Thursday, June 2, 2016

PROVINCIA VIOLENTA - DVD REVIEW

By 1978, Italocrime films definitely began to wane in popularity at the Italian boxoffice and, in many cases, so did the quality of the productions themselves.  This minor effort from director Mario Bianchi, who toiled deep down in the bottommost ranks of the Italian film industry, is a prime example of the lows to which the Italocrime genre sometimes descended.  Apparently, PROVINCIA VIOLENTA received only a very scant theatrical release in Italy, and judging by the overall lack of enthusiasm both in front of and behind the camera, it’s easy to why.

Following a rather energetic opening in the wake of a bank robbery, commissario Franco Sereni (Lino “Calogero” Caruana) is questioned by his superior for his no-holds-barred arrest methods (“With your methods, criminals don’t have a chance to be put on trial!”). Despite the protestations of his superior, whose (quote) “hands are tied”, Sereni is inevitably forced to resign.  Soon after, his friend Nadia (Daniela Codini) reveals a criminal organization run by Augusto (Richard Harrison) and Flavia (Antonella Dogan) at the Hotel Bellavista, which is actually used as a reloading point for heroin, a prostitution ring and, in one of the rooms, a transparent mirror is also used for the purposes of blackmailing wealthy and influential clients via the snapping of compromising photos.  Of course, Nadia is soon found dead, killed by Augusto’s ‘muscle’, Alberto (Al Cliver), and then, further complicating matters, commissario Righi (Spartaco Battisti), who is in cahoots with Augusto, covers up every bit of evidence that Sereni discovers.

In the late-’70s, director Bianchi embarked on a series of Italocrime efforts, many of which were WAY below the standards of the usual genre product coming out at the time, but in 1978, he also directed one of his best efforts, the effective little cheapie, NAPOLI: I 5 DELLA SQUADRA SPECIALE (1978), also starring Harrison, but with PROVINCIA VIOLENTA he dispenses with the usual formula most commonly associated with the genre and instead uses the basic Italocrime template as mere backdrop; upon closer inspection, it’s actually more of a forerunner to Mario Gariazzo’s combo giallo/poliziesco PLAY MOTEL (1979), which also involved compromising photographs, blackmail, murder and LOTS of nudity.  Although not as unrepentantly sleazy as Gariazzo’s film, director Mario Bianchi also has no qualms about inserting plentiful gratuitous nudity into his slow-moving narrative: in one particular scene, Cliver as one of Augusto’s prime hit-men calmly drowns Helen (Simonetta Marini), the hotel’s resident lounge act, in her bathtub (“You’ve got to pay for it!”).  Later, Marta (Alicia Leoni), the wife of a prominent politician, is drugged and then groped by two men as Flavia snaps incriminating photos of the illicit threesome. 

In order to flesh-out the slender narrative even further, Bianchi also pads the film with some duplicitous wheeling/dealings involving the hotel’s owner Vinci (Saverio Mosca)—a subplot which rapidly goes nowhere—and, in one of the film’s more painfully awkward scenes, Helen sings a horribly lip-synced tune (“Ti amo, ti amo…”) in the hotel’s seedy bar.  For one of film’s more hilarious scenes, Sereni interrupts Alberto’s day of fishing with a lakeside brawl, which looks like it was both conceived and executed on that very same day and, to further accentuate the cheapness of the entire production, all of its background music was “recycled” from Stelvio Cipriani’s scores for both Stefano Vanzina’s FROM THE POLICE…WITH THANKS (1972, a.k.a. The EXECUTION SQUAD) and Mario Bava’s then-unreleased, RABID DOGS (1974).

Like most of Bianchi’s films of the time, the token American ‘star’, Richard Harrison, barely figures in the film at all, and he only has a few scenes alongside Antonella Dogan, who, like Al Cliver, also seems to relish her sleazy role as the duplicitous Madam; she also appeared in Bianchi’s equally cut-rate LA BANDA VALLANZASCA (1977) a year earlier.  In spite of Lino Caruana’s obscurity, he actually does a decent enough job as the determined commissario while weaving his way through this sordid little mess.  Keen-eyed viewers should also look out for both director Bianchi as one of Righi’s detectives and future Italian porn starlet Guia Lauri-Filzi as Flavia’s friend.

Super-obscure, it’s quite a miracle this rarity has actually been released TWICE on foreign DVDs.  The first DVD edition came out of Italy in 2006 courtesy of Surf Video – as part of the label’s “Serie Z” – in a very handsome 16x9 transfer, which retained the film’s 1.85:1 framing.  Of course, the only available audio option was Italian mono, and the only extra was the film’s Italian trailer.  Then, sometime in 2015, Germany’s X-Rated Kult released this decidedly minor effort with a choice of four (!) different hardbox covers as either PROVINZ OHNE GEHETZ or KOMMANDO SIKU (the film’s original German videotape titles from circa the ’80s), but the print itself still retains the PROVINCIA VIOLENTA title, which looks like an exact port of the Italian release, but despite the lack of any listing on the packaging, this German DVD does contain bonus English subtitles, which is quite the plus.  As per the norm for a German DVD, the disc contains both German and Italian audio options, but rather unbelievably, a full-length audio commentary – in German only, unfortunately – from film historian Marcus Stiglegger is also included.  The film’s Italian trailer and a trailer from Ferruccio Casapinta’s LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA (1969) finish off the extras.


For those wishing to see every Italocrime effort, the German disc is still available here, but again, don’t expect too much and you may be mildly – well, very mildly – entertained.

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