The Poliziotteschi genre – one filled with violent reaction to the sociopolitical upheaval in 1970s Italy – saw a match made in hell when filmmaker Umberto Lenzi and actor Tomas Milian decided to collaborate for a series of hard-hitting actioners that were condemned by Italian film critics and the establishment alike. Five of those collaborative efforts are presented in Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection. Sleazy sex and violence, unhinged Milian performances and so much more are abound in this well-appointed box set that comes with a great set of transfers and newly produced featurettes involving cast and crew. This release comes Recommended!
Alright, so here’s the thing about Umberto Lenzi and Tomas Milian. Lenzi was a famous hothead in Italian cult filmmaking, as was Milian. Their partnership would bring together two of the loudest and most brash people in the industry, and that love-hate relationship got injected right into the white-hot violence and action seen in their films together. But, as with every great, longstanding collaboration, they were no stranger to the law of diminishing returns. Their The Tough Ones and Almost Human stand proud as black marks on the record of Italian filmmaking history, subjecting audiences to seemingly endless sex and violence is given a bit more gumption by the political terror running rampant in Italy at the time.
In short, the Milian-Lenzi films were both designed to be reflective of Italy’s Years of Lead and fast, hard-hitting actioners that could play to international audiences. Unfortunately for the audience, Lenzi mistook hard-hitting action for needlessly dense plotting that’s impossible to parse through with his fast-cut style driving the car. Add Milian’s wild overacting and you have a recipe that’s frequently transgressive and thrilling despite the haphazard approach.
First up in the set is Almost Human, and it’s my personal favorite. Giulio Sacchi (Milian) is a small-time thug who is beaten up and kicked out of his gang after a botched bank robbery. Although Giulio tends to his wounds by bedding his unwilling girlfriend, his instinct to do crime can’t be quelled for long. Soon enough, he implicates a couple of other local criminals (Ray Lovelock and Gino Santercole) in his scheme to kidnap a millionaire’s daughter. This begins Giulio’s reign of terror on Milan.
Presented here in its European title The Executioner, Almost Human is bad taste writ large and Ernesto Gastaldi’s twist-filled script rolls around in the muck like a pig in shit. Add a funky Ennio Morricone score and this becomes an essential entry in the Poliziotteschi genre.
The second film in the set, Syndicate Sadists, is where things take a turn for the plotless. If Almost Human was concerned with picking at the veneer of a psychopath, then Syndicate Sadists is the egregious attempt by American producer Sam Sherman to capitalize on Poliziotteschi’s popularity by adding some American talent to the proceedings. That talent came in the form of Joseph Cotten, who plays a mob boss who doesn’t leave his house. Milian plays another psycho criminal, this time going by the name Rambo and being driven by revenge rather than impulsion. It’s actually funny how many drawn-out scenes of motorcycle driving are in this. Kind of makes the exploitative qualities a bit more apparent.
Free Hand for a Tough Cop saw a bit of a gearshift for the duo of Lenzi and Milian. This is where Tomas Milian introduces Monnezza, a disgusting, curly-haired prisoner who is conscripted by a cop to take down some gangsters in exchange for a reduced sentence. Italian filmmaking stalwart Henry Silva plays the heavy who has just had plastic surgery to alter his face completely. Much, much more humorous than Lenzi and Milian’s previous efforts, this one has a murderer’s row of familiar Italian character actors to become a macho parody of itself. A film that feels good on first glance, but you notice right away that this new direction may result in very diminishing returns if all of the creative efforts are focused on Milian playing an outsized version of himself.
That is, unfortunately, what happens exactly in The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, which reunited Milian and Maurizio Merli as well as adding a mustachioed John Saxon to the macho mix. Merli is back as Inspector Leonardo Tanzi, with Milian playing a notorious criminal who Tanzi put behind bars previously. Not nearly as suave as Saxon’s character seems to think, the film feels more like a bunch of half-baked Poliziotteschi clichés being thrown together without much care. But hey, when those clichés are car chases, fisticuffs, and shoot-outs, it can be quite enjoyable.
