Italy - Spain | 1973
Directed by Tulio Demicheli
Christopher Mitchum
Barbara Bouchet

Malisa Longo
| 94 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Dark Sky Films
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Notorious for a particularly shocking gore scene, Ricco the Mean Machine doesn't bring anything new to the realm of '70s Eurotrash crime dramas although it's a slightly offbeat ride. That's because the titular hero is, for the most part, laid-back and expressionless to the point of somnambulism. I suppose this was intended as the film's "angle" — a revenge thriller about a guy who just isn't all that motivated to seek revenge. It doesn't quite work, at least with the young Christopher Mitchum (Bigfoot, Faceless) in the lead role. Ricco the Mellow Machine might've been a more appropriate title.*
In a pre-titles sequence we're introduced to Mafia chieftain Gaspare Aversi (Luis Induni) during the last few minutes of his life. Ambushed by assassins, the mortally wounded mob boss manages to kill four of his attackers before being given the coup de grâce by a gunman whose face isn't shown. Zip forward two years: Aversi's longhaired hippy son, Ricco (Mitchum), is released from prison after serving two years on charges trumped up by his father's rival and successor, the vicious Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy). A joyful reunion with his sister (Paola Senatore, Images in a Convent) and brother-in-law is clouded by the reaction of his embittered, invalid mother, who demands that Ricco take vengeance. Ricco may be young and lackadaisical but he's not stupid; he realizes that going directly after Don Vito — the man who ordered dad's death and took over the syndicate — would be tantamount to suicide. He does want the name of the actual trigger man, however, and is willing to harass Vito's operations (a dangerous enough undertaking in itself) in pursuit of that goal.
    First, though, he tries to look up his ex-girlfriend, a dancer named Rosa. The news that she became Don Vito's mistress after Ricco went to jail comes as something of a blow (although it's hard to tell, really, since Mitchum isn't that much more emotional than the average Vulcan). He wants to confront her, which will be difficult since she's kept a virtual prisoner — albeit in a 'mink-lined' cage — at Vito's estate, surrounded by guards. Ricco finds a useful ally in Rosa's father, Giuseppe the counterfeiter (Angel Alvarez), who now works for Vito but hates his guts. Even more useful is Giuseppe's sexy niece Scilla (Euro-Cult fave Barbara Bouchet), who's game for just about anything. She isn't fond of Vito's organization, either, since her father was killed by one of the mob boss' business partners. Scilla helps Ricco sneak into Vito's mansion, where he has a brief but fateful encounter with his old flame. Rosa (the Carmen Electra-ish Malisa Longo) regrets the choices she's made and agrees to help Ricco learn the identity of the gunman who blew Don Gaspare's head off.
    With Scilla's aid Ricco next rips off a couple of bag men carrying protection racket payoffs to the organization. Don Vito doesn't take this very well, so the couriers pay for their incompetence by being pummeled to a pulp and thrown into a vat of acid. (Employees who displease him are melted down, their body fat used to make bars of soap at his soap factory.) Making use of Giuseppe's counterfeiting skills and guided by one of Vito's lieutenants turned traitor (Django's Eduardo Fajardo), Ricco embarks on a scheme to steal a consignment of diamonds from the Mob worth 500 million lire. Ricco may not be interested in killing Vito, even to avenge his father, but Vito certainly wants Ricco dead...
    Generally well-made for sleazy exploitation fare, Ricco doles out just enough goodies to keep you interested despite a weak script, weaker action scenes (some of Mitchum's karate moves look goofy the way they're shot) and an uninvolving hero. We're given a reason for Ricco's detachment — a flashback reveals that he didn't much like his domineering father and had no interest in following in his footsteps as a gangster — but Mitchum's vacant performance doesn't persuasively convey a young man struggling with such issues. The film is carried by the supporting players, namely the hubba hubba Bouchet and Longo, and Kennedy (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) as the reptilian Don Vito. Kennedy essays his role without resorting to scenery chewing theatrics, which would've been easy to slip into playing a villain who turns people into soap; as for the ladies, they display solid acting chops as well as a great deal of their luscious bodies. (Yowza!) Now I'll freely admit that such eye candy is one of the main elements that continues to spark my interest in European genre cinema of the 1970s... With their big false eyelashes and funky fashions (or better yet, no clothes at all), confident in and comfortable with their sexual allure, Eurobabes like the delectable Malisa Longo and Barbara Bouchet (Amuck!) keep me coming back for more.
    Alas, the film's color scheme and production design are somewhat bland for a '70s Italian film, perhaps in a nod to realism and a limited budget, and the music score, apart from some dance club acid rock, is entirely unmemorable. (I know, I know... I shouldn't expect every Italian movie to have a killer soundtrack. I'm just spoiled.) However, if it's brutal killings you want, Ricco — featuring probably the most harrowing 'penis-sliced-off-with-a-switchblade' scene ever filmed (you WILL flinch in disgust, I assure you) — won't disappoint.
* The title card of the print used for this DVD is simply Ricco. The film was released in American theaters as Cauldron of Death (marketed as a horror film!); Gangland and The Mean Machine on VHS. The actual Italian title is a weird one, translating to Some Guy with a Strange Face is Looking for You To Kill You.

Stats for the new Dark Sky DVD:
    • 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer
    • English Dolby Mono audio with optional English subtitles
    • Italian trailer (with English subtitles); featurette
    For a 35-year old film Ricco is generally pleasing to the eye and ear but not without issues. The otherwise pristine source print exhibits image softness and grain in some scenes; dialog is a bit too low in the sound mix and occasionally muffled. (I would've had no idea what Ricco's sister and her hubby were saying to each other in bed had I not flicked on the subtitles.) Overall, though, this is a pretty good presentation.
    The excellent interview featurette, Mitchum the Mean Machine (18 min.), sits us down with star Chris Mitchum. A personable conversationalist, Mitchum tells interesting stories of his early career making Hollywood westerns with the likes of John Wayne and Howard Hawks, working on drive-in indie schlock like Bigfoot (1970) and eventually transitioning into starring roles for European productions (during which he moved his family to Spain). It'd be great if perhaps Dark Sky could release Bigfoot with a Mitchum commentary.