Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ann and Eve

Ann and Eve
Original Title: Ann & Eve – De Erotiska
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Sweden, 1970
Thriller/Drama, 105min
Distributed by: Studio S Entertainment

Arne Mattsson, in my opinion one of the finest directors ever to have come out of Sweden. Sure you have to acknowledge the genius of Ingmar Bergman, the wild psychotronica of Bo A. Vibenius and the eroticism of Torgny Wickman to give a full spectrum of Swedish genre directors, but when it comes to over all top marks the prize goes to Arne Mattsson.

Born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1919 Mattson directed near some sixty movies in his extensive career. The most of his movies work off a classic drama basis interweaving themes from other genres. Be it comedy, horror, thriller or eroticism, there’s more to his movies than what meets the eye. His love of his hometown Uppsala never faded and many of his movies where shot there at locations that still stand to this day.

Internationally Mattsson made a mark with the Swedish summer movie Hon dansade en Sommar (One summer of Happiness) 1951 which won the Golden Berliner Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival – Sven Sköld won for best music. Hon dansade en Sommar was THE flick that started the wave of movies referred to as the Swedish Sin films, as Folke Sundqvist and Ulla Jacobsson went skinny dipping one warm summer evening.

The movies that he’s mostly remembered for domestically are the Hillman movies – a series of five movies about the detective couple John and Kajsa Hillman [Karl-Arne Holmsten and Annalisa Ericson] who solve intriguing mystery cases with the help of Freddy [Nils Hallberg]. All five films are often argued to be forerunners and influences upon the Italian Gialli, a claim I feel is taking things a bit to far – even if they are great movies. They are instead heavily influenced by the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, who supposedly once presented Mattsson with two cigars after a screening of Manekäng i rött (Mannequin in Red) 1958 telling Mattsson that it was a wonderful and terrifying movie. There’s no real evidence of the actual meeting taking place, but it’s a great tale, and one that Mattsson’s legacy is worth containing. The only thing that actually does link the movies to the Giallo genre is their fantastic names. The movies all contain a clear colour code throughout, and this colour scheme is all determined by the movies title: Damen i svart (The Lady in Black), Manekäng i rött (Mannequin in Red), Ryttare i blått (Rider in Blue) 1958, Vita Frun (Lady in White) 1962 and Den gula bilen (The Yellow Car) 1963 certainly have a Gialloesque feeling to them as there are strong colour referents and plot themes in the titles. (Even though Damen i svart, Vita frun and Den gula bilen where shot in black and white) but that’s about as far as it goes, and the movies are definitely more Hitchcock than Giallo. But with Manekäng i rött and Ryttare i blått in mind, I can certainly see the line of thought and actually like the idea that Mattsson could have a thing or two to do with that fantastic Italian sub genre.

Ann and Eve is a trippy movie of required taste. Perhaps not something that the fans of the Hillman movies would appreciate, perhaps not something for the fans of Mattson’s comedic dramas either. But if you are into mind-expanding movies with soft bossanova scores, hot chicks and a somewhat confusing plot, then this is definitely something that you have to check out.

Starting off with a rock hard opening as misandric movie critic Ann [Gio Petré] shoots down a man, Amos Mathews [Birger Malmsten], in cold blood as he stands in the middle of a circus ring, the movie gets of to a terrific start that established characters and traits. Ann leaves the country and heads to Italy with her friend Eve [Marie Liljedahl] who is soon to be married to her boyfriend Peter - who we never see. But apart from being a cold blooded killer, Ann is also completely set on corrupting the young innocent Eve, and makes sure at each possible moment to point out just how shallow and single minded men are. During a trip out on the seas with two fishermen, Walter [Heinz Hopf] and some other bloke, Ann oozes sexuality and slithers around until the two men can’t resist the urge to lay the two women. The next morning Ann takes off leaving Eve to wallow in her remorse and guilt. After confronting Eve and taunting her for her unfaithfulness towards hubby to be Peter, she claims that all women should make a trip like theirs, a trip to explore their sexuality and freedom

Eve’s initial bout of unfaithfulness sets a tone that will be played seductively throughout the movie, as the two women taunt and torment each other to the very end. An ending that in many ways is a dark and disturbing climax with out actually resolving any of the arc’s that have been building during the movie. But that works in favour of the movie, as I feel that an ending that resolves everything and ties the bow nicely would have been a lesser ending, and a more unbelievable ending.

