Thursday, June 8, 2017

THE CLIMBER BLU-RAY REVIEW

Here’s an Italocrime film that’s been in dire need of a proper release for some time, and now, thanks to the continued efforts of Arrow Video, Pasquale Squitieri’s THE CLIMBER (1975) finally receives the respect it deserves via their recently released Dual Format Blu-ray / DVD combo.

Ex-Warhol Factory idol Joe Dallesandro stars as Aldo, an ambitious – as per the film’s alternate English-language export title, AMBITIOUS – racketeer plying his illegal trade smuggling cigarettes via Naples’ crime-infested harbour. Not content with his meagre cut as a mere “small fish” in the big pond, Aldo not only charges more for his haul of contraband cigs, but then goes on to brazenly rob one of the mob’s chief collectors. But, sure enough, for this defiant act of effrontery which flies in the face of the local mob status quo, he’s subsequently beaten-up soundly down on the docks at the behest of Don Enrico (Raymond Pellegrin), one of many powerful Camorra bosses (camorra being the name of the longstanding Neapolitan wing of organized crime, based in Campania, whose members are known as camorristi).  Upon making his way to Rome because (quote) “he makes too much noise”, he hitches a ride with Luciana (Stefania Casini), a rather innocent shop girl who eventually becomes his main squeeze.  He locates his longtime friend Carlo (Ferdinando Murolo), who puts him in touch with Corrado, a sweaty, sleazy “queen”, who not only takes an instant liking to Aldo (“I’ll give it to you because I like you much more!”) but also has him inadvertently steal a suitcase full of heroin, a move which ends up costing Carlo his life and sets in motion Aldo’s meteoric ‘climb’ up the criminal “corporate” ladder, which leads him back to Naples and Don Enrico’s turf…

According to early press announcements from March ’74, THE CLIMBER, which, in the end was funded by Laser Film, was originally going to be produced by Mondial TE.FI. and, like Squitieri’s earlier Italocrime films, GANG WAR IN NAPLES (1972) and BLOOD BROTHERS (1974), Fabio Testi was also due to be cast in the lead role, although the part ultimately went to Dallesandro.  For this his first Italocrime foray (he appeared in several more besides), Dallesandro really impresses with an angry, sneering and unforgiving performance full of hate and misery, which perfectly complements his squalid surroundings, and in particular the Quartieri Spagnoli (“Spanish Quarter”) of Naples.  When Luciana – the only virtuous person to be found in this entire sordid affair – enters Aldo’s dog-eat-dog world, she helps him get back on his feet, but, as his ascension in both Rome (and subsequently Naples too) increases both his wealth and power, she too gets callously thrown aside by him in one of the film’s most hate-filled and utterly heartless dialogue exchanges.  Typical of any ‘rise and fall’ story, which in this case goes all the way back to Howard Hawks’ original SCARFACE (1932), Squitieri avoids the usual clichés and doesn’t ever glamourize the Camorra lifestyle, even when Aldo splurges on a flash new jet-black Ferrari.  In another effective dialogue exchange, which prefigures his eventually downfall, even Don Enrico knows full-well that he is (quote) “nothing” within this world.  Conversely, Aldo’s desire to become ‘top dog’ at any and all cost far outweighs any more rational impulses whatsoever, and his main priority is nicely conveyed early in the film when Aldo tells Carlo, “It’s either my ass, or so much money I’ll have
Belgian poster courtesy of Steve Fenton.
nothin’ else to worry about!”  This reckless ‘don’t-give-a-fuck’ attitude is perfectly conveyed by Dallesandro, so it’s no surprise that in his subsequent Italocrime films such as Marcello Andrei’s SEASON FOR ASSASSINS (1975) and Vittorio Salerno’s THE SAVAGE THREE (1975), he was similarly cast as ruthless wannabe criminal kingpins on their way ‘up’ (i.e., down to the lowest of the low).  Juvenile delinquency was also a heavily-touched-upon subject within the Italocrime genre, a social problem which Squitieri also emphasizes with Aldo’s gang of young upstarts made up of assorted motorcycle-riding scippatori (“thieves”), boxers and pickpockets, who graduate from committing petty crimes to extortion, and eventually even murder; but by the end, just like Aldo, they seem bored by it all while enjoying a ritzy dinner on the waterfront.

Impressively shot by Eugenio Bentivoglio, Squitieri’s trusted DP, his work here alternates between documentary-like graininess and some incredibly polished, fluid camerawork, which at times has the feel of Owen Roizman’s exceptional work in William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971).  Franco Campanino’s dynamic, mutli-layered score also compliments the action surprisingly well with some raucous instrumental guitar riffs which almost acts like Aldo’s leitmotif while emphasizing his wild abandon. The score also alternates between some cool jazzy cues, soulful R&B and some harshly discordant, almost industrial-like noise; interestingly, some of Campanino’s exceptional music also turned-up a couple of years later in Michele Massimo Tarantino’s A MAN CALLED MAGNUM (1977), starring Luc Merenda.

Licensed from Italy’s Intramovies, Arrow Video’s “Region A” Blu-ray presents THE CLIMBER in a brand-new 4K restoration taken from the original camera negative and, as expected, the results are stunning.  Don’t expect the worse while viewing the overly-grainy opening credits – a by-product of the economical opticals used – because once the film proper begins, the colours are spot-on, and much of the film’s detail is well-defined, even during some of the trickier lighting schemes (such as in the many nightclub scenes).  The LPCM 1.0 mono audio tracks were also transferred from the original sound negatives, and also sound terrific in both their English and Italian language versions – which includes optional English subtitles, natch – and since the film was shot without sync sound, it’s up to personal preference on which version is preferred, as both are dubbed.  Extras are rather sparse – well, at least for an Arrow release! – but Elijah Drenner’s “Little Joe’s Adventures in Europe” (28m39s), an on-camera interview with Joe Dallesandro, is a real treat.  He discusses everything from his early years with Warhol and director Paul Morrissey who was (quote) “preparing him” for working in Europe, to his drinking problem upon his return to America in the early ’80s.  Some of the other discussions in-
Locandina courtesy of Peter Jilmstad.
between include Squitieri’s unique personality; real-life Camorra hoods on the set of THE CLIMBER, who were used for crowd control; his (quote) “great relationship” with Casini; his displeasure at realizing his voice had been overdubbed by someone else (“What kind of bullshit is that!?”), this despite his insistence that the film was shot using synchronized sound.  This assertion is of course incorrect, as even Arrow’s restoration team clearly acknowledges that “synchronization will appear slightly loose against the picture”, because the audio track was all recorded in post-production.  For the record, Dallesandro was, in the English-language version at least, dubbed by the prolific Frank Von Kuegelgen.  Of course, Arrow Video also includes their customary – but most welcome – liner notes booklet, which includes “Paradise Lost”, a very well-written essay by Roberto Curti, author of THE ITALIAN CRIME FILMOGRAPHY 1968 – 1980, along with some striking reversible cover artwork.  


While generally its narrative is nothing all that original, director Pasquale Squitieri’s THE CLIMBER is nonetheless an admirably uncompromising vision, with plenty of well-staged action scenes and an overall grim if compelling perspective of Italy at the time.  It’s a superlative film in every way, which is equally matched by Arrow’s gorgeous Blu-ray.  Order it from DiabolikDVD or Amazon.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent review, really enjoyed this film.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind words, Mike. I'm glad you enjoyed the film as well!

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