Written and directed by Fernando de Leo, 1972’s Milano Calibro 9 set a new standard for Italian crime films of the decade. Rather than the usual cartoonish ultra-violence and machismo prevalent in so many other films, de Leo opted for a character oriented approach. The story is simple, serving simply to give our characters a reason to plot against each other: mobster Ugo Piazza, recently released from prison, is hounded by the sadistic thug Rocco over $300,000 Ugo may or may not have stolen from The American, the head of the Milanese crime syndicate. What follows is beautifully shot tour of early 70’s Milan, complete with swanky nightclubs, groovy penthouse apartments (with white shag rugs) and even an ultra modern bowling alley. Argentinian composer Luis Bacalov teamed up with Italian prog rock group Osanna for the score, combining classical strings with rock guitars in perfect partnership. The opening scene shows the money drop gone wrong, with the double crossed Rocco taking out his revenge on the hapless bag men:
Ugo is played by the stoic Gastone Moschin, who bears a striking resemblance to MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko, both physically and in his emotionless demeanor. Ugo’s go-go dancer girlfriend is played by the astonishingly gorgeous Barbara Bouchet. Although at first it seems she’s simply there for sex appeal we’ll see her play a major role in the inevitable double cross ending. Moschin and Bouchet are terrific but it’s Mario Adorf who steals the picture with his over the top portrayal of the sadistic Rocco. Adorf looks like Bruce Campbell’s swarthy cousin, only more animated and hammish. His wild gesticulations, bug eyed rants and gleefully sadistic beatings stand out all the more in contrast to Moschin’s quiet toughness; it’s almost like he’s from a different movie. But he provides a vital energy to the film and a villain we come to hate for his persecution of the long suffering Ugo.
Milano Calibro 9 is an ideal gateway into the world of Italian crime films. It’s closer to a standard American crime movie, there’s less crazy violence and the story mostly makes sense. It’s available as part of the Fernando de Leo DVD set on Amazon, along with three other really good films for only $28.99.