In some screwed up way the movie is kind of a feminist movie. Ann is in all respects a radical feminist, who constantly proclaims her hatred of the opposite sex, and obviously prefers keeping her eye on the innocent Eve. She has a clear agenda to corrupt the Eve and trash the relationship she has with Peter - to give the young Eve the power to control men through her gender, or sex if you like. Each time Ann makes out with a bloke it’s on her initiation, she calls the shot’s and she lures them in like the simple-minded beasts she claims that they are. Unfortunately the ending I mentioned above breaks that line of thought and at the climax, the women are merely regressed to objects of desire and makers of fatal decisions. But my line of discussion doesn’t end there, as there are many ways to bend and twist that ending into a pinnacle of liking.

But even if Ann has a fixed agenda for Eve, be it plunge her into depravity or simply make her aware of her own sexuality before getting married, there’s complexity to Eve’s character, as she on one side is repulsed by her own hedonistic actions, and screams that she’s disgusting to her own mirror image, only to suddenly make a move on, and steal Ann’s preferred courter from right under her nose. The student becoming the master. The last scenes with Eve are pretty intense, and somewhat grim, but at the same time she shows no sign of rejction and could easilly escape her assailants if she really wanted. It’s quite possible that Ann has succeeded in her feminist agenda and that Eve walks away a stronger woman. I'll leave that decision with you, the viewer.

There’s a splendid power struggle going on between the two women as Ann constantly provokes, manipulates and teases Eve about her at first dedication to Peter, and later unfaithfulness to him – which constantly brings Eve to gut churning angst. But in her defence Eve is constantly stabbing Ann emotionally for her murder of Amos Mathews, which induces guilt ridden and harrowing flashbacks for Ann. It’s a great little interaction and it builds some great tension between the two leading ladies.

Gio Petré is always fascinating in roles where she get’s to play complex, cynical and nasty, which she often did in the many roles she did with Mattsson, but I always feel a huge weight of melancholy when watching movies with Petré, as she certainly led a hard and tormented life. I won’t get into that here, but the sadness that I feel shining though her eyes isn’t only great acting but also a deep-rooted sorrow. Something that makes her somewhat of a hard character to not empathise with – at least for me, but I’m sure that the emotion will differ with each individual viewer.

There’s no apparent linear plot to Ann and Eve, but it sure is an interesting movie that indices, provokes and perhaps poses more questions than answers. I’m quite sure that Mattsson knew exactly what he wanted to say with the film, even if the audience perhaps doesn’t. I’ll return to that line of though in a short while. Although while there is a fair bit of nudity, and some light eroticism in the movie, the film is unjustly referred to as an erotic thriller, which I fail to see the film as. Instead the movie walks more in the realms of the art movie, which causes some confusion, as you would expect a movie with the reputation that this one has to be more of one or the other.

The movie features a whole bunch of classic Swedish actors and actresses who still to this date are among the finest artists to have been put on the big screen, Petré had previously starred in seven movies for Mattsson, - among them three Hillman movies and the splendidly surreal Vaxdockan (The Doll) 1962 where she plays a live mannequin against Per Oscarsson’s delusional postman. Also the great Heinz Hopf in his ninth supporting role for Mattsson is in the movie, although I feel that his character Walther is terribly underused and there’s a sub plot that could have gone much further, and I though it would. But instead Hopf and his sinister sneer are merely reduced to a character arc that feels more like filler than anything else. The record for collaborations with Mattsson is held by Erik Hell, who with Ann and Eve included, starred in fifteen movies for the great director.
In an extraordinary way the movie’s lead protagonist, or rather antagonist, Ann and her mental conflict with Amos Mathews acts like a metaphor for Mattsson’s career. In the opening scene, where Ann shoots him down – a critic's slaying of a director. His name later produces some strong emotions each time she hears it – guilt of trashing his movies - and finally when she learns that he’s “taken his own life” (even though she symbolically kills him in the opening) she admits that she may have been responsible due to the fact that she and other critics had determined that they would trash his new movie “the emperor’s new clothes” upon release. Instead of taking more criticism the director took his own life. It’s an obvious metaphor for how Mattsson felt that the critics where acting towards him and his movies, especially considering how they praised him during the start of his career. Now Mattsson obviously didn’t take his own life, but going from the successful movies of his early career, there was no real acceptance of his exploration of dramas with subgenre traits and his movies where never as appreciated as those early mainstream pieces. Just like a few other Swedish directors before him Mattsson fled Sweden and it’s ignorance towards its native sons and moved to Spain during the late sixties where he would continue to produce movies for the international market. But the irony of it all is that the movies subtext was only realised in the frame of the movie. Ann and Eve obviously didn't become the last masterpiece as Amos Mathews' movie within the movie became after Ann made him a martyr for his art, instead Mattsson was once again hounded by the critics for his vision as the metaphor apparently was lost on them.

