*Indicates that the title is also available to rent or buy in streaming format on various digital platforms.
“The Iron Prefect” (1977, Radiance Films) In pre-World War II Italy, the Fascist government sends its most unyielding public servant to break the Mafia’s grip on a region of Sicily, which he carries out with ruthless efficiency. Though the presence of popular action star Gemma as real-life “Iron Prefect” Cesare Mori, suggests that Pasquale Squitieri’s film will be a brawny bullet fest, the end result hews closer to a more stately-paced and lavishly appointed take on two-fisted social reformer stories of the period like “Serpico” or “Report to the Commissioner,” with an emphasis on the perils that occur when irresistible forces meet immovable objects in the political/social field. With Claudia Cardinale (Squitieri’s longtime SO), Rik Battaglia, and Francisco Rabal among the better-known cast members; Radiance Films’ Limited Edition Blu-ray features a 2K restoration along with a mix of archival interviews (Squitieri, Gemma) and new material (an appreciation of Gemma by “Repo Man” director Alex Cox) as well as liner notes that detail Mori’s crimefighting efforts.
“Fighting Back” (1982, Arrow Video*) Tom Skerritt swings for the fences as a South Philadelphia Italian-American who fights back against the rising tide of crime (perpetrated entirely here by Black and Latino characters) by forming a neighborhood patrol that deals out justice with a heavy hand. Vigilante thriller from director Lewis Teague (“Cujo”) and producer Dino De Laurentiis wants to play both sides of the “Death Wish” card, praising Skerritt’s DIY crimefighting strategies while also acknowledging the racist/fascistic side (Yaphet Kotto’s Black activist is on hand largely to argue that point) of his actions; the script by Oscar nominee David Zelag Goodman and Thomas Hedley Jr. bounces erratically between positions while delivering a steady stream of shoot-outs, punch-ups, and car wrecks, all capably captured by Teague, who has an eye for urban grime. Arrow’s hi-def Blu-ray features interviews with Teague on the disc and in its liner notes, as well as an interview with cinematographer Daniele Nannuzzi, who served as camera operator on numerous Italian and Stateside genre pictures like this one.
“Samurai Wolf 1&2” (1966-67, Film Movement*) Two period action-dramas from director Hideo Gosha (“Sword of the Beast”), which thrusts Isao Natsuyagi’s rough-but-principled ronin Ferocious Wolf into conflicts with personal and political ramifications. In the first film, it’s a war of wills between the blind owner (Junko Miyazano) of a shipping company and a rival company who dispatches a swordsman (Ryohei Uchida) to drive her into ruin, while in the sequel (subtitled “Hell Cut”), he’s drawn into a more complex conflict between a fellow rogue samurai, his former partners, and a pair of women, all hoping for their cut of a gold mine. The influence of American and especially Italian Westerns are felt throughout Gosha’s stylistic choices, which delivery a flurry of striking visuals to shore up the furious and bloody fight sequences, and the complex storylines, which anchor on the emotions that fuel violent acts; while not quite as resonant as Kurosawa’s samurai titles or giddily gory as the “Lone Wolf and Cub” series, the “Samurai Wolf” duo has both action and depth to satisfy genre fans. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes commentary on the first film by genre expert Chris Poggiali and a featurette on Gosha’s far-ranging career, which is also detailed in the accompanying liner notes.
“Caliber 9” (1972, Raro Video*) Flinty Milanese gangster Gastone Moschin (Don Fanucci in “The Godfather Part II”) leaves prison and is immediately hounded for a missing $30,000 by, among others, well-heeled gangster The Americano (Lionel Stander) and his brutish second (Mario Adorf), the local police commissioner (Frank Wolff), and even his own girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet), all of whom quickly learn that Moschin solves problems the old-fashioned way (with plenty of bullets). Gritty Italian crime thriller from Fernando Di Leo folds elements of American and French noir (read: plenty of world-weary nods to the inevitability of a bad end) into its labyrinthine plot, which envisions an Italian crime landscape in which traditional notions of fealty and honor are kicked to the curb by greed and blind violence. Reportedly the first in a trilogy by Di Leo, and paid tribute in a curious promotional video by Nike Italia which cast Kobe Bryant (!) in Moschin’s role; Raro’s Blu-ray features a 4K restoration, Italian-language and English dub options, a new and thorough commentary by critic Rachel Nesbit, and several featurettes from a 2004 release, including interviews with Di Leo, Moschin, Bouchet, and composer Luis Bacalov, as well as a look at the career of Russian-born writer Giorgio Scerbaneco, on whose work the film is loosely based.
“Legendary Weapons of China” (1982, 88 Films*) In the post-Boxer Rebellion China, martial arts proves no match to Western firearms, prompting Lei Kung (director/co-writer Lau Kar-Leung) to close his fighting school. Other clans, send trained killers to eliminate Lei Kun, including monk Gordon Liu (“36 Chambers of Shaolin”) and a master with magical powers (Kar-Leung’s brother, Lau Kar Wing) while Kung’s niece (Kara Wai) conducts her own search. Late-inning action title from Shaw Brothers navigates its complicated plot and comic sequences (which, in their defense, are actually funny, especially those featuring the great Alexander Fu Sheng’s con man and a outrageous sequence involving the use of a “voodoo doll”) by virtue of its exceptional fight sequences which feature the 18 titular weapons, each of which is announced with its own on-screen title card. The film’s central conceit – that lives carry greater importance than ideology – also sets “Legendary Weapons” apart from the martial arts pack and makes it a title worth exploring even by those outside the ranks of the Shaw Brothers/kung fu faithful. 88 Films’ Blu-ray features a new high-def print with three info-heavy commentary tracks (Frank Djeng solo and with Michael Worth and Mike Leeder with Arne Venema), interviews with Liu, producer Titus Ho and a fun discussion of the film by David West. And yes, the original one-sheet reproduction is included.
“Contraband” (1980, Cauldron Films*) Sadistic French gangster Marcel Bozzuffi (“The French Connection”) forces his way into Fabio Testi’s smuggling operation in Naples through intimidation, torture, and murder, which forces Testi to drop his Gentleman Criminal veneer and play dirty in return. Minor Italian crime thriller is distinguished by the presence of Lucio Fulci, then on a career high as a horror filmmaker (“Zombie“), in the director’s chair, which may also account for the film’s exceptionally high level of gruesome violence. Cauldron’s uncut Special Edition Blu-ray features solid visuals from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm elements and Italian (with subs) and English audio options; its key selling point is a wealth of supplements, including commentary by genre experts Troy Howarth, Nathaniel Thompson, and Bruce Holecheck, who discuss (among other topics) the film’s financial rescue by real smugglers who insisted on upping the violence, and the film’s infamously bad English dub, as well as a wealth of new and vintage interviews with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo, DP Sergio Salvati, and members of the cast (Ivana Monti, Saverino Marconi, etc.), all of whom detail the experience on the film and with the notoriously temperamental Fulci. US and Italian promo material, including trailers, round out the disc