Discovering and delving into the deep history of Italian cinema has been one of my greatest joys as a movie fan. From peplum to spaghetti westerns, gothic horror to Eurocrime, there are hundreds of films that simply weren’t on my radar for a very long time. Part of this is because many of these movies didn’t (and still don’t, in many cases) have distribution deals in the United States, but that’s changing. With those changes comes the opportunity to see many movies that simply go beyond my wildest expectations. Italian filmmaking, especially during the sixties and seventies, combines pop elements with gritty storytelling to make something unique and stylistically striking.
A perfect example of this is 1976’s The Big Racket, aka Il Grande Racket, a film that ticks off all the boxes of both Euro-crime as well as seventies cop drama. The film depicts a crime-ridden Rome where gangs terrorize the streets and shake down the local businesses, extorting family-run shops for money they can’t afford to pay. Italian actor and stuntman Fabio Testi stars as Inspector Palmieri, a prototype for the cop who cares TOO much about his job and is willing to do anything to get results. When his superior officer takes him off a gang-related case, he goes rogue, assembling a team of men who have all suffered great loss at the hands of Rome’s criminal element.
Let me be clear: this movie is CRAZY. The opening credits set the tone for what we’re about to see as a gang terrorizes a city street at night. They break windows, throw Molotov cocktails at cars, and generally just blow stuff up. All this is done to super-cool seventies music and becomes a spectacle that is absolutely riveting. Just a few minutes into the film, our heroic cop character follows these hoodlums to a hilltop meeting place where he is discovered and attacked in his car. The gang rocks his vehicle back and forth and uses their combined strength to tumble it down the hill. This would be impressive enough to watch from an outside perspective, but the film actually has a camera mounted INSIDE the flipping vehicle where we watch Fabio Testi actually experience the stunt in real life. As rocks and glass shower into the car and then back out again with every flip, it becomes apparent that we’re witnessing something amazing. Horrible, but amazing.
All of this might be too heavy to handle if it wasn’t wrapped in layers upon layers of style. Luckily, this movie is oozing with charisma and visual panache. The cinematographer, Marcello Masciocchi (Yor, the Hunter From the Future) frames everything with the style of a comic book, frequently giving us slow-motion inserts of cool things like people being run down by cars or vehicles exploding into fireballs. The film was directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a man responsible for a ton of cool movies. In the sixties, he brought us memorable spaghetti westerns, including Any Gun Can Play, and in the eighties he made a bunch of cool post-apocalyptic films like Warriors of the Wasteland with Fred Williamson. He even made a Sinbad movie with TV’s Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno. Sandwiched between those two decades is Castellari’s Euro-crime work, which shows how much of a holdover these movies really are from spaghetti westerns.