Fate works on strange ways, and Mattsson’s Ann and Eve actually did become one of the most successful Swedish movies ever at the American box office, helped on by the controversy of being seized by the US customs due to it’s erotic content. The movie also has its fair share of problem in the UK where it became the first ever movie to receive an X-rating. Keep in mind that this was still only the very early seventies and porn chic was still a thing of the future, so the soft erotica the movie portrays and the knowledge that it came out of Sweden made it a definitive threat to American and British moral values. but for Swedish cinema audiences it didn’t make much of an impression either as they the previous year had experienced Torgny Wickman’s documentary/sexploitation classic Kärlekens språk (Language of Love) 1969 showing in graphic detail what Mattsson only suggested. Trapped in between Swedish erotica and the forthcoming pornography explosion, Mattsson’s Ann and Eve made no major impact on Scandinavian audiences and critics called it a tragic, pathetic pornographic mess. Hard words for a movie that soon would be extremely tame considering what Swedish directors like Mac Ahlberg and US import Joe Sarno would be unleashing upon Scandinavian audiences, not to mention what was about to happen in the States.

Mattsson followed up Ann and Eve with the excellent thriller/drama Smutsiga Fingrar (Dirty Fingers) 1973 and only directed eight more movies up to 1989 when he decided to retire and leave us with the sixty something movies that are his legacy. A legacy that contains some of the greatest movies ever made in Sweden.


Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo – English Dialogue, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish subtitles are optional

There’s a reproduction of the Promotional brochure, film trivia and biographies for Mattsson, Liljedahl, Petré and Hopf (all in Swedish) and a whopping twenty-two trailers for other movies released by Studio S. But for some strange reason there isn’t a promo for Ann and Eve.

Ann and Eve (1970) US Theatrical Trailer
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Monday, March 29, 2010

sleeping but not dead...

So I'm back from the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England.

Five thirteen-fourteen hour workdays kinda makes one a tired puppy. We shot eleven interviews with some fascinating writers of horror, and have somewhere in the region of fourteen hours of footage to cherish.

I'll get back to the old movie text in a few days, so don't go to far.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

back to the old island...

I'm off to Brighton for the World Horror Convention 2010.

Hopefully I'll be posting here if you want to know what I'm up to.

In the meanwhile, all of you keep doing your thing so that I have something to read when I get online at the end of each night...

over, out.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Iron Rose

The Iron Rose
Original title: La rose de fer
Aka: The Crystal Rose,
aka: The night of the cemetery
Directed by: Jean Rollin
France, 1973
Drama/EuroGoth, 77min
Distributed by: Njuta Films

What is it with all these sub genre directors that appeal to us over and over again. We find ourselves drawn to their movies again and again, re-watching their output at random intervals over the decades, searching for new meaning to interpret, or perhaps simply to dwell on those great dreamlike images and cryptic narratives. They constantly make movies that stay in the same mould, rarely steeping of the path of their personal convention, but at the same time managing to bring versatility and passion to their movies. They also share the common denominator of not being appreciated by their native critics. More than often these alternative masters are forced to stand in the shadow of the great, accepted directors of their nation and merely left either ridiculed or pushed to the realms of ignorance and contempt. I’m convinced that this is a vital part of why we unconditionally love the works of Lucio Fulci, Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin and many others. The non-acceptance that surround these directors appeals to us and we feel that their movies are more intriguing to us and therefore preferred by us over the “masterpieces” that the common film connoisseur applauds and rants on about while they sneer and criticize others. We can appreciate the art of the low budget cinema where resourcefulness, atmosphere and visuals of these fascinating directors come to full bloom simply because we love the underdog.

