Saturday, September 9, 2023

#2,926. Caliber 9 (1972) - 70s Euro Crime Triple Feature


Forget limiting it to the Euro-crime subgenre; Fernando Di Leo’s Caliber 9 is one of the best crime films I’ve seen, period! From its sharply edited pre-title sequence, which features a money drop gone wrong, to its tense, surprise-filled finale, Caliber 9 is a smart, edgy, highly entertaining thriller.

Former Milanese gangster Ugo Piazzi (Gastone Moschin) has just been released from prison. Moments after he hits the streets, Ugo is approached by former associate Rocco (Mario Adorf), who works for a powerful American crime boss (played here by Lionel Standler). Both Rocco and “The Americano” are convinced it was Ugo who made off with the money that went missing (in the pre-title sequence), then got himself arrested to throw them off his track.

Ugo claims he is innocent, though very few people believe him, including his former flame Nelly (Barbara Bouchet). Feeling the heat, Ugo asks for help from his old friend Chino (Phillippe Leroy), the sole remaining capo of the elderly Don Vincenzo (Ivo Garrini). But Chino refuses.

To keep an eye on Ugo, “The Americano” brings him back into the fold and orders him to work alongside Rocco, carrying out odd jobs. Everyone believes Ugo will eventually try to retrieve the money, but he insists that he is only sticking around to clear his name, and track down the real thief.

The entire cast of Caliber 9 is nothing short of amazing. Gastone Moschin, who that same year would play the ill-fated Don Fanucci in The Godfather Part II, is enigmatic as hell in the role of Ugo, leaving everyone, including the audience, in the dark as to whether or not he's the one that stole the mob’s money. Mario Adorf’s Rocco is the perfect counterbalance to Moschin, a flamboyant, violent gangster who harasses Ugo every chance he gets.

Also on Ugo’s back is Milan’s Police Commissioner, played by Frank Wolff, who, despite his distaste for the criminal underworld, tries to cut a deal with Ugo, offering him protection and even money in exchange for information. Rounding out the cast are the lovely Bouchet as Ugo’s go-go dancer girlfriend and Lionel Standler as the “Americano”, the most influential man in Milan.

Yet what truly impressed me about Caliber 9 was its pacing. DiLeo keeps the film moving along briskly, with one well-directed scene after another. This is especially true of the pre-title opening. It contains no dialogue whatsoever, and even though, at the outset, we haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on, or who the characters are, DiLeo shoots it with such precision and style that we eventually figure it out. Topping this, however, and every other great scene in this movie, is the twisting, turning final act, which features one grab-you-by-the-throat surprise after another.

Take all of the above, and throw in an intelligent story (the film gets its title from a collection of short tales by Giorgio Scerbanenco), and you have one hell of a motion picture. Caliber 9 is a Euro-crime masterpiece.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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