A few years previous, director Sergio Martino was best-known for directing several striking, slickly-produced gialli, but following the success of his first—highly-influential—Eurocrime film, Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia (The Violent Professionals, 1973), he also demonstrated just how comfortable he was exploring the dark and violent underbelly of Italian cop films. Silent Action turned out to be the third and final such film for the prolific director; that is, if you don’t includeMorte sospetta di una minorenne (The Suspicious Death of a Minor, 1975), his odd genre mash-up, which relates a fairly straightforward Giallo storyline against the backdrop of a police procedural/actioner.
Although taking inspiration from several outside influences, such as The French Connection (1971)’s Popeye Doyle and Dirty Harry (1971)’s Harry Callahan, this was a genre the Italians could easily call their own, which saw the release of hundreds of Italian cop films or ‘poliziotteschi’ (a rather derogative bit of vernacular coined by certain Italian film critics of the time, which originated from ‘poliziesco,’ its more-respectable moniker) as they became known throughout the seventies. During their announcement for the film, trade paper Variety reported (12/74): “Year-old trend on lame arm of the law continues apace…”, which clearly demonstrated the enormous popularity of said films. Silent Action was also produced during a particularly violent time in Italy known as the “Years of Lead”, which began in the late sixties and lasted throughout the seventies, and was typified by extreme acts of violence from both left and right-wing terrorism groups. Despite its obvious poliziesco roots, Martino’s film distinguishes itself from its contemporaries as more of an investigative drama that accents psychological mind games over the usual action-packed shoot-’em-up escapism, which may account for the film initially largely languishing in obscurity—an oversight which has thankfully been remedied thanks to Fractured Visions’ extras-packed new Blu-ray release.
A simplistic opening sequence immediately primes you for something a little different than your standard Eurocrime action flick. Over the course of two months during the summer and autumn of 1974, Army major Antonio Lorusso is killed in a spectacular car crash in Milan after his brakes ‘accidentally’ fail; retired colonel Giulio Scanni (Tom Felleghy) ‘commits suicide’ in Rome, and general Eugenio Stocchi (Gianni De Benedetto) is messily decapitated by a train along the Florence-Bologna line. Remolded from much the same manly mettle as his character in The Violent Professionals, Luc Merenda stars as Giorgio Solmi of the Homicide Squad, who, along with District Attorney Michele Mannino (Mel Ferrer), is investigating the seemingly unrelated death of master electrician Vittorio Chiarotti (Giancarlo Badessi), who was “slugged to death with a poker” in his overly luxuriously-lavish home. Solmi immediately gets on the sniff of what smells fishy, believing this new case of mysterious murder may be something more than just your standard break-in, when he, puzzled, wonders how it was that an electrician could come to own “a home worth a half-billion and can afford to live like an oil sheik”? Acting on a tip-off from a feisty old madam (Clara Colosimo) who runs an underage prostitution brothel, high-priced call girl Giuliana “La Tunisina” Raimondi (Paola Tedesco) becomes the prime suspect, a fact which Mannino is quick to embrace, so he can wrap up the case as quickly as possible. Tired of always “having his hands tied by some DA”, Solmi, along with his partner, Lt. Luigi Caprara (Michele Gammino) and Secret Service Captain Mario Sperlì (Tomas Milian), embark on the case with a steadfast determination, subsequently uncovering a vast web of conspiracy involving high-ranking military officials, a dirty-dealing bigwig businessman, as was a standard revelation for the crime genre at the time—the lowest kinds of corruption in the uppermost echelons of the government, all of which leads to a shady, ‘off-the-radar illegal business venture known as the International Weapons Company…
At one point, a character says “The people behind all of this subversion have a knack for preserving their anonymity!” which perfectly encapsulates Silent Action’s steadily mounting atmosphere of tension and apprehension. Uncompromising and cynical in its approach, Martino’s film is filled with people and things that are not always what they appear to be at first—or even at a second glance—which Inspector Solmi discovers in no uncertain terms. As seen in any number of Eurocrimers of the time, Merenda’s character is full of idealistic exuberance (“Proper methods are a lot of bull!”), but as he and his reporter girlfriend (Delia Boccardo) dig deeper into the morass of misdoings, he too becomes reduced to just another insignificant pawn in the not-so-grand scheme of things as he unearths a confounding tangle of conspiracies and other exceedingly unlawful behavior. Reminiscent of the lurking killers in Martino’s earlier gialli, the omnipresent criminal organization alluded to in Silent Action is also rarely seen (as in ‘hiding in plain sight), but whose sinister, overreaching omnipresence permeates the picture’s entire narrative.