Jean Rollin, as you know, is pretty much synonymous with the erotic vampire genre were lustful French women wonder the beach or remote castle ruins as the wind blows through their transparent gowns. But Rollin is so much more than those films he’s commonly associated with, and it’s perhaps not until the last ten-fifteen years that film aficionados have started to realize (or rediscover) what an extensive treasure chest of movies Rollin has been producing for almost over last four decades.

When the student revolution in Paris exploded in May 1968 there were only a two movies that opened during those tense weeks as movie distributors where terrified that the riots on the streets would damage ticket sales. One of the movies was Jean Rollin’s Le viol du Vampire. The movie with its incoherent, and for the time pretty unusual narrative - due to the fact that the movie was two shorts – Le viol du vampire and Les femmes vampires expanded into one feature length movie, was met with an outcry as audiences didn’t know what to make of the movie. But the power of the word on the street is a magnificent force and pretty soon the movie modestly made just for fun became somewhat of a freak success, obviously because it had no rivalry to mention. But that didn’t stop the critics from tearing the movie apart and forever pigeonholing Rollin as a director of incomprehensible horror films. A label that Jean Rollin never wanted and still to this day has difficulties getting rid of.

That’s why I almost never refer to the works of Jean Rollin as horror movies, because if you try to describe a Rollin film for an uninitiated viewer they would be disappointed, because his movies aren’t really horror. Now if you know your Rollin it would be easy to comment right now that he made a whole lot more than just “horror” movies, and most certainly did, but the vampire flicks are the ones he is most renowned for, and they are the ones that people commonly talk about if they know who Rollin is in the first place. So I simply do not refer to his works as horror films, I refer to them as poetic art movies with heavy themes of horror, eroticism and ingenious complexity.

Iron Rose is no exception to that simple description as it too works off a horror fundament, the basic fear of getting lost. Based on events that actually happened to Rollin as he was scouting a location for a different movie – his obsession with abandoned cemeteries’ had him stopping at the one later used in the movie to investigate it, but he got himself lost and as night began to fall it sparked the idea for the surreal and fascinating Iron Rose.

Iron Rose is in all simplicity about a young female dancer [Françoise Pascal] and a male poet [Hughes Quester – here credited as Pierre Dupont as he already on set decided that he didn’t get the film, didn’t want to be associated with it and demanded that his name be removed from the movie] who meet at a wedding, decide to get together and see where things take them. They meet up at an abandoned railway station which gives Rollin and cinematographer Jean-Jacques Renon the possibility to present a series of fantastic images that easily are among the best and most vibrant shots in all of Rollin’s movies, and tart up the dreamlike milieu of the movie. Take note of the fact that they are in a place where trains no longer run, but there still a vivid audio of trains arriving and leaving on the soundtrack. They soon move on in search of a spot to set up their picnic, and end up walking through the large cemetery that lies nearby. Here starts an intriguing line of philosophical dialogue as it becomes apparent that Pascal has a morbid fascination with the place, and perhaps is connected to it in some other way than what we are shown. But also Quester shows an interest in the spot and they more or less taunt each other’s fears and lusts as they work their way underground into a nearby tomb and engage in a kinky snog amongst the dead. Night falls and they come to the realization that they are trapped inside the huge cemetery, and fear starts to take hold. As they try to find a way out of the cemetery Rollin interestingly enough decides to work opposing emotions against each other which creates a fascinating series of conflicts between the two leading characters, and that’s pretty much the main story of the movie - how the two characters go from strong passion and erotic desire to hatred and repulsion only to come full circle as they try to find the passageway back to the normal world spirals on towards the sinister climax.

Iron Rose is a very dreamlike movie, which is why it’s easy to call it poetic and surreal - something commonly said about Rollin's movies. Many will look at the movie and claim that it doesn’t have a driving narrative, and that nothing happens leaving a pretty boring impression… but this would be wrong, as the movie does have a narrative drive, even if it perhaps is among the most simple ones, some serious shit does happen, and it’s all but a boring movie. The simple plot device, getting from point a to point b, is the core of the action plot. But the action plot does not automatically mean that there has to be shootouts; explosions and full throttle car chases. Instead Rollin uses it as a device to bring subtle progressive movement to his movie - and it works like a charm. There are loads of movies and books that use the journey there and back as main narrative, and that’s precisely what Rollin does with Iron Rose, the young couple enter the cemetery and desperately try to find their way back. In a nutshell it’s Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy in Rollin's guise, that’s why Quester quotes a passage from it as they enter the cemetery “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, and that’s going to have quite a meaning for the movie before it’s over. But instead of actually finding a way out, like Dante, they have a change in character and stay in the cemetery preferring death over life.

