Street Law review by Matt Fuerst


Word association time. I say a phrase, you tell me what pops into your head. Ready? Let's dance. The phrase: Italian Cinema. Alright, your turn. The most likely candidate for your knee jerk reaction would fine cinema, some Fellini probably (he was Italian, right?). Some fanciful, insightful cinema. If you're a horror geek, maybe the word giallo popped into your mind. Giallo's are Italian horror flicks featuring winding plots and interesting plot twists on the way to the "who-dun-it" reveal at the end. Maybe you thought about spaghetti westerns. If you're a real sick bastard you probably thought about Salo. I'll just leave you people alone. Anyway, my point in this exercise is that the Italians aren't really known (or at least commonly known) for some gritty crime drama/action flicks. However, in the 1970's, as the Italian fancy for westerns started to wane, the country started to produce a brand of crime action flick. The wonderful DVD company Blue Underground has released a batch of these Italian crime flicks with The Big Racket, Heroin Busters and Street Law. I actually mowed through all three of them, but will talk specifically about Street Law here...

Street Law is the story of Carlo Antonelli, a local Italian businessman. Carlo is a hard working businessman with an adoring girlfriend. During a routine trip to the bank, a group of thugs break in and attempt a robbery. After some brutal beatings and destruction of property, a teller makes her way to the alarm and sounds it. The robbers are quickly cornered and have to bust out of the bank, and just so happen to take Carlo with them as a human shield. Along the way Carlo is brutalized and beaten, and when the crooks switch cars, Carlo is left for dead in the car. Similar in theme to say, a Death Wish, Carlo has to decide if he is going to passively sit by and watch the inept, or worse, corrupt police force do nothing, or stand up for himself. After being treated like a criminal himself by the police, Carlo is determined to hunt down those who scarred him for life.

Being a legitimate businessman attempting to hunt down hardened criminals isn't exactly as easy as one would hope, however. Initially, Carlo tries to use his business skills to crack the underground. He decides to follow a local crook and leverage him to crack the underground. The crook quickly spots the naivete Carlo and threatens to rub him out if he spots him again. Determined to try again, Carlo instead goes into the seediest bar he knows of and attempts to buy his way into the underground. All Carlo gets for his efforts is smacked around and chased in his car in the narrow corridors of Italy. In spite of the pleadings of his girlfriend Barbara (Barbara Bach, Mrs. Ringo Starr), Carlo cannot let the atrocity go and sets out to try to crack the underground again.

This time, Carlo finds a dumb, low level crook and manages to take pictures of him in the act of robbery and other crimes. Carlo anonymously sends Tommy the Crook the photos and instructs him to collect weapons for Carlo, for the war he is about to rage against the criminals. Tommy, being a criminal himself, attempts to backstabs Carlo and weasel his way out of the situation, but fooled several times, Carlo is now the wiser and sees the angles well in advance. Tommy and Carlo work their way into the underground of Italian crime, exposing the tight connections between the police and criminals along the way. Carlo finally succeeds and comes face to face with the three thugs who robbed and beat him, only to freeze in the face of danger. Carlo is again beaten and locked up in a warehouse. Tommy arrives and frees him, only to be finally chased down into a massive warehouse for the final showdown - Tommy and Carlo against the gangsters.

The most striking aspect of Street Law is the surprising quality of the movie. Street Law delivers more genuine action than similar themed 70's American flick. While the big American Crime flicks of the time - Dirty Harry and The French Connection had their fair share of action, the Italians actually stuffed a lot more high quality shots into their flicks, and quite stylistically too. All three recent Blue Underground Italian Crime flicks actually start with superbly stylistic crime scenes. Italy isn't a land filled with huge Lincolns, instead smaller cars and motorcycles take precedence and the Italians use these to great effect. One motorcycle chase scene, and ending crash actually had me rewind the movie to check it out again, right away.

The story is a bit weak, even for a relatively straight forward action flick. In a typical screenplay, it's normal to build up our common man a bit, to get a sense of their righteousness and virtue. Their family life, them working hard, working towards the dream of happiness and freedom. Street Law kind of short circuits this, and we pretty much meet Carlo right off the bat and he's robbed. We sense he's the good guy, but there really isn't a lot of backstory filled in on him. On the other hand, I am sure this was a conscious decision, since one of the goals of Street Law is to show how a good man is corrupted, begins to blur the lines between right and wrong, and in the end leaves us questioning if he really was that righteous in his goals. Still, backstory on Carlo would have made the first half of the movie stronger before Carlo begins to go overboard in his zeal for justice, or does it become revenge.

I will have to claim ignorance with respect to my knowledge of the political and social scene of Italy in the 70's. But it certainly seems to be motifs on Italian society present here. I imagine people were frustrated with the economic conditions of the era, and crime was a major problem. These themes are present in force. The entire police force seems ignorant and corrupt. Instead of trying to take down the criminals, even with concrete evidence and the public breathing down their neck, they instead attempt to round up some hookers for publicity. From these scenes, I would deduce that along with a quality action flick, Street Law attempted to chronicle the turmoil in Italy at the time.

I find acting to be so subjective as a general rule I hardly ever pass judgements on it. I've seen Franco Nero in a lot of flicks, he was a very proficient and popular actor in Italy and starred in a ton of flicks. In general, I find him to be a very good actor, but in Street Law I thought he took the acting a bit overboard. When he is acting innocent and shocked (the first half of the film) his "how can this be happening to me" face is way over the top. It's like his mom just slapped him after he gives her a gentle kiss. In the second half, when rage has filled Carlo, his shooting-guns-in-anger actions are once again, way over the top. Carlo over exaggerates his running, his yelling, his shooting. All of it too over the top for my tastes. The rest of the cast, filled with somewhat familiar faces and mostly speaking English does a fine and commendable job.

I will have to give a strong recommendation for Street Law. It honestly delivers a lot more action thrills than many action flicks of today, with some interesting twists along the way.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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