Sunday, September 24, 2017

Blu-ray Debut: Sergio Martino's 1975 genre-jumper,THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR

Is it a giallo? A police procedural? Thriller? Murder mystery? Political/economic/ social canvas of a particular Italian era? All of the above and more. In fact, the IMDB lists the film (under the aka title of Too Young to Die) as a comedy, mystery and horror film. Take your pick; I guess it's all here. And it's all -- much of it, anyway -- pretty damned good. Less violent and misogynistic than most genuine giallo, the movie also jumps genres with utter abandon.

This is the work of a probably-less-noted-than-he-should-be Italian director, Sergio Martino (shown at right, whose most famous films on this side of the Atlantic may be Torso and The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh), a filmmaker best known for his action movies than the several other genres in which he labored. Martino was relatively prolific -- 66 titles in all, the last made for Italian TV in 2012 -- and he was also skilled in many genres. In THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR, he has so many of these bumping up against each other that the effect, finally, seems almost as though Martino has melded them all into a single unit. With one exception -- which would be comedy. I don't think this genre was anything near his forte.

The comedy here mostly takes place around the 40-minute mark -- in the midst of murder, possible underage sex trafficking and more -- as a car chase which goes on and on for so long that you eventually wonder if Martini is trying to set some new car-chase endurance record. Plus, the comedy is so heavy-handed and misplaced that it reaches the humor level of a cretin.

Then suddenly it ends -- in a wonderful surprise that sets the movie off on a totally new track. From there on, Suspicious Death... gets better and better, as one surprise is followed by another that makes the movie as timely as Goldman Sachs. "Are you asking us to investigate the government -- or overthrow it?" wonders Mel Ferrer (who may be the biggest "name" in  the cast, but who has but a supporting role in these goings-on).

The actual star is a fellow named Claudio Cassinelli, who makes a most interesting near-anti-hero. He uses brass knuckles to fight and is not above having sex with those under investigation. But he has a soft spot for the young thief (Adolfo Caruso, below, right and further below, prone) whom he takes under his wing and teaches the tricks of the trade. Cassinelli had a nice film career that was cut suddenly short by an accident that Signore Martino tells us about in the excellent interview, shot only recently, that appears in the disc's Bonus Features. This is a "must" to watch.

There's a gun battle on a roller coaster, a couple more murders, and an investigation that leads all the way to a top-tier banker (Ossessione's Massimo Girotti) and a load of truly nefarious doings. Some of the dialog along the way is terse and smart, too: Notes our hero, after he has been bribed by the villain, "If we have to serve the big interest, we really ought to make it pay."

The movie's original title, as we learn from that Bonus Feature interview, was Violent Milan, until the distributor stupidly changed it something longer and dumber. As both decent entertainment and a look into what Milan and Italy was going through during that 70s era (and the Western world is still going through today), the movie proves an interesting time capsule that holds up pretty well.

From Arrow Video, distributed here in the USA by MVD Entertainment, The Suspicious Death of a Minor, running 100 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles (or dubbed into English, if you prefer) hits the street on Blu-ray and DVD next Tuesday, October 3, for purchase and (I hope) rental.

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