This is no real surprise either, as the entire movie uses a lot of polarization as it tells its tale of the woman and her ordeal to find a way out of the cemetery. Passion is at first shared, but when they realize that they are lost in the cemetery the polarization starts, the two characters emotions toward each other are mirrored as a negative reflections: Love turns to Hate, Lust turns to Fear and finally Life turns to Death. You could say that the woman is a necrophile, as the correct meaning of that word is not someone who shags corpses, but a person who is sexually aroused by being in the presence of the dead. The key scenes of eroticism are almost always triggered by a increasing morbidity, the first make out session in the crypt, and the final one in the open grave amongst the skeletons make the ending when she decides to become one of the “living dead” a fitting climax to the movie.

Now the plot of necrophilia and morbid fascination for the dead shouldn’t be credited singlehanded to Rollin, as his input is primarily the setting and the visuals. Instead the plot is inspired by the texts of French poet Tristan Corbiére whom constantly used themes of love, misery and life that holds no purpose. But it is Rollin who brings the poetics out from the text and puts it into a narrative context with the aid of those fantastic images. And as noted earlier, the narrative context is that polarization between the extremes lust and fear, sanity and insanity - Life and Death.

It’s about time that I suggest a theory that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere previously, and that’s the possibility that She actually is an angel of death! This would explain her appreciation for the cemetery, and why she later see’s it as a place of beauty, and why she is aroused by it – it’s her territory. This is also quite possibly what the iron rose is all about, the one that she finds in the beginning and tosses back into the sea. A key from death, and when it magically appears later in the movie she has to take a life, unfortunately he becomes her victim. She stays with the dead and returns to the underground from where she originated. This would indicate that the beach on this occasion is hell. Which is why she is at ease when she is there on the two occasions that the movie shows us her on the beach. I have no ground for the claim, but in many ways it seems to bring some sort of logic to the movie.

The scene in the open grave also shows some fantastic camerawork that rarely is seen in Rollin’s movies, and the spiral movement of the camera isn’t just a fancy trick but also part of the constant cyclic movement that flows through the movie. They are trapped in the cemetery, going round in circles. The camera floats round them as they stare at each other at the open grave – almost hypnotically circling them in. Emotions shift from one state to the opposite only to return to the first one, hence creating a cyclic movement in the feelings. Finally the main cyclic referent - again it’s Dante’s Divine Comedy where Dante wanders through the circles that descend to hell – just like the characters of Iron Rose. But with the polarization in mind, what is hell for some is heaven for the woman.

There are plenty of great little nods at previous movies, and watching it almost forty years later, referents to later films to come, as iconic Rollin characters ponder the cemetery – the vampire, the clown, the fool (that’s Jean Rollin in the flesh as the fool character). Perhaps not conscious but there are some pointers to Eisenstein’s majestic Battleship Potemkin 1925. Remember those classic images of the lion statue rising as the ships come to the harbour, well that’s exactly what Rollin does with the many angelic statues within the cemetery. Pay attention and you will see that they reflect the mood and tone for the scene. If it’s a lusty ending to the scene there will be a positive angel in shot, if it’s a conflict that’s just ended the scene it will be a remorseful or saddened angel that is seen. Small details like this are frequently missed when audiences looking for a quick fix of horror themed erotica view Rollin’s movies, and unfortunately this ignorance is more than often reflected in condescending reviews on the internet.

Unfortunately, and most likely due to that curse of being labelled a director of erotic horror flicks, Iron Rose was torn apart by critics and audiences as they couldn’t quite make out the film. It is neither a horror film, it has no sex scenes, and it demands that the viewer digests the scenes with some afterthought. It’s not an exploitative piece of erotic horror that one would have come to expect, and for those reasons the movie failed miserably at the cinemas.

