Monday, 24 September 2012

Calling All Police Cars (1975)

Country: ITALY

...a tutte le auto della polizia
Without Trace

Calling All Police Cars is one of the most notable obscurities to cross my desk in recent months. I say notable because its position within the landscape of popular Italian cinema of the 1970’s is truly undeserved. I have yet to read a negative assessment of this film, but the problem is being able to actually find any critical writing on it at all. The age of DVD has been particularly kind to some films and directors from this era, in some cases richly deserved, in others far from it. Mario Caino appears to be a director that frequently slips through the net, though the few films of his I have seen, easily stand up to many of his contemporaries. Caino is perhaps best known to fans of cult cinema for his 1965 gothic horror picture Nightmare Castle, which featured British actress Barbara Steele in dual roles, beautiful cinematography by Enzo Barboni, and a fitting score by Ennio Morricone. This distinctive contribution to Italian cinema’s gothic horror cycle was not really followed up though, as Caino found a productive niche in the popular and profitable spaghetti western cycle; titles include Ringo; Face of Revenge (1967, featuring Anthony Steffen), Train for Durango (1968) and My Name is Shanghai Joe (1973, featuring Klaus Kinski). Caino further proved his skill at adapting to different genres with Milano Violenta (1976, aka Bloody Payroll) and the Henry Silva starring Weapons of Death (1977), both of which were assured entries in the Euro-Crime cycle. A departure into the vile and sleazy world of Nazisploitation resulted in Caino’s most controversial film Nazi Love Camp 27 (1977), which, despite its subject matter, was still quite effective.

It was inevitable then with his track record of cycle hopping that Caino would eventually turn up on the doorstep of the giallo. His purest example of this was the underrated Eye in the Labyrinth (1972), a striking little film, with an excellent cast that included Adolfi Celli, Alida Valli, and Horst Frank. But Calling All Police Cars is more intriguing due to the manner in which it fuses elements of the police procedural (to call it a poliziotteschi is stretching things) with the giallo. The inspiration for the writers Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittoru was almost certainly Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974), which is replicated thematically as well as structurally; though it should be noted that Daughters? scatters its giallo moments evenly throughout the picture, whereas Police Cars saves all the set piece murder sequences for the final third. The plot revolves around the disappearance of a precocious teenage girl, who comes from a wealthy background, and the questions raised in Dallamano’s ‘Schoolgirls in peril’ films are reconstituted here, the conclusions the film draws are not a lot different either. Some have suggested that Calling all Police Cars is so similar that it feels like an unofficial entry in Dallamano’s trilogy, but thematic landscape is but one aspect of film typography; from a stylistic point-of-view the approach of Caino and his collaborators couldn’t be further from the swift pace, violence, and excitement of What Have they Done to Your Daughters?

The emphasis here is on detection and police procedure, almost to the exclusion of everything else. At times the film explores the minutiae of the forensic process too a documentary like degree, placing great significance on the tread of a tire found at a crime scene for example, or the discarded butt of a cigarette. The police represent the moral centre of the film, which is especially true of Commissario Fernando Solmi (Antonio Sabato) who is frequently raging with indignant disgust at the perversity his investigation brings to light. He also has a massive chip on his shoulder with regard to class, and makes a telling point when he suggests that were the vanished girl of more humble origins the attention to her case would be significantly reduced. As it turns out her father Professor Andrea Icardi (Gabrielle Ferzetti) is a wealthy surgeon who lives in a big house on the big side of town, though the manner in which he has gained his fortune is brought into question later in the film. The opening sequence perfectly distils the themes of teenage sexuality, adult lechery, and shattered innocence, as a group of middle aged men relax around Icardi’s pool and gaze longingly at his bikini clad daughter. That they are all men of important social standing only reinforces the sense of institutional sleaze that the screenplay develops so efficiently.

After the body of Icardi’s daughter is discovered at a lake the film develops a rather sophisticated sub-plot involving a teenage prostitution racket. It is sophisticated because the whole sub-plot is in effect a red herring, but what it does do is indicate the extent to which the schoolgirls are a willing party to the iniquity. It also implicates high ranking politicians, which is a particular problem for Chief Carraro (Enrico Maria Salerno) who must undertake the difficult task of ensuring the culprits are brought to justice and make sure that certain high ranking officials emerge from the investigation unscathed. This instils a nice layer of conspiracy to the proceedings, and is probably the films most major concession to the Euro-Crime cycle. A feminist angle is included via the character of Giovanni Nunziante (Luciano Paluzzi) but this is undone somewhat by the schoolgirls’ teasing precociousness and their eager willingness to sell their bodies.

As the detectives get nearer the truth the bodies being to pile up giallo style, and it does seem as though the screenplay finally loses patience with the slow and steady procedural methods of the law enforcers. It’s a welcome change of style and pace, but one which is certainly at odds with everything that has gone before. Nevertheless the murders are shot and framed impeccably and composed in a very tasteful manner, which fits a film that places its emphasis on moving a dense plot forward, rather than on base exploitation. That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of nudity, but it is nudity that either serves a theme or is necessary within the context of the scene. Calling all Police Cars is a major achievement presented in a very minor and unobtrusive fashion. It’s a very serious picture, with strong convictions, though perhaps a less is more approach to themes and issues, and a plot that wasn’t so weighted in the favour of police procedure might have enhanced its chances of achieving a wider following.

© Shaun Anderson 2012


  1. A fantastic write up, my friend, to a film I will endeavor to see post haste. I must say that the way you effortlessly interweave various titles and genres into your analysis is quite impressive indeed, not to mention helpful and informative. Like yourself, I am just as interested in how a given film fits into the larger tapestry of global film history as I am in its minutia, or as you say, the "typography" of the given picture itself, etc. It is this aspect of your writings (among countless others, like your great wit and dark sense humor of course!) that keeps me coming back to The Highway time and time again. You are a true master, a historian and just a plain old lover of film. My hat goes off to you, amigo. As I am apt to say: "Good job."

  2. Apologies for the delay in replying Greg! Many thanks for the kind words. This is another tricky one to get hold of. Its most visible DVD released was by Mya Communication under the title WITHOUT TRACE. You can still pick this up for a reasonable price. The copy I downloaded was sourced from this print I believe, because it does look very good. We are both film historians Greg, and judging on the quality of your comments and observations, you are a scholar too. One of these days I will persuade you to take up a guest review slot on here. :-)


Related Posts with Thumbnails