Category Archives: Crime film

50 years of Milano Calibre 9 and the crime cinema of Italy’s ‘years of lead’

Fifty years ago, Milano Calibro 9, or Calibre 9 as it was released in the United States, hit Italian cinema screens. A small time mafia foot soldier, Ugo Piazzo (Gastone Moschin, a famous Italian comic actor at the time), leaves prison only to be caught up in a conspiracy around the disappearance three years earlier of $300,000 from a Milanese crime boss known as the Americano. Believing that Ugo took the money and stashed it while he was in jail, the Americano sends Rocco (German Italian actor Mario Adorf), a clownish but lethal mob enforcer, to retrieve it. Ugo denies he had anything to do with the missing cash, but no one, including the police and his ambitious stripper girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet), will believe him. 

Calibre 9 is an excellent entry point to examine the Italian crime film phenomena known as the poliziotteschi, well over a hundred of which appeared from the late 1960s to 1980. It also serves to focus some overdue attention one of the lesser-known but more interesting of the many poliziotteschi directors, Fernando Di Leo.

You can read my piece on the crime cinema of Italy’s ‘years of lead’ in full here at the CrimeReads site.Read more

The mystery of Billy Rags

Billy Rags, Sphere Books, 1975
McVicar By Himself, Hutchinson, 1974

Crime fiction is just far too large a literary field to aspire to anything near being a completist in terms of reviewing. That said, the British noir author Ted Lewis has been something of a favourite on this site. I reviewed Jack’s Return Home aka Get Carter (1970) and its two sequels, as well as the novels Plender (1971) and GBH (1980). But there is one more Lewis work I want to tackle, Billy Rags, originally published in in 1973 and which, coincidentally has just been re-released by No Exit Press in the UK.

Billy Rags is very closely based on the life of the real British criminal John McVicar. Just how closely I’ll get to directly. McVicar was an armed robber, declared ‘public enemy no 1’ by Scotland Yard in the 1960s, until he was apprehended and given a 23-year sentence. He was also a serial escapee and after his final arrest in 1970 received a 26-year sentence but was paroled eight years later. McVicar was also something of a uniquely 1960s/70s phenomena, the self-aware/educated working class career criminal turned author and commentator on prison reform, a major social debate in those two decades. He studied for a university postgraduate, wrote an autobiography, McVicar by Himself, published in 1974, and authored a couple of other true crime books.… Read more

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more

Ten underappreciated American noirs of the late 1950s and 1960s

While preparing for a recent appearance on a podcast episode about John Boorman’s 1967 film, Point Blank, I thought a lot about American noir cinema of the very late 1950s and the 1960s. I find it interesting that so many of the films made during this time remain unknown and underappreciated relative to the classic film noir period, generally regarded as beginning with John Huston’s 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon and ending in 1958, and the body of American crime cinema known as neo noir, which took off in the early 1970s. My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads is on this strange, partly forgotten period of American noir cinema that came between classic film noir & 1970s neo-noir, and 10 great underrated/unknown films that were released during it. You can read it in full on the CrimeReads site here.Read more

Projection Booth podcast #546: Point Blank (1967)

It was a great pleasure to be able to perform co-hosting on the Projection Booth podcast for the second time in as many months, this time alongside my friend Jedidiah Ayres, on an episode about one of my favourite crime films, John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967). In addition to the film and how it figured in the careers of Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Boorman, we talked about its place in 1960s American crime cinema, the film’s take on violence, and how it related to it literary source material the character of the hardboiled master thief Parker who appeared in the books of Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake. We also spent a fair bit of time talking about other cinematic adaptations of Parker, particularly Brian Helgeland’s 1999 film Payback – which was based on the same 1962 Parker book as Point Blank, The Hunter – and Payback’s various versions. It is a great episode and you can listen to it in full at the Projection Booth site via this link.… Read more