Thursday 16 August 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 7. Milano Calibro 9

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Milano Calibro 9
Director - Fernando Di Leo
Country - Italy
Year - 1973
Runtime - 100 minutes

Italian cinema of the 70's is renowned for Spaghetti Westerns and Giallo films but not as much attention is given to the Polizzi genre that was just as prolific in this era. Stylistically, Polizzi films were very similar to the other popular Italian pulp genres of the time. They often revolved around conflicts between hardened criminals and corrupt officials, with lashings of brutal violence usually accompanied by the operatic music of Ennio Morricone or one of his peers. Viewed today, many of these films amount to nothing more than a throwaway piece of entertainment but the highlights of the genre still garner a certain level of affection from cinephiles, and rightly so.

One of the most infamous and acclaimed of these films is Milano Calibro 9; a gritty expose on the Italian criminal underworld. The film's Director, Fernando Di Leo, made his mark as a writer with uncredited collaborations on the first two films in Sergio Leone's Dollar's trilogy and Sergio Corbucci's Django all providing him with an insight into the workings of a successful script. By the time he came to direct his finest hour, Milano Calibro 9, Di Leo was a seasoned film-maker with years of experience to draw upon, and a penchant for harsh realism that was perfectly suited to the Polizzi genre.

In Milano Calibro 9, we are introduced to the criminal underworld via a case of money that passes through the hands of suspicious and shady characters - presumably the payment for an unseen deal. When the deal falls foul of horse play all hell breaks loose and the full wrath of the Italian Mafiosa is unleashed. This spectacular opening sequence grabs you by the throat and showcases the ferocity and brutality of one of the film's key players - the psychopathic gangster, Rocco. 

Following on from this explosive prologue the film then segues into a new chapter where former gang member Ugo (the film's anti-hero) is released from prison, only to be intercepted by Rocco and threatened with violence, as his old boss demands repayment for the stolen money. Ugo tries to steer clear of altercations but with Rocco on his back and the police not far behind he becomes embroiled in the hunt for the money they believe he stashed away before his incarceration.

The morality of criminals usually differs when considering the treatment of their own kind - regardless of whether they are friends or enemies. The two key players, Ugo (Gastone Moschin) and Rocco (Mario Adorf), share a kinship even if their criminal paths have them facing off against each other, and both actors successfully embody this stance in their commendable portrayals of the gangsters. This begrudging respect that adversaries can have for one another in the underworld comes to the forefront of the film's finale, turning a downbeat denouement into an epilogue that is tinged with sadness.

There are scenes of violence towards the latter part of the film, such as a gung-ho shootout, that veer dangerously close to being over the top. Exaggerated action is a staple of the Polizzi flicks and at this point in the story you are likely to be so invested in the survival of the main characters that you will be willing to overlook such shortcomings.

Part of Milano Calibro 9's appeal is its stirring music that brings a sense of urgency to the proceedings along with an operatic grandness usually reserved for epic sagas. Composer Luis Bacalov worked alongside a prog rock group to create the unforgettable soundtrack. The constant repetition of the main theme may diminish its impact slightly but it still works incredibly well in elevating the intensity of key scenes. 

Milano Calibro 9 is far more than just a standout of the Polizzi genre. It is a first rate crime thriller which deserves far more recognition for its gutsy approach to violence, its memorable characterisations and the gripping storyline that will leave you enthralled to the very end.

If you take the time to watch Milano Calibro 9 then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

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