Thursday, November 15, 2012
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Almost Human
The aficionado of trash movies gets used to his or her viewing fare of choice going by various aliases (pop quiz: how many alternative titles for Mario Bava’s ‘Reazione a catena’ can you name?), or being lumbered with English language titles that have sweet f.a. to do with the indigenous original. Example: you can tell that Sergio Martino’s ‘I corpi presentato tracce di violenza carnale’ doesn’t literally translate as ‘Torso’ based purely on the difference of the amount of words in the title.
Which brings us to Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare’. In English, and man is it one unwieldy motherfunster of a title: ‘Milan Hates: The Police Cannot Shoot’. A single line of dialogue in the very last scene offers context, but the title seems to have been settled on purely to suggest a connection to Sergio Martino’s ‘Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia’ (‘Milan Trembles: The Police Want Justice’) made the year before and itself a nod to Fernando di Leo’s ‘Milano calibro 9’. Because, hey, Italian exploitation cinema is nothing if not derivative.
It was released in the English speaking territories as ‘Almost Human’, a punchier title albeit one that’s utterly meaningless. If it’s supposed to refer to antagonist Guilio Sacchi (Tomas Milian), epic fail – the dude’s nowhere freakin’ near human. If it’s a nod to Commissioner Grandi (Henry Silva), the harried cop trying to prove Sacchi’s part in a kidnapping that has spiralled into a miasma of violence, then a better title might have been ‘All too Human’ since he’s strictured by rules, regulations, superiors and burden of proof.
Which makes ‘Almost Human’ sound like the Italian ‘Dirty Harry’, a prospect to set trash fans salivating when taken in conjunction with the presence of Henry Silva, he of the thousand yard stare that instantly communicates an inclination to challenge the mortality of the recipient of said stare. And there’s a slim case to be made for the comparison come the closing scenes. However, the focus remains on nervy, edgy, twitchy criminal Sacchi throughout. In other words: if this is ‘Dirty Harry al’ Italiana’, then it’s a fucked-up re-edit that gives Scorpio most of the screen time.
We first meet Sacchi in a tyre-squealing five minute opening sequence where he’s acting as getaway driver for a gang of bank-robbers. Approached by a cop threatening a ticket because he’s in contravention of a parking restriction, he panics. Net result: the bank job goes south, a child is kidnapped, the high speed pursuit ensues, they’re lucky to get away, and Sacchi takes a beating from his disaffected partners in crime. Later, ameliorating the humiliation with a skinful of liquor, he turns up on his on-off girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg)’s door demanding sex and money. He’s a regular charmer, our Sacchi.
Iona works for billionaire businessman Porrino (Guido Alberti) – that’s billionaire as in lira, by the way; dude’s probably worth about ten grand in dollars and the price of a second-hand car in pounds sterling – and when Sacchi learns that Porrino has a daughter, Marilu (Laura Belli), an only child, he hatches a kidnapping plot and ropes in loser friends Vittorio (Gino Santercole) and Carmine (Ray Lovelock).
From the outset, the script paints Sacchi as an asshole incarnate, a small man with a big ego and a loud mouth, and Milian positively embraces this characterisation. He takes risks when he doesn’t need to, kills when there are less psychotic options available, and creates dissent between Vittorio and Carmine. The kidnapping itself is a complete mess, Sacchi hopped up on amphetamines which he insists Carmine also takes; the snatch ends with Marilu’s boyfriend dead and the girl herself begging for sanctuary at the house of some well-to-do socialites, a situation that escalates into home invasion as Sacchi and his buddies pursue her.
This sequence is easily the film’s most exploitative moment, and seems to set things up for a juxtaposition of Sacchi’s scheme going tits up while Grandi’s dogged investigation brings him ever closer. Then Ernesto Gastaldi’s script hares off into Ripley territory as Sacchi races to establish an alibi, even if means allaying himself again with his erstwhile associates (another slapping around proves to be part of the deal). The ensuing cat and mouse shenanigans between Sacchi and Grandi detract from the human drama of the kidnapping on the one hand and the procedural elements of the investigation on the other. It gives ‘Almost Human’ a very different vibe and, particularly after its welter of car chases and casual violence, slows it down quite a bit.
There’s also a sense of the perfunctory, notably in the way supporting characters are tossed aside as soon as Lenzi and Gastaldi lose interest in them. The denouement, too, is somewhat by rote, although it does showcase Henry Silva in a magnificently badass image. Welcome to your month as an Agitation of the Mind banner icon, sir.