Exhibit A: The Italian Connection in its English dubbed version. It’s even better in the original Italian, but this is a remarkably good English dub, largely because most of the actors spoke English in their scenes when it was filmed. 

Incidentally, do you know why practically all Italian movies up to at least the 1980s were dubbed even when everyone in them spoke Italian? Apart from having only noisy old equipment available after WWII — and apart from the already large dubbing industry established to Italianize foreign movies and to standardize Italian dialects according to Mussolini’s orders — it’s because the biggest Italian film studio, Cinecittà, was built right next to Ciampino Airport in Rome and they couldn’t record live audio without the sound of airplanes bleeding through. Even when films were shot on location, like the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns filmed in the desert of Almería, Spain, the crew was so used to post-production dubbed audio — and the attendant lower costs on set — that live audio was rarely ever recorded. At the time Italian camera crews were even known for talking through takes! As Prynne sez in “Airport Poem: Ethics of Survival,” “The century’s roar is a desert carrying / too much away.”

Back to the point, though, if I’ve got one: I think The Italian Connection, along with Fernando di Leo’s follow-up, The Boss — respectively the second and third parts of his “Milieu Trilogy” — are the best of the poliziotteschi crime/action genre that came to dominate Italian film throughout the ’70s. While not as fully accomplished as Sergio Leone’s westerns, di Leo’s movies do likewise seem the perfect summation of their whole genre, and in a certain sense they’re more directly representative of their specific time and place. As the “Years of Lead” wore on, with their growing pact between the police, mafia, and government against the students, labor unions, and urban guerrillas, filmmakers found they couldn’t get away with just rehashing either American or Italian myths. Audiences flocked to movies that laid bare the dishonor, betrayal, venality, and greed at the heart of the established powers, where the cops were no better than the criminals and both were only in it for themselves. Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion from two years earlier seemed to pave the way, by explicitly introducing Sergio Leone–style cynical humor into contemporary Italian politics through a popular (rather than self-consciously artsy) medium. Di Leo saw the potential to apply that approach to the (otherwise largely glamorized and unrealistic) action/crime genre, and took it to more brutal, realistic, breathtaking, and subversive extremes than any other filmmaker (and particularly for his regularly featured kittens…).

Michael Tencer

Michael Tencer

Purveyor of fine reading material printed on soft paper