You have to keep in mind that Jean Rollin was not a major studio big budget filmmaker, but rather a struggling auteur working from the premises that whatever money could be raised – sometimes from his own pocket – was what shoved into the budget. Through his earlier collaborations with Sam Selsky he at least had a producer who was interested in getting his movies made, and a producer that made sure to distribute them at all cost. Selsky was the of the producers/distributor who suggested that Rollin expand on his short film The Rape of the Vampire hence making that debut feature in ’68, and Selsky stood beside Rollin and had faith in Iron Rose, which also led to them making The Living Dead Girl nine years later. And don’t you just love the fact that Sam Selsky’s name is spelled with dollar signs instead of regular S’s in the credits.

But there is a plus side to the sad tale of Iron Rose, because while critics and movie goers detested the film, there was one young man who actually liked the film (and the movies that predated it obviously) and he approached Rollin with the proposition that they work together on something. This man would turn out to be producer Jean-Marie Ghanassia, and together they made two of my favourite Rollin movies; the splendid zombie thriller Grapes of Death 1978 and the fantastic, emotional and poetic masterpiece Lips of Blood 1975.

Jean Rollin is in my opinion much like a fine French wine. The first time I saw his movies they were merely all right, interesting and got the job done, but the more time that passes the more the movies mature and become something of a required taste. Today I can thoroughly enjoy the works of Jean Rollin and find that I frequently thirst for more.

Njuta Films Jean Rollin Collection is steadily becoming a stern and solid series of movies that should be part of any fan of the horror, EuroGoth or exploitation genres. Prints are pristine, audio is excellent, and to date they have released twelve of Rollin's cannon - and there are more to come. It’s a wide and versatile selection so far that feature not only the classic vampire titles, but also the fascinating movies that he directed outside of that sphere, The zombie pieces Grapes of Death 1978, The Living Dead Girl 1982, the surreal thriller Night of the Hunted 1974, the stylish Lost in New York 1989 and the poetic masterpieces Lips of Blood and The Iron Rose. Not since the heyday of Redemption’s extensive video releasing, has there been such a dedicated series of titles put on display - giving a new generation the opportunity to enjoy Jean Rollin’s mesmerizing movies all over again.

Widescreen 1.66:1

Dolby Digital Stereo, French Dialogue. Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish subtitles are optional.

The original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other releases in the Jean Rollin Collection The Living Dead Girl, Demoniacs, The Nude Vampire, Grapes of Death and a slideshow with stills from the movie.

Here's a freaky trailer with that great score from Pierré Raph.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man
Original title: Uomini si nasce poliziotti si moure
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Italy, 1976
Poliziotteschi, 87 min.
Distributed by: Raro Video & Nocturno

Good old Ruggero Deodato’s only entry into the Poliziotteschi genre Live like a Cop, Die like a Man is a dark, malicious little entry into that great Italian niche, but it’s dark tones are not thanks to a charismatic villain, or a hard necked cop on a personal vendetta, but by two very unconventional undercover agents of the “Special Squad” who bar no holds in their fight against crime… even if it means crossing the lines of justice themselves and getting laid on the way.

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man was Deodato’s second film after his “comeback” with the slightly erotic thriller A Wave of Pleasure (Una ondata di piacere) 1975, and shows the early signs of where he was determined to take his movies; into a realm of dark, haunting, non-remorseful world of violence and cynicism. I say comeback due to the fact the 36-year-old director had been tampering with commercials and TV serials for the last couple of years since directing the modest comedy Zenabel in 1969. A Wave of Pleasure starring Al Cliver and Deodato’s at the time girlfriend Silvia Dionisio [who also starred in Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula 1974, and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s Crimebusters 1976.] was a moderate success and on the back of this producers/screenwriters Alberto Marras and Vincenzo Salviani [who later wrote and produced Lucio Fulci’s erotic thriller Devil’s Honey 1986] offered the script that they had written with genre master Fernando di Leo to Deodato.

Intrigued by the script Deodato started planning the cast, and suggested Cliver for a lead role. Although Cliver found the level of violence a tad too much for his taste, and with what was in store for the Italian genre cinema just down the road, ironically passed on the part. Instead the parts of Fred and Tony went to Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock, both of them no strangers to violent action.

And violent action is exactly what Live like a Cop, Die like a Man is all about. From the opening scene to the final one it’s a screaming frenzy of sadistic beatings, fast paced chase sequences, explosive shootouts, male chauvinism, bold law enforcement and heartless crime lords.

