The Big Racket (1976)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Enzo G. Castellari, Massimo De Rita and Arduino Maiuri
Starring: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia and Joshua Sinclair

The Plot: Nico (Fabio Testi) is a plain-clothed detective along who is placed on a dangerous assignment to help bust up a young gang of criminals who are extorting all of the local business owners. Nico tracks them down to a meeting with their boss, a foreign mastermind named Rudy (Joshua Sinclair), but this only leads him to a great amount of pain as the group pushes his car off of a mountainside. Nico survives the ordeal, but now the fight has become personal for him. As he wrangles up these punks one by one, he finds that they are protected by the political system that he attempts to uphold. Their lawyers quickly help these punks come up with various stories that inevitably lead them right back to the streets. Rudy, their Englishman leader, is independently wealthy and Nico intends to see him put behind bars. Along the way, he will have to team up with all of the honest people who have been run over by these psychotic punks. You would be safe to assume that a violent showdown is soon to come.

The Review
The Big Racket is one of those seminal Italian crime films that I have been meaning to get around to watching for almost as long as I have been a fan of the genre. Directed by the incomparable Enzo G. Castellari, and starring the ridiculously handsome Fabio Testi, this is a film that certainly seems to have a lot going for it. It is a movie that is often referred to as a nice introduction to the genre, because it is high on thrills and delivers many of the elements that have made the genre famous (or, semi-famous). However, I am of two minds when I contemplate this idea. The Big Racket is not a sleazy movie, unlike some titles one might find in this genre. Fabio Testi has always seemed like the sort of leading man who would avoid projects that fall into that category. However, that doesn’t mean that this is a movie that pulls any punches, because it does not. A study on vigilantism as well as a nightmarish vision of urban violence during seventies-era Italy, The Big Racket is a relatively rough and tumble entry point for the genre. For those who have tested these waters before, however, it is a punch in the gut that they may very well enjoy. A powerful piece of cinema (really!) that uses brains and brawn, The Big Racket is a flick that has certainly earned its notoriety.

Starting off with a bit of sadistic violence inflicted upon a fancy fragrance store, where a group of hooligans look to gather up some collection money, the film immediately throws its audience into an atmosphere that is very similar to the Death Wish films. Essentially, these punks are running amuck on an entire neighborhood of assorted business owners, and we watch as they helplessly try to muster up the courage to defend themselves. What I “like” about this introductory sequence is how Castellari uses this horrible situation in order to manipulate his audience. We know that Fabio Testi is just outside of these shops, watching and waiting for this group to do something REALLY nasty, but this safety net doesn’t provide the audience much in terms of help. We watch and we hope for the best, but the cruelty simply seems to stack up higher and higher. Then, when Testi finally follows these punks back to their meeting place, he is actually battered by the gang and has his car flipped. This is Castellari playing with his audience and purposefully tormenting them, but he does this only for the reward, that will culminate in the final act, to seem all the more pleasing when it does come. To truly make the audience know and understand why these evil characters must eventually pay for their crimes, he at first shows them to be lower than human. Over the next sixty or seventy minutes, Castellari shows us this in scene after arduous scene.

Very similar to Castellari’s earlier film Street Law, The Big Racket finds him once again covering the vigilante genre. This film, when paired with the earlier High Crime and Street Law, could be seen as a progressive trilogy studying the world of vigilantism. High Crime is obviously the weakest film of the three. It is a movie that focuses on a police officer who takes his vendetta very serious, but he actually continues to work within the confines of the law for the most part. Street Law ramps things up and shows an everyday man fighting back against the horrors of criminal violence. This character is a figure who lives outside of the legal system, and shows the direction that this “trilogy” would be heading in. The Big Racket, though, may be the bleakest of the group as it inevitably focuses on a group of men who are all left distraught due to the actions performed by a gang of psychotic young people. The violence that is unleashed throughout The Big Racket becomes unsettling as the movie rolls along. A harsh look at the criminal element itself, Fabio Testi’s group of vigilante superheros that are compiled during the final thirty minutes of the movie makes this one a sort of Rogues Gallery study on the subject. While I won’t argue that this is the best of the bunch, it certainly packs a punch that the previous films did not.

The previously mentioned Fabio Testi is maybe the least expected action star within all of Italian cinema. During a time where most cinematic heroes had very hard faces that reflected a toughguy sensibility, Testi was always well known for his babyface good looks. Although he didn’t have a toughguy appearance, he was more than capable as both a action star and a leading man. Sure, he may have looked more at home on a soap opera, but he was a very convincing and daring action hero. In a film such as this, he displays his ability to jump back and forth between the necessary charisma required for any “tough” police character, but he also brings his acting talents to the role which separates him from some others who could have attempted the role. Although Franco Nero might display more versatility as an actor, he is one of the few actors I could actually picture bringing more layers to a role such as this one. Unfortunately, within The Big Racket, I think Testi missed out on taking his character in some more diverse directions. For the most part, the character of Nico simply has everything under control and carries a stoic face that never regales the horrors and traumas that this character has been forced to endure thanks to this group of hardened punks. It would have been nice to see Testi stretch out and play a character pushed to his limits, and maybe take the character of Nico into some interesting dramatic waters. Such is life, however, and Testi is most assuredly solid here.

The Conclusion
While The Big Racket may be a film that divides its audience, I must say that I was very impressed with it. It is more visual than many of Castellari’s films, it features all of his requisite action and it also has some relatively disturbing rape/murders throughout its running time. If you like your vigilante films with some rough edges, this one is certainly for you. I give it a four out of five.