Street Law
Italy | 1974
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Starring
Franco Nero
Barbara Bach

Giancarlo Prete
Color
| 103 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Blue Underground
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8
    9   10 = Highest Rating  
SNEAK PREVIEW | DVD Release Date: April 25, 2006
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
A man (Franco Nero) pushed past the breaking point turns vigilante...
   
After a highly successful collaboration on High Crime (1973), director Enzo G. Castellari and star Franco Nero re-teamed for this dynamic police thriller. Though Castellari insists on the audio commentary that this came before Michael Winner's box office smash Death Wish, the fact is that they were both released in the same year — if he's right, the coincidence is a strong one, and one can be forgiven for assuming that he was making a film in the same vein. A solid case can be made, in any event, that Castellari outdid Winner in many respects — an impressive feat considering the speed and lack of comparative resources with which it was made.
    The story was inspired by real life events — a surge of violence set off by political and social unrest — but was structured very consciously as a western in modern dress. Nero's ordinary man pushed to acts of violence is put into a position similar in many a Spaghetti Western, and one can't help but be reminded of his past association with the genre in films like Lucio Fulci's Massacre Time or Sergio Corbucci's Compaρeros. Unlike Bronson's stone-faced one-man execution squad in Winner's film, however, Nero is much more complex. The actor allows himself to express himself emotionally in a way that Bronson never did, and there are numerous points at which the character fails miserably in his mission. The end result is that Nero comes across like a truly ordinary man, unused to taking the law into his own hands, who proves to be fallible and unsure of himself, whereas Bronson's vigilante was far more mechanical and cold-blooded. This has the effect of making Street Law a far more emotionally complex work than Death Wish — the scenes of violence have an unpredictability because one can never be sure if Nero will succeed or find himself in yet another predicament where he will be brutalized by the thugs he is challenging. It's easy to sympathize with his plight, even if one might disagree with the notion of taking the law into your own hands. Nero's frustration with the police is strengthened by the presentation of the authorities as complacent and indifferent — he continuously asks for their help but they seem disinterested, prompting him to strike out on his own. That Nero occasionally fails, or is caught off guard, adds a level of realism to the film that is unusual – the filmmakers are to be commended for adding such touches to the picture instead of offering yet another by-the-numbers revenge thriller.
    Castellari's direction is stylish and dynamic. He opens the film with a sustained sequence of violence and tension — this has the effect of pulling the viewer in right off the bat before slowing the story down for a while to focus on characterization, motivation, etc. The character material works to the film's benefit, however, and never comes across like routine filler. When the action comes into play, he stages it with relentless force. The pacing is extremely good throughout — the viewer isn't given an opportunity to become bored with the film and some of the stunts that come into play are remarkably well done. Castellari's strength is unquestionably his ability to stage action set-pieces — as mentioned above, his handling of every scene is confident and effective, but he really shines during the various fight scenes and car chases. The final act of the film is particularly impressive: a montage of Nero running into a vast storage house and being trapped in the light by the thugs he has been chasing is particularly well done, with inspired use of camera movement and editing.
    The director also gets strong performances out of his cast. Nero, often sadly underrated by critics, again proves himself to be a compelling performer. Unlike many leading men, Nero isn't afraid of displaying a range of emotions, even risking going over the top into melodrama but rarely doing so. He's also a very charismatic and athletic performer — there are a number of action sequences that benefit from his doing his own stunts, thus allowing Castellari to get up close with his camera without fear of giving away the presence of a stunt double. He makes for a likable but believably conflicted protagonist, far from the stone-faced killing machine typified by Bronson and other actors of the period. Giancarlo Prete is also very impressive as the young hood who becomes Nero's sidekick. The dynamic between the two men gives the film a touching dimension that feels genuine and unaffected. Other familiar faces include Barbara Bach (The Black Belly of the Tarantula), Marne Maitland (The Reptile) and Renzo Palmer (Danger: Diabolik).
    Carlo Carlini's lighting captures the right balance of style and unfussy grittiness, while the music score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis is bound to stir some controversy. The use of songs commenting on the action puts one in mind of Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse and Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, and inevitably some viewers will find this technique distracting. The songs are catchy, however, and the funky flavor of the music again adds to the film's gritty ambience. Castellari uses the score in a jarring manner which also adds to the effectiveness — during tense moments, he will often abruptly cut the music out altogether, allowing Nero or another performer to punctuate the moment with a line of dialogue, before bringing the music back in full blast; it's an odd tactic, but an effective one. The editing is remarkably sharp, as well.
    Effective as the film is — and for fans of this type of film, it's about as much fun as one could hope for — it isn't entirely successful. A few of the dialogue scenes get unduly heavyhanded about discussing social ills. It's one thing to dramatize these problems and quite another to take time out to make speeches, a problem that plagues many films, but luckily these moments are few and far between. Castellari's emphasis, quite admirably , is much more on delivering an entertaining genre film than on being overly pretentious about preaching to the viewer. Another regrettable misstep occurs at the end of the film. While the final shootout is thrilling and well-staged, the film veers uncomfortably into melodrama in a sequence that is likely to cause a few unintended chuckles. Even so, for much of the running time Street Law is a thrilling and dynamic action film. Among Italian crime thrillers, it stands as one of the very best of its kind.

Blue Underground's release of Street Law is satisfactory. The film is presented fully uncut, restoring some violence as well as some other innocuous material that was cut from the US theatrical release. The 1.85/16x9 transfer looks very good on the whole. Some shots look extremely grainy but this appears to have been an aesthetic decision on the part of the filmmakers. A handful of shots also have noticeable vertical scratches, but these are very few and far between. Colors look accurately rendered and the image suffers from only some minor edge enhancement issues — nothing too distracting. The mono English soundtrack is clear and clean, with the De Angelis soundtrack having nice presence. The actual English dubbing is very good — Nero provides his own voice, and the other roles are well dubbed. Extras include a theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a featurette length interview with Castellari and Nero, and a commentary track featuring Castellari and his son, moderated by BU's Bill Lustig. The featurette is nicely edited and includes some good insights by Castellari and his favorite leading man — the respect the two feel for each other is clear, and one is left with a better understanding of why they worked together as much as they did. The commentary is lively and interesting – Castellari insists that he beat Death Wish to the punch, and while Lustig drops the ball in believing that Castellari hired Bach based on her role in The Spy Who Loved Me (which was released three years after Street Law), he does a decent job of prompting Castellari. The director speaks English very well — his accent is easy to understand, and he doesn’t struggle too much to find the right words — and his recollections of the shooting are clear. 4/08/06
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