Il cittadino si ribella
The Citizen Rebels
The Anonymous Avenger
Like most filmmakers working in the environment of popular Italian cinema between the mid 1960’s to the mid 1980’s Enzo G. Castellari found switching from one genre to another an easy task. It was made easy to him because the only difference between his westerns, crime thrillers, war movies, and post-apocalyptic science-fiction adventures was iconography and setting. At their heart almost all of Castellari’s films are westerns. It was rare for him to step out of the terrain of the action movie, and the narrative structures associated with westerns. When he did the results were almost always unspectacular, as his only giallo production Cold Eyes of Fear (1971) proves. Street Law was Castellari’s second bite at the poliziotteschi cherry after High Crime (1973) which also featured Franco Nero in the lead and is often overlooked due to its unavailability. It is in fact marginally superior to Street Law. But where Street Law does succeed is in its high degree of polish and the precision of its stunt work and action set pieces. High Crime can be seen as something of a dress rehearsal One that has descended into the murky abyss of a distribution limbo. Street Law’s prominence and longer lasting appeal is almost certainly due to is closeness to Death Wish (1974) and the torn from the tabloid hysteria that informs the opening montage.
But in the end the overblown and hyper-stylised action sequences of Castellari take prominence. Castellari shoots with obvious pleasure the torments and agonies of Nero’s battered protagonist. One shot in particular of Nero glaring at his mocking torturers from a filthy puddle communicates in one moment the rage and despair of the innocent victims of not only crime, but of the school bully. The finale takes place in a signature Castellari location; the empty or disused factory. Here Carlo arms himself up and along with the aid of the reformed Tommy finally gets to administer his own brand of street law. The film embodies all of the salient themes of the poliziotteschi, most prominently of all the despair and cynicism at the ineffectual efforts of the authorities. The actions of Carlo make him an extremist, but one who has been forced to play this particular hand. Of course such a film is open to attacks of fascism or being right wing, quite frankly who cares, when the results are so damn entertaining.
© Shaun Anderson 2011