Instead of the usual quick fix, I’ll give you the first ten minutes of the movie, as these set the tone and vibe for the movie in an excellent way. Starting out with a shot of the two leads, Porel and Lovelock, riding their motorbike through the streets titles pass by in a manner that is convention for most Poliziotteschi, simple text against images of city life with the odd obvious bad guy thrown in here and there. Two geezers stand suspiciously outside a band [keep your eyes open for Deodato’s cameo here] and when a woman walks out holding her handbag in a firm grip close to her chest, the two rouges take off on their motorbike down the road, heading straight for the woman. They snatch her bag, but it’s chained to her arm, and instead of letting go, they simply drag her along the sidewalk, slamming into the curb and crushing her head against a light post as they try to get the bag out of her grip. As if that wasn’t enough, they stop the bike, get off and start beating the life out of her in a very gruesome scene that would become somewhat of a Deodato trait through out the movies to follow – the passive observing of scenes of grisly violence – because this is not just a few slaps to the face, but a deadly assault that we can only avoid by closing our eyes or turning off the screen. But you wouldn’t want to do that now would you, because this is where Fred and Tony return to the screen.

After a quick examination of the now dead woman, they take off after the thieves, or should we call them murderers now, and an exhilarating eight minute motorcycle chase follows which sees Lovelock and Porel dash in and out of traffic, tight alleyways, and a couple of terrific jumps over diverse obstacles. To show just how ruthless the bikers are, they swoosh past a blind man at a crossing and run his dog over… but Fred and Tony are just as ruthless and zoom past the blind man on each side leaving him in a could of smoke. All good things come to an end and even so this exciting chase as Fred and Tony force the criminals into the back of a parked van. One of them goes flying through the van and ends up smashing into the ground in front of the van, whilst the second is impaled on the gears of the bike. Tony watches as the impaled biker writhes in pain and as he takes his last breath there is a sinister smile upon his face. At the same time Fred gently tends to the biker who smashed into the ground at high speed, helping him sit up appropriately and breathe freely. But in the blink of an eye he snaps the biker’s head, breaking his neck. Satisfied with taking out the bad guys, Tony and Fred tell the arriving officers that they will take care of the details of the two bikers “accidental” death in their reports, remount their motorbike and head off for new confrontations with crime…

That’s pretty much the tone and hefty pacing of the film. The special agents are forceful, take no shit, move fast, even if they defy their commanding chiefs direct orders, and take out bad guys like there was no tomorrow. Mob boss Roberto “Bibi” Pasquini [Renato Salvatori], runs a tight operation with his hardened thugs and bribed law enforcers, all the way to the top, keeping him one step ahead of the long arm of the law. Women are simply there for two causes, either victims or objects of sexual desire.

It’s interesting from this perspective because there are strange sexual preferences and themes at work in this movie, and the first thing I think when I see the two undercover agents riding their motorbike together in the opening scene is; wow, that’s pretty intimate for two supposedly hard-ass coppers to be riding around hugging each other on a motorbike. There’s not too much about the first images that says; two rough, tough skit kickers out to stop crime in it’s tracks at all, it could just as well have been two lovers on the way to the park or something. But this obviously gets kicked on its ass as they take up pursuit of the handbag snatchers a few moments later and exterminate the brutes, but still there’s a strange thing going on here and this is what I see. There are these two macho blokes who eliminate bad guys each day at work. They obviously are very close and even share a bike as their means of transportation, they also share a flat together and I sense some kind of homoerotic vibe between the two. To balance up the homoerotic vibe the two guys try to bed every woman they make contact with. This is apparent as they leave their flat after their cleaning woman accuses them of getting her daughter knocked up. They go to work and try to work their way into the pants of the chief’s secretary Norma [Silvia Dionisio – at this time Deodato’s wife] with an aggressive line of seduction. But when she responds with the same approach claiming that she could take on both of them, they can’t quite deal with her reply and still pester her to decide which one she would go to bed with. She tells them that women are much more insatiable then men, and she could take them both and two more. This returns later on in a variation as they finally start closing in on mob leader Pasquini and meet his nymphomaniac younger sister Lina [Sofia Dionisio – younger sister of Silvia here credited as Flavia Fabiani]. She wriggles her way out of her clothes and lures the not to hard to persuade Tony into the sack during her interrogation. As Fred talks to Lina’s maid Maricca [Gina Mascetti] they hear the sounds of Lina wearing down Tony, and Fred walks into the room and like some kind of sexual tag team, takes over where Tony ended. Even in the “climactic” ending, starring death in the eye – ok they don’t know, but they have a sense of it – they take the time out to shag Pasquini’s girlfriend… It’s a strange relationship that the two guys have with each other, but it also brings a strange kinkiness to the flick without going over the top and stepping into sleazville.

