Review Date: November 12, 2006
Released by: Sazuma
Release date: 7/11/2006
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Throughout the seventies, Italy had three distinctive genres that would share popularity. The spaghetti western, poliziotteschi drama and giallo thriller. Wherein America genre filmmakers get pigeonholed to a single type of film (despite his affinity for westerns, Carpenter was limited to horror projects after Halloween
’s success), in Italy there was a select group of filmmakers who would jump from genre to genre without concern. Proving that the auteur theory is a living discourse, artisans like Lucio Fulci, Enzo G. Castellari and Sergio Martino added their own personal stamp to whatever genre they tackled.
, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
, or Gambling City
, whatever the genre, Sergio Martino made sure his films were peppered with urban decay, machismo, topless beauties and most noticeably an incredibly versatile camera. In his prime, 1971-1978 (where he made an unprecedented 15 films), Martino added stylistic polish to genres as diverse as the cannibal film or the sex comedy. His Suspected Death of a Minor
, released briefly in 1975, represents a rarity in his golden period by amalgamating much of the genres he had, until then, kept separate. It starts off as a giallo, settles into poliziotteschi and then strobes into screwball comedy. It is an oddity, and its understandably difficult classification made it one of Martino’s least seen seventies works. Sazuma
, commonly known as a worldwide distributor of muli-region genre fare on DVD, has decided to try their hand at DVD production as well, with Suspected Death of a Minor
the first of their “Italian Genre Cinema Collection”. This has long remained an obscurity in Martino’s canon, can Sazuma’s new release place this film along with NoShame’s Sergio Martino collection as another must-have Martino masterpiece?
In something that recalls The Godfather, the credits reside over a matrimonious dance, where Martino’s camera elegantly follows the feet of a number of couples. From the crowd emerges young Marisa. Wigged and well-kept, it is later revealed that despite coming from a wealthy family, she’s descended into prostitution. She’s followed by a man in mirrored aviator glasses (much like the ones the killer sports in The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
), who later knifes her down in a seedy hotel room. First on the case is undercover detective Paolo Germi (Claudio Cassinelli
). He looks Give Peace a Chance John Lennon with his long nose and wiry glasses, but inside he’s all Dirty Harry.
Germi pursues the case by luring prostitutes to spill the beans on Marisa’s pimp, and all signs point to Menga. Menga leaves the viewer little doubt that he is guilty either, introduced via a Jack Torrence-in-the-freezer-room low angle shot. Germi follows a prostitute to Menga’s lair, and within seconds of his introduction, bullets start flying. Menga is shot down, but so too is one of his “I’m old enough” prostitutes. That marks two minors down, and Germi has to do a little explaining to his boss (Mel Ferrer
). Germi’s efforts seem in vain though when the killer with the big aviators makes another strike. And then another. And still another in an apartment suite.
Germi elicits the aid of a street hood named Teti (Gianfranco Barra
) to help him sniff out the prostitution ring from within, but it is hardly that simple. What ensues are a series of car chases (one to epic chases that They Live
is to epic fights), face-offs at gunpoint and finally some good old fashioned one-man-vengeance. Before the film ends, Germi will watch a screening of Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, break his trademark spectacles and be double crossed by someone close. It is a crazy odyssey that encompasses all genres where only one thing is for certain: you will be entertained.
Suspected Death of a Minor
is by no means a minor work in Martino’s oeuvre. The style is on-par with the finest of Martino’s giallo work, proving that even better than Argento, Martino was the master of mise-en-scene. Argento may have had a flashier camera path, but the way Martino blocks his scenes, where two-shots become close-ups become split-focus over-the-shoulders, is nothing short of virtuoso. Timed to the catchy two-tracked score by Luciano Michelini, Martino’s direction is truly something felt rather than seen. Cassinelli’s performance adds to the multi-dimensionality of the film, which is at times aggressive, others assertive, and even times vulnerable. He is one of those great fallible seventies protagonists, not excluded from indulging in a piece of the misogynistic, money-laundering pie in order to takedown his man. He’s human after all, and in that iconic final shot he suggests that perhaps the end does not necessarily justify the means.
The direction, score and acting is all first rate, but what really sets the film on a level all its own is its sheer unclassifiability. The opening murder evokes giallo, but the way the film focuses on Germi’s detective pursuits suggests crime thriller. There is admittedly a hazy line that runs through both genres, since both seem born from the same sort of pulp literature. It is in the comedy though, that Minor
really sings its own tune. Martino stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi contributes another of his textbook screenplays, where the plots unfolds with precision and all the characters possess a wit reserved only for university scholars. This is much funnier however, with plenty of puns, a humorous dynamic between Germi and Teti and one of the most insanely outlandish car chases ever committed to celluloid.
