THE FIFTH DAY OF PEACE (1970)

The Fifth Day of Peace

1970, Italy

Starring:  Franco Nero (Bruno Grauber), Richard Johnson (Capt. John Miller), Helmuth Schneider (Col. von Bleicher), Bud Spencer (Jelineck)

Director: Giuliano Montaldo

Music: Ennio Morricone

Viewed:  Streaming

Transfer Quality: Horrible, VHS to digital

A transfer so bad only Franco Nero could save it? That was my only hope when I turned on this miserably low-quality VHS to digital conversion. I’m already not a big fan of war movies, well at least not poorly transferred bad ones. Of course, I love Catch-22, Apocalypse Now, Where Eagles Dare, etc. …but cropped for TV war schlock is a tough sell. I can sit through the lowest budget paper plate UFO sci-fi flick or 5th generation VHS copy of a ketchup splatter slasher and still feel like I’ve used my time productively, but bad war movies I cannot abide. Case in in point? …see my Combat Shock review, haha. Anyway, Nero’s involvement practically required me to check this one out, but honestly I wasn’t expecting to get more than 10 minutes in before switching flicks.

To my surprise—horrendous transfer aside—this turned out to be a pretty brilliant take on the war film genre that hooked me in from start to finish. Sure, there are a few vertigo inducing nighttime scenes that the VHS to digital conversion renders absolutely unwatchable, but those only kept me constantly wondering how great it would be to experience a clean 35mm print screening of this.

The film opens at the end of WWII in a Dutch concentration camp converted to house German POWs by Canadian Allies led by Captain Miller (Richard Johnson). If that weren’t ironic enough, the whole story takes place after the combat has ended. I mean, it’s a war movie with no war. Only the participants’ vestigial tension remains as they struggle to make sense of their roles in what happened and what will happen next. What’s revealed in the end is not only a commentary on the futility of war, but also on futility of the human condition: man’s eternal struggle between freedom and control.

We find Captain Miller, already ambivalent about his return to civilian life and the loss of status that will entail, simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by Nazi top officer Col. von Bleicher, masterfully portrayed by Helmut Schneider. Col. von Bleicher is obsessed with maintaining military order and continues to discipline his troops as though the stukas were still wreaking havoc over Poland. Captain Miller desperately wants to claim the moral high ground of the Allies, but is ultimately torn as he struggles to fill his role as commander and to control the camp. In contrast, we have Nero’s character, Bruno Grauber, and his fellow deserter Corp. Reiner Schultz (Larry Aubrey). Two deserters who, despite almost starving to death on their journey, enjoy a relatively blissful few days as kitchen assistants in the camp before their cover is blown and they are dragged into the POW barracks with their countrymen. The Colonel, of course, wants them executed and made an example of. Grauber, having tasted freedom, struggles to expose the absurdity of the troops still playing war as his and Schultz’s lives dangle in the balance.

Of course, Nero steals the show with his classic everyman, pushed to the brink by the injustice of it all ranting and pontificating. But, effectively, he spends most of the film relegated off screen or yelling something or other from his solitary confinement cell while the Captain and the Colonel decide his fate. In the end it’s the battle of wits between the two commanders that really drives the narrative. So meta!

Top-notch Morricone soundtrack and great performance by Bud Spencer as the kitchen supervisor, Jelineck, really rounded out the package here. Check this out!

(DC)

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STREET LAW (1974)

Street Law (1974) (aka Italian Il cittadino si ribella)

Italian

Director: Enzo Castellari

Starring: Franco Nero (Carlo Antonelli), Giancarlo Prete (Tommy), Barbara Bach (Barbara)

Music: Guido and Maurizio De Angelis

Viewed: Amazon streaming

Transfer: Good!

streetlaw

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)

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NW: Nate Wilson    DC: Devon Cahill   HR: Heath Row   MA: Matt Average