Charles Bronson gets screwed over in Violent City. In fact, he gets screwed over so many times that the film loses track of its internal timeline. With the help of four screenwriters (including the woman who would later famously break through the glass ceiling of the Best Director Oscar category, Lina Wertmüller), all (to varying degrees) seemingly bent on turning a routine mafia revenge potboiler into something grander, this harbinger of the poliziotteschi genre (only without any polizio to speak of) is fast-paced but incoherent. Bronson is cast opposite his then-wife Jill Ireland, with the two playing a pair of double-crossed lovers. He’s a hit man by trade, and she’s just trade. Or, rather, she gets traded the moment she thinks he is killed in the crossfire. Passed with all the ceremony of a gravy boat, the buxom Ireland (or her decidedly less demure body double) becomes the wife of a standard-issue mob boss played corpulently by Telly Savalas in Carrie Donovan goggles. When it turns out that Bronson was not, in fact, rubbed out, he gets caught in the volley between Ireland and Savalas both. One wants him for his body, the other wants him for his mind. The crisis of conscience leaves Bronson ready to leave the killing game behind (that is, after he wreaks revenge on all those who orchestrated the earlier attempt on his life) but still defenseless against Ireland’s boobtacular rape-worthiness. And I do mean “rape” literally. In one scene, Bronson drags Ireland into an alleyway and rips her dress off until the two are interrupted by a trio of thugs beating another man to death; Ireland’s comment about violent things happening to her when Bronson is around is clearly and disturbingly in reference to the beating, not her own near-rape. If the film’s presentation is queasy and many of its premises nauseating, at least it’s smart enough to open forcefully. The opening chase sequence falls between Bullitt and The French Connection in film history, but damn near outdoes either by staging its engine-revving, pedestrian-dodging antics not on the wide streets of American cities but, rather, the narrow, winding pathways (and, in one case, staircases) of a Caribbean island. (The racecar sequence later in the film is like a Pinewood Derby rush hour in comparison.) But regardless of however much Wertmüller had her hand in the shaping of this material, no crime saga which features but a single female character can leave much doubt as to who, in the end, is the biggest bitch of them all.
"Transferred from the original camera negative," trumpets the copy on the back of the case, but there are occasionally moments when I wondered if they'd bothered to have that negative developed. Well, it's not really that dire, but I saw a lot of dirt and debris. Nearly as much as I saw in Cecilia a few months back, a DVD which Blue Underground also claimed was taken from the original camera negative. My hunch, though I can't verify it, is that this is the same transfer that Anchor Bay released some years back. Ennio Morricone's almost self-parodying score blasts you mercilessly.
Aside from the really cool-looking trailer and a poster/still gallery, the only real extra is a 15-minute glorified interview with director Sergio Sollima, in which he admits that he didn't so much rip off Bullitt but rather himself, since he apparently did Bullitt before Bullitt did. Okay.
Keep your eyes off the sparrow and on the road ahead.