Shoot First, Die Later

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Shoot First, Die Later
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Italian filmmaker Fernando Di Leo began his career in the early 1960s as a writer, cinematographer and actor. It is no wonder that this prolific creator would want to control the interpretation of his words on the screen and soon began donning the director’s cap. He specialized in hardboiled Italian gangster movies, one of which, “Shoot First, Die Later,” is coming out in a digitally-restored, hi-def Blu-ray transfer of the original 35mm print, plus extras.

Robin:
“Shoot First…” is a hard-boiled cops and robbers film that benefits from the eye of its writer-director-cinematographer, Di Leo, who also displays a talent for tense car chase scenes that remind of “Bullit,” “The French Connection” and “The Seven-Ups.” The difference is, those films used big and powerful American iron and Di Leo had these little boxy Fiats but he effectively uses them in ramping up the tension as good guy chases bad guy through Milan.

The main character in “Shoot First…” is Domenique Malacarne, a handsome, well-dress police lieutenant who makes women swoon. (To show this, a pretty female reporter, each time she meets Dom, nearly faints over of his suave good looks and snappy wardrobe – otherwise, it is an all male cast plus Delia Boccardo as Dom’s sexy girlfriend, Sandra.) He thwarts a bank robbery, kills one of the perps, chases down another on foot then jumps into a police car driven by his partner, Giretti. They chase the guy holding the loot thru the streets and alleys of Milan at high speed and, of course, catch him.

But, there is a darker side to Dominique when we learn that he is on the take from the Milan mob, protecting their illegal shipments of coffee and cigarettes into the country. He balks, though when mob boss Mazzoni (Richard Conte – I knew it was him!) tells Dom that he must expand his protection to include smuggling illegal firearms. This does not sit well with the mobster and a dizzying downward spiral of murder, corruption and betrayal engulf Dominique.

Fernando Di Leo (and co-scribe Sergio Donati) keeps you interested with the exciting car chase/crash scenes that bookend the film. The meat of the movie is about metaphoric juggler Dominique trying to keep all the balls in the air. Besides his tenuous collusion with the Mafia, he is the son of a cop, Marshal Malacarne (Salvo Randone), a sergeant at another precinct in Milan. He asks his dad to get him a police-confidential reports and the father becomes suspicious of the son. There is also Dom’s beautiful girlfriend, the owner of an art gallery and swanky apartment that Dominique pays for. Father and girlfriend will be caught up in the political tornado that the lieutenant will unknowingly unleash.

Di Leo knows his way around a gangster film, though Luc Merenda seemed too vapid as Dom. The strong silent type of character gets two dimensional as the story progresses and would have been better to cast someone with more charm and charisma as Dominique.

The Blu-ray release of “Shoot First, Die Later” has very little by way of extras. There are the trailers, in English and Italian, and an informative illustrated booklet that tells about the film, the filmmakers, the story and the production. There are also two talking head interview:, “Master of the Game,” with the Fernando Di Leo as he talks about his career in general and “Shoot First, Die Later” in particular. In “The Second Round of the Game,” his colleagues – assistant director, Franco La Cascio, Luc Merenda (Dominique in “Shoot First…) and Amadao Giomini, long time editor and friend of the director – talk about Di Leo and his films, with the focus , as with “Master of the Game,” on “Shoot First…” It is not much extra but it is the film that makes the price of admission worthwhile. I give the film a B+ and the Blu-ray extras a B.

Laura:
Lieutenant Domenic Malacarne (Luc Merenda, "Torso," Hostel Part II") is a current media darling after his daring capture of a murderous thief, but his dad (Salvo Randone, "Fellini Satyricon"), a rural Sergeant, hangs back from the attention, not wanting to bask in his son's glory. Yet when Marshal Malacarne files yet another complaint from Neapolitan Esposito (Vittorio Caprioli), annoyed because luxury vehicles with Swiss plates were blocking his gate, that report will uncover Domenic's corruption in "Shoot Fast, Die Later."

writer/director Fernando Di Leo ("The Italian Connection") loosely adapts William P. McGivern's 'Rogue Cop' with a distinctly Italian spin.  Petty corruption is a way of life, but its tendrils are far-reaching and eventually choke those who compromise.  Di Leo is a master of the action scene, two car chases extravagantly choreographed, but there is humor evident as well in a cross cut elevator 'chase.'  At its core, though, "Shoot First, Die Later" is a densely plotted film with a bleak outlook - even the comedic character of Esposito and his beloved cat Napoleon meet brutal fates.

This Poliziottesco, a genre which flourished alongside the Giallo, features a most conflcted protagonist and Di Leo takes his time unveiling the various shadings of the character.  After a prologue in which we see Mafia boss Pascal (Raymond Pellegrin, "Le Deuxieme Souffle") lead a brutal raid on a rival gang, shooting their kneecaps out, we turn to Domenic, wise-cracking with his partner Garrito (Rosario Borelli, "Rocco and His Brothers"), who drives their boxy vehicle through hair-raising obstacles.  But after meeting the media, including the ever-crushing Barbara (Monica Monet), and having a warm moment outside with dad, Domenic confounds us by meeting with the very element he's supposed to be running down.  Domenic, who keeps girlfriend Sandra (Delia Boccardo, "Nostalghia") in modern luxury, supporting her gallery, is on the take and the mob wants him to alter the police report which just brought him fame.  There's also the matter of a suburban file noting the license numbers of people who would prefer to remain unknown.

Domenic allows himself to look the other way for coffee and cigarette smuggling, but he stands his ground when arms come into the picture.  Things are further complicated when the body of a Swiss Countess's son is found buried in cement and Dominic must reveal himself to his father in a heated philosophical debate about just what constitutes corruption. Escalating tensions between Domenic and the mob become bloodier and more extreme until Di Leo's shocking conclusion.

This is the type of grindhouse genre film one could picture Quentin Tarrantino remaking and lo and behold, a quote from him adorns the press release for this blu-ray release. The film is dated - there is cheesy 70's music, artless zooms, mannequins masquerading as corpses and a model perfect star whose hair ruffles just so in the breeze - but the film succeeds in spite of these amusing distractions, Di Leo's action and story telling skill winning out.  The movie is full of colorful characters, from Richard Conte's ("A Walk in the Sun," "The Godfather") quiet yet deadly Mazzoni to Caprioli's cat-toting discontent to the murderous transvestite Gianmaria (Gino Milli), yet Di Leo continually upends our expectations with each and every one of them.  "Shoot First, Die Later" is both a kick and a darkly complex character study.

B+

The blu-ray:

There are two interview featurettes which share the film's 70's aesthetic.  'Master of the Game' is features the director discussing his love of film noir, the critical disdain he endured (and his own critique of those critics) and the commercial realities of filmmaking. He's quite entertaining stating that although he accepts that while a film like "The Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" may be 'better' than his films, that his are more revolutionary, or making statements like 'It's well known that the Italian public is the biggest jackass next to the Americans.'  'The Second Round of the Game' features more interviews with star Luc Merenda and the film's assistant D.A., who enjoys tweaking friend Di Leo, and editor.  The interview content is great, although only clips of "Shoot First" are shown even if Di Leo's other films or other directors' films, are being discussed.  The film also features the American and Italian trailers.
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