t quite as interesting as his paranoid cop in INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, but it’s a close thing. Likening his gang to the Beatles and Milan to “America in the thirties” — cue cars screeching through streets blasting at each other with tommy guns — he’s the kind of magnetic psychopath who spews out provocative statements he may not even believe, but which do occasionally contain food for thought. Lizzani’s movie is at least good enough to deserve a proper subtitled DVD — it’s the best polizzi I’ve seen, thought admittedly I haven’t enjoyed many examples of that thick-eared genre. Any other Italian cop-show recommendations?

vlcsnap-2013-09-12-13h28m51s77Check out Scout’s previous entry here.


The Squid Stays in the Picture

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 7, 2011 by dcairns

After a conversation with ace animator and effects artist Randy Cook, I got intrigued about the CITIZEN KANE octopus. You see, I hadn’t even realized it was fake, which makes its inclusion in a newsreel hilarious –

Wait, what? OK, let’s backtrack. In the CITIZEN KANE News on the March fake newsreel sequence, as William Alland narrates “the FISH of the SEA, the FOWL of the AIR” in that booming manner of his, we briefly cut to a rubber cephalopod mollusc bouncing towards us on concealed wires. And I got intrigued.

I first started looking into the stock music in KANE after being startled to hear the News on the March theme played in NURSE EDITH CAVELL, but then I discovered that enterprising researchers had traced all the music used in that sequence. But I’m not aware of anybody having traced the stock footage (I could well be wrong, though). The octopus, who I’m going to call Steve, seemed a particularly interesting example, since he’s clearly not from a piece of news footage. Somewhere out there, I knew, must be a movie in which Steve gave his original performance.

My research wasn’t insanely extensive, but I did look at the list of RKO movies made between the late 1930s and 1941. A few titles looked promising, but as the films were often unavailable, I couldn’t be sure. THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1940), which Welles provided opening narration for, sounded like the sort of thing which, in Hollywood’s hands, might be persuaded to incorporate a rapacious sea beast, but when I eventually got a copy of the long-unavailable flick (I suspect Disney suppressed it to make room for their later Hayley John Mills version), there wasn’t a sucker in sight, unless you count Freddie Bartholomew.

It was sheer chance that I came upon the Republic serial DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (1940), reading a review which praised the octopus-fight as a highlight. The date was promising, and a movie that definitely contained a wriggling sea creature had to be at least as likely as SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which didn’t have any at all, so I acquired a copy and was delighted to see Steve in all his eight-limbed glory, gamely wrestling with one of the nefarious oriental doctor’s enemies.

“Thrash around, make it look like he’s killin’ ya.”

Alas, I’ve been unable to trace Steve’s movements after KANE. Presumably he hung out in the RKO scene dock with the other fake sealife. Was he abducted and used by Ed Wood in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER? I can’t be sure. I know that roles were few and far between. Effectively typecast as a cephalopod, Steve received no offers from the new generation of American filmmakers: Scorsese, Coppola and Bogdanovich had no use for his talents. And his moral scruples prevented him from accepting work in Japanese pornography. I fear that when his longterm contract finally ended, Steve probably wound up all washed up, drinking like a fish, on squid row.


In case anybody’s confused, bad jokes aside, there IS a fake octopus in the News on the March sequence of KANE, and it does come from DRUMS OF FU MANCHU, and nobody else seems to have traced this. I call dibs.

Citizen Kane (Amazon Exclusive 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition + The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD) [Blu-ray]

Above It All

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 23, 2010 by dcairns

Florinda Balkan has a pretty fabulous pad, and also a kink for restaging crime scene photos with herself as victim, and also a serious stack of giallo paperbacks, all of which seems like a broad hint that she won’t be around smiling in the end credits of Elio Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION, which is itself a lot more than a simple, or even complicated, giallo slasher. Oh no. You can read more over at The Daily Notebook in this week’s edition of The Forgotten. I shall be digging deeper into Petri’s oeuvre and may well find something far more forgotten than this movie, but Petri himself is neglected and deserves the attention, and besides, it’s nice once in a while to write about something a few readers might have seen…