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SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1974)
Published by David Carter on 2013/6/18 (2596 reads)
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Review by David Carter
Released by Raro Video
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Italian or English/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.85:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Illustrated booklet, “Master of the Game” documentary, “The Second Round of the Game” documentary
Trailer Online: Yes
Short Version: Ultra-rare crime masterpiece
Crime cinema has been in existence since the early days of film. There have been peaks and valleys along the way, but there has never been a time when the genre has faded away completely and crime films continue to be popular into the present day. Those aforementioned “peaks” typically occur when the real-world crime rate is at its highest. The American zenith of crime cinema occurred when Prohibition had turned small-time hoods into national criminal syndicates, and Italy’s golden age of crime films happened during the tumultuous seventies. Violence and crime were unfortunate facts of life in 1970s Italy, and rather than trying to take their minds off of the problems, Italians flocked to theatres in droves to watch the bad guys get what they deserved – something they rarely got to see in the real world.
The master of the gritty, real-life Italian crime drama is Fernando Di Leo. Unlike most Italian genre directors who would dabble in many different styles, Di Leo worked almost exclusively on poliziotteschi films, refining his technique and creating an impressive body of work. Di Leo isn’t as well known as some of his fellow polizio directors, and therefore many of his films have been quite hard to find since their initial releases. Raro Video has been doing a lot to change that, however, and their latest is considered to be Di Leo’s hardest to find and perhaps his best, SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER.
Luc Merenda stars as Lieutenant Dominico Malacarne, a rising star on the force. Dominico has an uncanny knack for knowing exactly when and where criminals plan on striking next, and he’s always on hand to make the arrest even if it means chasing the criminals through busy city streets. Malacarne’s superior police skills aren’t exactly what they seem, however. His knowledge of criminal behavior comes first-hand; Dominico is on the take from the Syndicate. The Syndicate pays him off to keep them informed on any impending raids or arrests, and Dominico helps out by arresting their competition.
No one knows his secret, so Dominico continues to receive praise from the press and his superiors. His father, a sergeant in the quiet Santa Maria precinct, couldn’t be more proud of his famous son and doesn’t suspect a thing. Dominico’s situation gets more complicated when the Syndicate asks what appears on the surface to be a routine favor: retrieve a police report about some illegally parked cars. The report just happens to be filed in his father’s office, though, and his father becomes suspicious when Dominico, the vice squad hero, seems overly concerned about a parking citation. Dominico’s preoccupation with the situation with his father takes his mind off of his work, and when he tries to get a pair of crooks off as a favor to the Syndicate, his superiors begin to take a closer look into his activities. Dominico has no one left to turn to when the police, the Syndicate, and his own father all turn their backs on him.
Police corruption was a big issue both in Italy and in polizio cinema during the seventies, and SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER is one of the most comprehensive looks into this phenomenon. Both perspectives are shown here, as Dominico is both the hero and villain of the tale. Viewers will be as torn as the character himself about whether or not his actions are right or wrong. Dominico’s relationship with the Syndicate is mutually beneficial, and helps the community at large. He allows them to escape prosecution for cigarette and pornography smuggling, and their information lets him rid the city of truly violent criminals and thieves.
Dominico is trapped between two worlds: the exclusively good and moral (his father) and the completely immoral (the Syndicate). Luc Merenda is exceptional at portraying a man who has everything going for him on the surface but remains internally conflicted. There is a key scene where his father confronts him and Merenda delivers an excellent monologue about his inner turmoil over the various types of corruption he’s involved in, from the illegal kind to those actions requested by his superiors on the force. Above all, SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER features a protagonist that is truly human rather than just a cipher, a distinguishing facet of all of Di Leo’s work.
SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER comes packaged with a full-color nineteen page booklet that will tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this film. Raro’s DVD is outstanding; you’d never know that this film was essentially unavailable for decades prior to this release. Two documentaries round out this great presentation. SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER is essential viewing for Italian genre fans and polizio aficionados. Having seen Merenda on both sides of the law in several seventies films, I can vouch for the DVD case’s claim that this is the best performance of his career. SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER has less action than your typical crime film, replacing the expected scenes of shoot-'em-up action with something far more compelling and poignant.
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