Director: Fernando Di Leo
Raro Video USA

Long available only on the grey market, Fernando Di Leo’s elusive SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER gets the Blu-ray treatment from Raro Video USA.

Milanese police lieutenant Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda, TORSO) is up-and-coming as much due to his kick-ass police work as it is to the maneuvers of his publicity-hungry chief (Gianni Santuccio, QUEENS OF EVIL) who wants to show the effectiveness of “precautionary arrests” on the city’s vice problems. Although he appears humble in his refusal to play up his own image with the press, it turns out that he has managed to keep his mistress Sandra (Delia Boccardo, Tarkovksy’s NOSTALGHIA) and set her up with her own art gallery by occasionally looking the other way and burying reports. He balks when mobster Pascal (Raymond Pellegrin, GANG WAR IN NAPLES) and his lawyer Mozanni (Richard Conte, VIOLENT CITY) ask him to sink his own case against two Portuguese gun-runners – alcohol and cigarette smuggling he doesn’t mind, but he doesn’t want anything to do with weapons – but is pacified by a bonus payment. He is, however, suspicious when they ask him to steal a complaint report filed by a Neapolitan shut-in Esposito (Vito Caprioli, THE LIBERTINE) about being assaulted by the passenger of a Swiss-registered car blocking his front gate in Sante Maria. The only reason he complies is because the report was taken by his own father (Salvo Randone, MY DEAR KILLER) – only a sergeant and proud of his son’s career – but he can only get him to bury the report without arousing suspicion. He also makes efforts to pacify Esposito, but Pascal is not satisfied since the car was registered to the drug-addicted son of an Italian countess and his body has just been discovered in a cement-filled oil drum. When Pascal’s men murder Eposito, Domenico may have to risk his reputation to prevent his father and girlfriend from being their next targets.

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER isn’t director Fernando Di Leo’s best crime film, but it is a very intriguing entry. While most directors in the genre focused on ass-kicking police heroes wasting thugs and sometimes exposing corruption within their own departments, Di Leo usually made criminals his protagonists and put them up against worse criminals and/or corrupt authorities. The policeman protagonist of this film isn’t squeaky clean or hard-bitten but driven to wipe out scum; he’s a cop who has looked the other way when it came to small-scale smuggling for a nice compensation, but now finds himself in deep as the mob escalates their activities just as the police have been given more leeway to crack down on these activities. If Pascal comes across as a forgettable loudmouth brute of a villain, that may be quite appropriate since virtually everything that goes wrong in the film is a result of his impulsive behavior. Even when he leans on Mozanni and Domenico to clean up his messes, he impatiently sends in others to deal with things more definitively and ends up drawing more attention to his activities. A weakness of the script is that it isn’t clear if one of the two acts that set Domenico on his quest for vengeance is one of Pascal’s overriding decisions or part of the campaign against Domenico resulting from his response to it. To label the film’s portrayal of the film’s one gay character (Gino Milli, TERROR EXPRESS) as a sadist and a transvestite (“Gian Maria: Gianni from the front and Maria from behind”) as non-PC may be an understatement – it seems as gratuitous and Domenico’s homophobic responses to the character – but the film’s single instance of animal violence is more disturbing (even if it cuts away before anything had to be simulated).

Merenda has less of a “bad hair day” here than in some of his other films (including Di Leo’s THE KIDNAP SYNDICATE and NICK THE STING), and is wonderfully wry as the backseat driver during the opening car chase (when the driver is apprehensive about the chase because the pursuant might be armed, he says that they usually shoot at the driver and Merenda replies “Shooting me wouldn’t stop the car”). Boccardo is just window-dressing here (even the love scene – set to “There Will Be Time” by Osanna with whom Luis Bacalov collaborated on the score for Di Leo’s MILANO CALIBRO 9 – feels merely obligatory); Merenda’s scenes with Randone provide the film’s emotional hook, and they were very well done. Conte (who died the following year) looks even more tired here than in some of his other Italian films from this time – the last one being the dreadful late entry EXORCIST-ripoff CRIES AND SHADOWS (released here on tape as THE POSSESSOR and in the UK as EXORCIST 3 before the William Peter Blatty film) – but its less distracting here as he bristles at being referred to by Pascal as just a “mouthpiece” and later proves just who is actually the interchangeable one in the organization. Singer Rosario Borelli – in one of five films he made with Merenda (and one of four with Di Leo) – is an interesting presence as Domenico’s partner Giratto, also on-the-take but seemingly genuine in his sympathy at a funeral scene late in the film.

