Street Law (1974) (aka Italian Il cittadino si ribella)
Director: Enzo Castellari
Starring: Franco Nero (Carlo Antonelli), Giancarlo Prete (Tommy), Barbara Bach (Barbara)
Music: Guido and Maurizio De Angelis
Viewed: Amazon streaming
Street Law proves again that it is impossible for Franco Nero (Django, The Fifth Cord) to disappoint. 1974 must have been the year the vigilante broke…you had Bronson in Death Wish, Issac Hayes in Truck Turner, and Nero in Street Law. Definitely all classics in their own right, but this one just might have the others beat.
The film opens with a montage of a 70s Genoa overrun by brazen criminals terrorizing the streets and looting in broad daylight. Nero’s character, Carlo Antonelli, makes his entrance while on the way to the bank to make a deposit. Naturally, as soon he places his hard earned cash on the counter, the bank gets robbed. Criminals are cartoonishly ruthless during the heist, kicking the crutches out from under a disabled person and socking women and Franciscan monks alike in the face with the butt ends of rifles. However, no one actually gets killed. The crooks somehow blame Carlo as the heist goes south and take him hostage, taking turns slapping him around in the speeding car as the police follow in hot pursuit. Later, as the cops and rubberneckers surround the crime scene, the bloodied, degraded, and abandoned Carlo swears his vengeance.
As I was watching this, I found Carlo’s motivation a little confusing at first. Sure, we later learn that the apartment being robbed in the opening sequence is his and, sure, he’s pretty emasculated by the crooks after the robbery, but his level of hostility and lust to avenge his honor that follows reads more psychotic than heroic. At first, I found myself agreeing with his girlfriend Barbara (Barbara Bach) when she says, “I’m only afraid that all those kicks to the head you took are short circuiting your brain. Will you stop complaining, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and stop acting like a goddamn fool!” Yes, Barbara, exactly! A little later in the film however, it’s revealed that Carlo’s father was an instrumental figure in the Italian underground resistance to the Nazi’s. Therefore, Carlos’ character takes on the persona of the Italian “everyman” who is carrying on the grand tradition of railing against the injustices of the world. Suddenly it all makes sense.
The film takes another turn as it morphs into a “buddy movie” when Carlo blackmails another criminal to get a load of weapons. Despite Tommy’s repeated attempts to ditch and double-cross Carlo, they end up being best buds and partners in the quest to topple the hoods who humiliated him—with Carlo seeking his vengeance and Tommy just looking for a way out of the thug life. What truly sets this movie apart and keeps it a cut above a pure exploitation flick, however, is the decently nuanced exploration of the ‘who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy’ dilemma. Where in Death Wish the whole film is geared toward making Bronson’s Kersey the clear hero no matter what action he takes, for Nero’s Carlo, it’s a lot more complicated. This is brought into sharp relief when it’s Carlo who beats his girlfriend and is later the first in the film to kill.
Soundtrack to this is absolutely killer, and the top notch Italian car chase scenes and shootout at the end are must sees if your at all a fan of 70s action. Also, director Enzo Castellari’s (Kill Them All and Come Back Alone, Keoma) move to the handheld camera at key moments creates a ton of cool tension and intensity.
Hands down best line in the film: “C’mon out shitface, or your friend’s a goner!” (DC)
NW: Nate Wilson DC: Devon Cahill HR: Heath Row MA: Matt Average