The Plot: Ninna Vitali (Helmut Berger) is a small time hood with plans to go bigger. After pulling off a big heist, he and his crew go on a rampage. Stealing cars, kidnapping a man and a woman, killing several gasstation employees – Vitali is a wild man with no care for anyone other than himself. After killing his male kidnapping victim, he rapes the female and begins to brainwash her into his gang. She is a little stronger willed than he believes, and once back in the city is able to meet with officer Sartini (Richard Harrison) who she tells everything to. Including the next big job being planned by Vitali. After the job is busted by the police, Vitali makes a getaway but his crew are apprehended. Vitali now has the choice to either run away, or come back for revenge against the girl who ratted him out. Well, let me put it like this, Vitali isn’t the type to let an vengeance go. Now he’s out to kill the girl, and officer Santini is out to protect her. These two are on a pathway to destruction.
The Review: I simply love crime films. I love the drama of them, the fantasy of these wild situations and the cool characters who owe no allegiance to anyone as they run from the law. The Italians, like many genres, had their own unique take on this catalog of films. The way that Spaghetti Westerns were always a little darker, a little grimier than your average Hollywood production – the Italian crime film is so drastically different from pretty much every marketplace that deals in the genre. The best way for me to describe the subgenre is in one word: action. Not John Woo flipping-over-a-barrel-while-shooting type of action – but a constant breakneck pace in almost all of these films. You start off with the setup, usually a crime being committed of some sort – then you’re off and running as the police try and track down the culprits and the criminals stay as vicious as possible. There are of course films in the subgenre that don’t follow this definition, but it’s just an observation of what most of these films feel like. Beast With A Gun is just that sort of flick. A pot boiler action yarn that takes off with a blast and continues to pick up steam throughout the course of the film. The movie just strikes you in the eyes and takes off running, and this is probably my favorite thing about it. There are timees where the story seems to slow a bit, but only for a moment before we’re right back in the thick of the action. Around every corner is either a new twist, some wild violence or a new action sequence. It is a film that simply never stops moving in its pace to tell the story and I enjoy that. You don’t ever really get inside the head of officer Santini or even the lunatic Vitali – but it’s all part of the films charm.
Richard Harrison as officer Santini is great in his role as a fair and honest cop who just wants bring these crooks to justice. He oozes charisma in the role and seems like he was born to play these sorts of hard boiled detectives, much more than the gladiators he portrayed in the 1960’s that made him famous. Helmut Berger, the flip side of the coin for Harrison’s honest cop, plays the psychotic mass murdering criminal Ninna Vitali in simply superb fashion. He is so over the top and yet believable in his role, the performance is stunning and it seems so rare that you get to see such an obviously evil character in such total power. Truthfully, and I hate to bring up such a recent and beloved film, I was reminded of The Dark Knight in terms of how the the character of Vitali is shown. “I don’t give a damn about the money, or whether I get away. As a matter of fact, all I care about is the pleasure of killing you.” This line perfectly demonstrates the mindframe of the Vitali character and Berger lets loose with every frame he is in. The film points out that Vitali would be nothing without his gun, but I think the character demonstrates easily that with or without a gun; the most dangerous thing about a man like Ninna Vitali is simply his mind. The two characters, Vitali and Santini, rarely ever spend any screentime with one another (much like Heat) but the film is all about the grand buildup to the ultimate explosion that is likely when these two get within fighting range. Watching the film like this and anticipating these two unstoppable men and their culminating battle, it is the sort of film you bite your nails through. The sort of flick that once you’re hooked, you absolutely have to finish it. I know I definitely enjoyed myself, and can’t help but pass along all of those feelings.
Beast With A Gun, Mad Dog, it doesn’t matter what you call it – it is most definitely one of the better Italian crime films you can start with. The anticipation, the action… just an all around entertaining and exciting crime film. I won’t say it is perfect, there are a few loose ends that I can’t go into without spoiling the film – but regardless of the few storylines with almost no conclusion to them; the way in which everything is ultimately resolved and set to the fantastic musical score in those final few minutes – I can barely even remember any complaints while watching. I highly recommend it and for those new to the whole Poliziotteschi genre – this is as great a place to start as any!