Although the film was produced by Galliano Juso (HEROIN BUSTERS) rather than his regular producer Armando Novelli, Di Leo’s other regulars are on hand: composer Luis Bacalov (misspelled “Bakalov” in the English credits), editor Amedeo Giomini, assistant director Franco Lo Cascio (who later directed porn as “Luca Damiano”), production designer Francesco Cuppini (whose showcase here is Sandra’s gallery and loft apartment), stunt coordinator Gilberto Galimberti, and cinematographer Franco Villa (whose work here is colorful yet effectively quick-and-dirty). The film’s two car chases were coordinated by French stunt driver Remy Julienne (presumably a perk of this being a co-production). The dubbing of the English version was directed by Frank Von Kuegelgen and features the familiar voices of Pat Stark dubbing Boccardo, Carolyn De Fonseca dubbing a foxy journalist (Monica Monet, SPASMO), and Von Kuegelgen himself dubbing Merenda; although the two Portuguese gun-runners sound like they were dubbed by guys doing Speedy Gonzalez impressions (or, at least, voice actors who borrowed from their repertoire of spaghetti western).

SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p24 1.85:1 transfer using the VC-1 codec (previous Raro Blu-rays have used AVC MPEG4). Franco Villa’s photography of Di Leo’s films has never been one of their best assets, but the skintones as well as the occasional striking primary colors in some of the set decoration and costumes (there’s plenty of brutality but less blood than in other Di Leo films) suggests that the overall bland look has more to do with the design choices and Villa’s lighting than any transfer technician’s contrast and color timing choices. The film can be viewed with either English or Italian dub tracks in LPCM 2.0 mono (the back cover specs correctly state this, but confusingly also include a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 logo next to the Blu-ray disc logo in the bottom corner of the back cover). The English subtitles could have done with some more stringent proofreading. Merenda’s character is Domenico on the Italian track and Dominic on the English track, but the subtitles refer to him as “Dominique” (perhaps that’s his name on the French track of this Italian-French co-production); they also refer to Giratto as “Giraddo”. There are also some transcription errors that are distracting. When Esposito tells Dominic about begging some milk for his cat after hours, the subtitles have him procuring a “chord” rather than a “quart” of milk. When the reporter asks Dominic for some “good details” on the foiling of the jewel heist, the subtitles have her asking for “dirty tales”. At Dominic’s flip remarks at their clandestine meeting, Mozzani asks him if he “threw a plan” rather than if he’s “through playing”. These bits don’t ruin the experience of watching it in Italian with subtitles, but both tracks are dubbed and the English dub is just as fine a way to experience the film.

Two documentaries have been carried over from the import 2012 Italian disc (but seemingly older since Di Leo died in 2003) – upscaled to 1080p MPEG-2 here and looking it – “Master of the Game” (24:58) and “The Second Round of the Game” (21:20). In the first, Di Leo talks about his love of noir; he started out in westerns because they were in demand, stating that the distributors have more say in what projects get produced than even bigger producers (which Di Leo says is why Fellini moved onto television when his later films were not profitable). He also discusses his run-ins with authorities over his films (including the police in response to this film and the church on BRUCIA, RAGAZZO, BRUCIA’s portrayal of the female orgasm), and makes the connection between SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER and the earlier NAKED VIOLENCE – which he doesn’t regard as part of the polizziotesco genre – with their “humanized” police protagonists (as well as his uncommercial choice of Pier Paolo Capponi in the lead as opposed to Guiliano Gemma or Franco Nero). He also contrasts his corrupt cop in SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER with the neurotic protagonist of Elio Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION). The second featurette features he recollections of assistant director Lo Cascio and editor Giomini, as well as actor Merenda. Merenda recollects that he took the role because the part was more complex than ambiguous than some of the other roles he had taken up till then. Lo Cascio talks about his beginnings as an assistant under Di Leo, as well as the differences between Di Leo’s approaches to the genre and others. Giomini waxes on Di Leo’s ability to cut out chunks of the film for pacing and fix it in the dubbing (often rewriting the script to smooth over the gaps). Giomini also discusses Di Leo’s communist background and suggests that the well-to-do Di Leo inserted characters in his scripts to comment on the fascist tactics of the police as a way of keeping true to his ideals (in the case of this film, we have the chief of police that tells his officers to include a few hippies in their quota of arrests).

Similar English and subtitled Italian trailers (3:20 each) are also included in 1080p, as well as a liner notes booklet which includes a short introduction explaining that the film’s Italian title IL POLIZIOTTO È MARCIO is the Italian translation of the title of William McGivern’s novel “Rogue Cop” (and includes a synopsis of the book’s story), a reproduction of the official film synopsis from the Titanus film brochure (which differs slightly from the film itself but contains additional details not always apparent in the film itself), an essay on the production that helpfully identifies several of the less familiar faces (including Marcello Di Folco as Pascal’s pale hitman who later had a sex change operation and became Marcella Di Folco) and reveals what happened in a scene Di Leo decided to cut short in the final version of the film, an essay on stunt coordinator Galimberti, a short paragraph on the soundtrack, as well as a short piece on a project that had been developed between Di Leo and French crime director Jean-Pierre Melville (before his death in 1973), of which no trace of the screenplay exists in Di Leo’s archives. The Blu-ray disc comes in a slipcover and streets on May 28th; however, if you can wait another month, you can get the film in the FERNANDO DI LEO CRIME COLLECTION VOLUME 2 with KIDNAP SYNDICATE (also featuring Merenda) and NAKED VIOLENCE. can get. (Eric Cotenas)