Last up in the set is Brothers Till We Die, where Milian plays the dual role of Monnezza and Il Gobbo (The Hunchback), two lowlife brothers and criminals forced to work together when Monnezza is kicked out of another gang and left for dead. This is Milian swinging for the fences, with not a single iota of realism to be found throughout the whole thing. The tonal whiplash between gross-out comedy and shocking violence is at its most wild here. Take that as a positive or negative, it’s up to you.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Tomas Milian is takin’ it to the streets in Violent Streets, presented here as an eight-disc package housed within a top-loading hardbox similar to previous Severin box sets. Each film gets its own black amaray case, with three of the films also offering the soundtracks on CD. All films are housed on BD-50 discs, too. For the titles that offer soundtracks, Severin has also included track listings presented as lobby cards with double-sided art. Each Blu-ray boots up to a standard menu screen with score selections playing over the title screen. Options to play the film, explore chapters, set up audio and video, and browse bonus features are offered on each title menu. Almost Human and Free Hand for a Tough Cop are locked to Region A, and the others are Region Free.
All of the films in Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection are presented here uncut and restored from the original negatives. Video quality of each film varies depending on the quality of the restoration, but overall, they all look great here. That chunky Italian film grain is nicely resolved and not marred by any DNR and detail levels look terrific throughout.
The one exception to the rule in this set is Free Hand for a Tough Cop, and for good reason. As someone who owns an imported copy of Free Hand for a Tough Cop from Fractured Visions, it is my pleasure to report that the sickly green and weird color timing on that release has been replaced here with something much, much more natural. Some hasty DNR from the Fractured Visions release is still present, although Severin serves up a more filmic image that improves on the incredibly soft transfer on the previous release. There isn’t much film grain to be found on this one, but I want to commend Severin for cleaning this one up as much as they could.
As a matter of fact, the transfers of The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist and Brothers Till We Die are clear and huge upgrades over the previous Region B releases from 88 Films a few years ago as well. Colors are a lot truer, and compared to those previous releases, both films have great gains in grain definition and contrast. The sources for all transfers seem to be in good condition, with any damage not taking away from the overall picture. Nicks and bumps are expected given the production style and quality of film stock used to shoot these eurocrime thrillers.
Each film in the set gets Italian and English soundtracks to choose from and they’re all served up as DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks. The English dub tracks sound very thin compared to the Italian tracks, although that shouldn’t be surprising given that many of the involved talent dubbed their lines in Italian and not English. On the whole, these tracks are very pleasing given the cheap production style. Dialogue is always nicely balanced with music, and those tinny peaks caused from dubbing are handled very well throughout.
Poliziotteschi and Eurocrime genre fans will find hours upon hours of supplements to enjoy here, including interviews with original cast and crew, soundtracks on CD, commentaries from cult film experts and restored trailers. The man himself, Umberto Lenzi, offers up interviews on each film included, and the result is nothing short of comprehensive in its ability to chart this Italian filmmaker’s career during a specific period. You’ll find many stories about how hotheaded both Milian and Lenzi were here, plus some incredible insights into Lenzi’s relationship with the various writers on his films. Simply put, the supplements offered here are breathless and all are terrifically produced. For a very unhinged look at politics, make sure to watch the interview with actor Bruno Di Luia.
Disc 1: Almost Human
Disc 2: Almost Human Soundtrack CD
Disc 3: Syndicate Sadists
Disc 4: Syndicate Sadists Soundtrack CD
Disc 5: Free Hand for a Tough Cop
Disc 6: The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist
Disc 7: The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist Soundtrack CD
Disc 8: Brothers Till We Die
Enter the sleazy, violent world of 1970s-era Italy courtesy of cult filmmaking figureheads Umberto Lenzi and Tomas Milian with Severin’s Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection. This eight-disc box set comes loaded with supplements that cult film fans will enjoy and the transfers are a big upgrade over previous releases of each film. This release comes Recommended!