Where to begin with that car chase? It is funny right from the start when you witness the piddly splendor of Germi’s pint-sized little Volkswagen. Usually a cop’s vehicle in film is a metaphor for his masculinity, but here Germi’s little piece of shit works in contrast to his macho demeanor. Despite the cuteness of Germi’s car, the chase proceeds in regular fashion, with gunfire and plenty of stunts. But then, at a certain inexplicable moment, it takes on a They Live
sort of robustness, where its as if the filmmakers realized that the staged scene is as written so long that it begins to become a parody. Whether that parody starts when Teti starts ripping off the doors to Germi’s little two-seater and throws them at the chasers, or whether it happens when Germi cuts off a shuttle with a bunch of nuns at which point the drive yells in vain, “Madonna!” it really is hard to tell. What is miraculous about the scene is that it never seems out of place with the standard crime plotting, and sort of exists as some special additive that just gives everything a lively fizz. Martino has proved in the past his adeptness at handling gialli, poliziotteschi and the like, but here he shows he can handle all genres at once. If Argento is the Italian Hitchcock, then Martino is Howard Hawks.
Presented in a cleaned-up 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Suspected Death of a Minor
looks quite good considering its obscurity. There are a few moments of dust and specks, but otherwise the print used here is uncharacteristically clean. Given it is a PAL image, the colors are of course that much more accurate, with crimson reds and browned flesh tones. Blacks look very contrasty too, especially evident in a few of those apartment stockings, where the hapless victim opens a door in silhouette to a darkened room. The only problem with the transfer, which unfortunately is present throughout, is a slight flaring of the image on the right side of the frame. Everything is more luminous on that edge, giving those shots of total black a bit of light grain in the corner. While not obvious, the brightness imbalance throughout the film can certainly be spotted. Whether this is a problem inherent in the print used or in the transfer process it is unknown, but it tarnishes, slightly, what is otherwise a great transfer from Sazuma.
The film is presented in Italian mono only with removable English, German and Dutch subtitles. The sound elements here sound very good, without any dropout or noticeable damage. No hiss, pops or other audible aberrations are evident either. One might get sick of the total overuse of Michelini’s theme (I counted over fifteen instances), but one can’t complain about the way it is presented on this solid mono mix here.
For a new producer, Sazuma’s DVD production values are certainly commendable. Right from the start, the artistic motion menus impress, as do their transitions. For those that are bothered with lengthy menu transitions though, Sazuma innovatively offers the option of turning them off in the setup menu. A cool feature, and something other companies should consider to avoid The Candy Snatcher-type monotony. As for extras though, Sazuma delivers too, with a good bit of material. Martino starts the film off with an introduction and returns for a lengthy little featurette called “Crime Scene Milan”. It is here in this twenty-six minute interview that he talks in depth about the principals in his cast and crew, often lamenting the premature deaths of many of his collaborators. He also talks about the genre and the era he made such films, and how times have changed. He concludes talking about his influence on people like Tarantino and Eli Roth. He’s a persuasive man (he even tells us such) and his little Suspected Death of a Minor
seminar is a treat, despite a few clunky edits by Sazuma.
Like the featurette and Martino’s introduction, the last big supplement is also subtitled: a commentary with film historians Christian Kessler and Robert Zion. Both have written extensively on the giallo, Vincent Price and other B-movie subjects, and both are delighted to be together watching the film. It isn’t nearly as scholarly as one would expect, as the two instead just sort of add their own little observations on each scene like friends would over a fun midnight movie. Showing that Sazuma has pulled out all the stops, it is possible to listen to the commentary subtitled and watch the film subtitled simultaneously, with the commentary subs on the bottom and the film subs on the top. It is the little flourishes like that that prove that Sazuma is dedicated to releasing the highest quality product.
The disc is concluded with liner notes by Kessler, the Italian trailer and a poster gallery, in addition to an easter egg that will reward Sazuma.com shoppers with free worldwide shipping. As Borat would say, “Niiice!”
Suspected Death of a Minor
is an obscure little genre-melding experiment that shows that Martino can more than handle any genre thrown his way – he can handle them all at once! Featuring one of cinema’s craziest car chases, virtuoso camerawork and staging, and a badass lead performance, Minor
is certainly anything but. Sazuma’s work here, too, is done on a grand scale, with a commendable assortment of extras, a solid sound mix and cleaned-up image. Fans of any Italian genre, take your pick, you’ll be more than delighted with this little oddity. It is still only available in Region 2 PAL, but if you have the capability to play it…“Madonna!”
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 36 minutes
- Not Rated
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- Italian Mono
- English Subtitles
- German Subtitles
- Dutch Subtitles
- English Commentary Subtitles
- Commentary with film critics Christian Kessler and Robert Zion
- "Cime Scene Milan" featurette
- Sergio Martino introduction
- Italian trailer
- Poster gallery
- Easter egg