At the same time, the two protagonists kinky sexual games, sadistic violence and neglect to obey their executives make them interesting characters that walk a dangerous balancing act on the thin like between being protagonists and becoming antagonists. It would be easy to regard the two unorthodox cops as bad guys, unsympathetic characters who don’t play fair. But we don’t, we just keep rooting for them to save the day. This is all due to the fact that they hold a childlike approach to everything they do. Their continuous adolescent referrals to being such studs and later they ironically can’t satisfy the only woman who offers them a piece of the action. The innovative ways they take out the villains, with a sense of dark humour and playful “ha gotcha” approach, when they burn all the cars – 20 of them, Beamers, Mercs, Porsches and a Rolls Royce – they do it with a giggle and a wink, just like kids. The same goes for that final after their Boss [Adolfo Celi] - or even father figure if you like - has sorted out the mess they have gotten themselves into with an “It Ok now lads” gesture, they look at the detonator connected to the boat they just got off with a look on their faces that say’s “Should we press that lever?” and you know what they are going to do before it even happens, even though there is no necessity to actually blow up the boat. They do it because they are like two kids getting up to mischief.

Plot wise it’s an intriguing movie, sometimes difficult to keep up with as several threads that at first seem random, eventually come into the story and reveal a larger meaning towards the end of the movie. At times the crimes and villains that Fred and Tony take out seem just arbitrary, but it becomes apparent that they in one way or another are connected to the big fish – Roberto “Bibi” Pasquini. One such thread is the minor subplot with the great supporting actor Bruno Corazzai as the gambling heroin addict Morandi. When he fails to pay his debts in time, Bibi’s henchmen sadistically tear out his eye as a violent reminder not to screw around with Pasquini, but this apparent random event, comes back into the narrative during the last act when Fred and Tony start tightening the noose round Pasquini’s neck. Using Morandi and his pending debt towards Bibi, they find away to get close to the mobster constantly one step ahead.

The ending, even though it may come as an anticlimax for some viewers, I see as a great moment, as it also adds to the darkness of the movie. Without exposing anything, I can say that the ending according to classical narrative structure sets records straight and “the helper” proves that he’s really been behind the heroes’ all the standing by them in their philosophy that the only good criminal is a dead criminal.

I’m quite fond of Italian soundtracks and especially of this time period when they had their own sound and aura to them. You probably know that I’m not to fond of the later movies where contemporary pop and rock moved in and the suave, jazzy boss nova swing was out. Ubaldo Continiello’s score for Live like a Cop, Die like a Man get’s the job done, but it doesn’t stand out in the way that say Armando Trovaioli, Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, or Franco Micalizzi’s Poliziotteschi scores do, but it at least gives Lovelock an opportunity to sing along to the theme song “Won’t take to long” and that’s always something of value.

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man, surprisingly became quite a hit for Deodato, and obviously because it’s a gritty, sexist, macho piece of hard handed aggression that rushes forth taking no prisoners in it’s wake but with a constant twinkle in the eye. And even though the film is Deodato’s only entry into the Poliziotteschi genre he didn’t surrender to the success Live like a Cop, Die like a Man, and churn out a bunch of sequels. Instead Deodato ventured deep into the Philippine jungles and started up the shoot of Last Cannibal World. Within a few months Italian genre cinema would have a new provocative subgenre to shock the un-expecting audiences with and instead of fast shooting cops and robbers the screens would be filled with unfortunate urban city dwellers isolated in the deep jungles confronting blood thirsty loin clothed cannibals munching their guts.

1,85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen

Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, optional Italian or English dialogue. English subtitles are available.

One of the great things with the Raro releases are their great selection of extras, here there’s a pretty lengthy documentary (just under 40 min) about the movie with interviews with Deodato and Ray Lovelock, but also Al Cliver, Gilberto Galimbeti [Master at arms on the film] and Armando Novelli. There’s also a little musical surprise for you at the end of the documentary. There’s also a series of Ruggero Deodato’s commercials that he directed before returning to features, his biography and filmography to round it all off.

And here's a clip from that great opening...

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