Although guest-billed in the credits, Tomas Milian gives an uncharacteristically restrained performance as the shadowy Captain Sperlì (“Eat or be eaten!”). Unlike his roles in more-celebrated Eurocrime films wherein he usually portrayed smart-assed, scruffy petty criminal lowlifes or working-class cops with varying degrees of adherence to the letter of The Law, in Silent Action he takes on the role of a well-groomed, bureaucratic sort on a personal crusade for the Secret Service as part of their “Special Information Branch,” merely another cog in the law enforcement machine who spouts plenty of empty rhetoric while scrutinizing the events unfolding around him. As the District Attorney, token American star Mel Ferrer plays the usual man of unshakable integrity, who, in stereotypical fashion, clashes with his rebellious junior subordinate on numerous occasions (“I don’t agree with your methods!”), but who, indirectly, also serves as the better angel of Solmi’s morally-conflicted conscience. As their investigation intensifies, he and Solmi must weave their way through a complex, Watergate-type cover-up, military subterfuge—up to and including an attempted governmental coup d’état!—as well as blackmail, German gunrunners, a prison revolt, plus a motorcycle hitman à la Ted Post’s Magnum Force (1973), which also sets-up one of the film’s expertly-choreographed action sequences. Strong performances all around are further supported by Martino’s meticulous direction, Giancarlo Ferrando’s energetic camerawork, and Luciano Michelini’s Morricone-inspired score, which complements the highly credible narrative without ever overwhelming it.
Making its worldwide HD debut earlier this year, Fractured Visions’ inaugural Blu-ray features a “2K restoration from the original camera negative.” However, it’s an antiquated 1080i (interlaced) transfer, which results in a number of scenes looking slightly-too-‘smooth’ in texture (i.e., no natural film grain shows), an unfortunate by-product of said transfer. Despite this oversight, FV’s Blu-ray is still a marked improvement over any previous home video release, which also reinstates DP Ferrando’s carefully composed framing. Audio is provided in either English or Italian (each featuring LPCM 2.0 tracks) with optional English subtitles for the latter option, both of which sound fine given the post-synched nature of most Italian films from the era.
As for the extras, most viewers will have little to complain about, as FV’s BD contains several very worthwhile special features to help offset the somewhat-lacking quality of the transfer. Beginning with an informative audio commentary from Mike Malloy, genre expert and the director of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s (2012), he provides a nice overview of the genre itself with plentiful discussion of such kingpins / big guns of the form as director Umberto Lenzi (and Sergio Martino too, of course!), as well as the many stars who made names for themselves within the genre, including the present title’s Luc Merenda and Tomas Milian. Brimming with Malloy’s usual enthusiasm, this makes for a highly entertaining commentary track, especially for the uninitiated.
Other extras include a wealth of illuminating features and on-camera interviews from author and film historian Eugenio Ercolani, beginning with The Age of Lead – Italy in the seventies between fact and fiction, an hour-long documentary that accurately depicts the internal political turmoil of Italy at the time, and how it was reflected through “politically-based commercial genre films.” It’s a fascinating bit of research, complemented by several scenes of authentic, rarely-seen newsreel footage. As if that weren’t enough, Ercolani also delivers Directing the Strategy, Luc Unleashed and Sergio and I, three separate on-camera interviews with Martino, Merenda, and composer Luciano Michelini, respectively; all of whom have nothing but fond memories of working on the film as they provide plenty of anecdotes and production history, including about working alongside the ultra-professional Ferrer and the (quote) “extremely shy” Milian. The completists at FV have also been kind enough to include Luc Accusa: Merenda Uccide and The Milian Connection, a pair of archival featurettes which were originally included on two long-out-of-print No Shame DVD releases. Beautifully packaged in a handsome slipcase, as an added bonus the disc also includes a separate CD of Michelini’s complete score (originally issued by Digitmoves) and a 30-page liner notes booklet with writings on the film from the ubiquitous Ercolani and Francesco Massaccesi.
While the 1080i transfer will undoubtedly be a major sticking point for some collectors, this notable release nonetheless amounts to a welcome debut for newcomer Fractured Visions of this formerly hard-to-see and cerebral Eurocrime film.