If you’re feeling nostalgic for some 1970s Euro-sleaze, Ricco the Mean Machine is a guilty pleasure for stoners eager to revisit the land of shag carpeting, bellbottoms, and free love—not to mention leering shots of voluptuous, half-naked exploitation movie starlets and the requisite close-ups of brains splattered on walls, unlucky second-tier villains thrown into acid baths, teeth getting mashed in, and a circumcision by switchblade. This is the Italian version of the American grindhouse flicks, and because of its lurid content, it was released in the States as Cauldron of Death. The generic revenge plot has ex-convict Ricco (woodenly played by Christopher Mitchum, Robert’s son) hunting down the sadistic Mafioso who killed his beloved father and stole his sexy girlfriend (Malisa Longo). And, as he starts sniffing around, the bodies of his family and friends start piling up faster than you can say Hamlet, so naturally he returns the favor by blowing away the competition. This action template functions under the same principles of pornography, where banal and borderline lifeless dialogue scenes hinge on the hero’s macho posturing and the woman-chasing is punctuated by ultra-violent kick-ass retribution. His new girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet, who is introduced through a series of leering tits-and-ass close-ups) distracts some thugs by undressing in front of what are obviously some off-camera fog machines going at full blast, then Ricco jumps in and kung-fu’s his enemies right off the bridge. In the afterglow of some fresh kills, Ricco wonders aloud if she should put her clothes back on, but his kitten admits she feels more comfortable with them off. This is the kind of blasé sexism and inconsequential violence that is now considered ironic camp. If you’re trying to figure out whether all this shameless trash is your cup of tea, here’s the arbiter: Quentin Tarantino would love it.
Honestly, this film probably never looked that great to begin with. That said, the print is free of blemishes or scratches, no doubt an improvement over the few remaining crappy VHS copies that must exist somewhere. Likewise, the sound quality was never first-rate, but it's all completely audible in its tin-eared glory!
There's a 20-minute interview with Christopher Mitchum, who seems more than happy to share a few old Hollywood stories about the Duke and Howard Hawks before describing his handful of Italian action flicks, which allowed this skinny little kid to act like a macho man's man. He has a great sense of humor about the whole thing, saying who would pass up the chance to work in beautiful Rome during the swinging 1970s and get paid for it? The grisly trailer, filled with all the gory money shots, is worth a chuckle.
Ricco the Mean Machine is a throwback to when men could smack women around if they talked back too loud. In other words, it has a broad appeal to cultural anthropologists, ironic hipsters, bad movie buffs, and chauvinist pigs.