Italian cult thriller suffers from botched language track
Brian Camp | Bronx, NY | 04/11/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"VIOLENT CITY (1970) was first known to fans in the U.S. as THE FAMILY when it was released under that title to theaters in 1974 and subsequently shown on TV and released on VHS under that title as well. The VHS edition came from a company called MPI Video/Maljack Productions and was derived from the TV print, which meant, in the pre-cable days, the removal of several nude scenes. It was also pan-and-scan, not letterboxed, which meant we didn't get the full view of Aldo Tonti's crisp widescreen cinematography. I was looking forward to this DVD edition which promised an uncut print and a widescreen image. However, there is a legend on the DVD case (repeated onscreen prior to the start of the film) that reads:
"This presentation of VIOLENT CITY is complete and uncut, featuring scenes omitted from all previous English language releases. Because these restored scenes were never dubbed into English, they are presented here in Italian with English subtitles."
Which means characters, including those played by Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland, start speaking badly dubbed Italian without warning throughout the film. The dialogue switches back and forth between English and Italian often within the middle of a scene. And whole scenes are played out in Italian, even though I seemed to recall having seen them in English in the earlier version of the film. After finishing the DVD, I got out my VHS copy for comparison purposes and, sure enough, several scenes that were in Italian on the DVD were indeed in English on the VHS. Therefore, the assertion that "these restored scenes were never dubbed into English" is simply not true.
I don't know why the makers of this DVD didn't make more of a rigorous effort to get the full English soundtrack, but it seriously compromises the presentation of the film and hampered my ability to enjoy it. Besides, I didn't find any of the previously missing "restored" scenes all that crucial to the film. Did we really need all that filler racetrack footage with an Italian announcer? I would have preferred a fresh DVD transfer of the theatrical cut known as THE FAMILY that played in the U.S.
Does the film hold up otherwise? Well, the things that seemed fresh to me 30 years ago when I first saw it on TV now seem kind of slight. There are a few memorable scenes (the opening car chase, the racetrack hit, the brilliant elevator ending), but the overall effect is not what it used to be. Bronson seems kind of slack here. Second-billed Telly Savalas is very good, but he enters the film at the one-hour mark and is seen in only a few scenes afterwards. Ireland's one-note bad girl only starts to get interesting in her very last dialogue scene with the lawyer who helped engineer her rise to power, but then they get on the elevator... The only element that really retains its dramatic power is Ennio Morricone's crackling score, one of his most memorable outside of the Leone films. To be fair, I should also add that the cinematography is well served by the picture quality of the DVD, marking a vast improvement over the full-screen VHS version.
Stanley Runk | Camp North Pines | 06/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Violent City is the story of Jeff, a hitman who gets all tangled up in a web of complications around the time he wants to retire(doesn't it always happen when they want to retire?). Jeff goes after some schmuck who tried to kill him, plus a big time crime boss(Telly Savalas) is trying to get Jeff to join his organization. There's also a shady lawyer lurking around and Jill Ireland is popping in and out of Jeff's life at various points, making things for him much more difficult coz he's rather smitten with her(naturally). Bronson's odd relationship with Ireland is what's getting Jeff into all these situations and is pretty much the fuel that drives the movie.
This was a pretty cool movie. It may be an action film, but it takes it's time telling it's tale. It was directed by Sergio Sollima, who has done another great Italian crime flick, Revolver, and the great Tomas Milian spaghetti western, Run Man Run. It's an interesting role for Bronson. He's the same as you usually see him, yet he's different. He's still the rugged tough guy who speaks very few words, but in this film he comes across as a character with more depth than we're used to seeing. Maybe this is due to Sollima's direction and tone of the movie, but it really makes Bronson's performance a very good one. Savalas is always a joy no matter what he's in. Ireland does a good job playing a very sexy and mysterious kind of woman who you're never quite sure if you should be trusting or not.
A very highly recommended film for Bronson fans or fans of Italian crime flicks. If you're a fan of both(like me!), then it's truly a double whammy."