Arrow Video USA brings Carlo Lizzani's true crime film WAKE UP AND KILL to Blu-ray/DVD combo.
Pre-dating Italy's poliziotteschi cycle by a couple years, WAKE UP AND KILL is more of a color noir than an Italian crime film following the exploits of Luciano Lutring, the "submachine gun soloist" so-named because he kept a machine gun in a violin case. Here, he is dubbed "the sten-gun soloist" by the newspapers for hiding a gun (which he did not use) in a violin case for a single robbery. Working in his father's dairy during the week, Luciano (Robert Hoffman, SPASMO) and his pals Leo and Massimo hotwire fancy cars to gamble away their wages in San Remo where singer Candida (Lisa Gastoni, NIGHT OF VIOLENCE) catches Luciano's eye. Unable to shack up at her place because of the unwelcome presence of amorous childhood friend turned ex-con Franco (Claudio Camaso, BAY OF BLOOD), Luciano puts Candida up in an expensive hotel while posing as a grocery magnate. While Candida is living it up, Luciano does a smash and grab on a jewelry store to provide "collateral" for the large bill. Before they can go to Switzerland to get married, Luciano and Candida arrested under suspicion of the robbery along with Franco but the proprietor is unable to make a positive identification. Although the part on good terms, Franco now knows where to point police inspector Moroni (Camaso's brother Gian Maria Volante, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) when Luciano forms a smash and grab gang. Luciano gets away and lives on the lamb, promising Candida he will quit after each job. When Luciano tries to team up with another group to plan a noonday raid on the jewelry shops on Via Montenapoleone, they double cross him, showing up ten minutes before and leaving him to be the stooge. Moroni realizes this (since Luciano never wears a mask or uses a gun since he cannot shoot) but keeps Luciano's name in the paper to make the real robbers believe the police are on the wrong track. Luciano flees to Paris and then to Amsterdam, finding fewer and fewer people willing to work with him or fence his goods because of his notoriety. Fearing for Luciano's life, Candida starts informing for Moroni while trying to convince Luciano to give himself up for a ten year sentence, but the French police (lead by Ottavio Fanfani, GANG WAR IN MILAN) have set a deadly trap for Luciano who is planning a heist of Cartier.
A somewhat overlong thriller from communist filmmaker Carlo Lizzani (REQUIESCANT) that is somewhat muddled by trying to satisfy matinee audiences on the one hand with Hoffman's good-looking small-time thief smashing things up and Gastoni's singing and crying while criticizing the machinations of the police and sensationalism of the press ("The police have the weapons. But you have your finger on the trigger," Luciano charges to a room full of newsmen). The middle is drawn out with Hoffman, Gastoni, and Camaso making a lot of noise and running between locations while various crooks turn up for a short time and disappear making little impression (a sequence in which Luciano arrives in Paris, flees customs agents and circles back to catch a connecting Milan flight seems like it was written to liven up the middle and ended up dropped from the English cut). Volante's role seems underwritten, especially so since we know what he can do with seemingly reserved yet complex characters with Fanfani's French colleague coming across as the more interesting and morally ambiguous character. Ennio Morricone (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) provides a tense score early in his career that might nevertheless sound derivative if you've seen tons of subsequent thrillers scored by him (although the final theme that sounds like it was reworked by Franco Micalizzi for his score for SHADOW OF DEATH two years later). Lizzani's THE VIOLENT FOUR is a superior crime thriller. THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE's Emilio P. Miraglia served as assistant director. Fulci regular Giannetto De Rossi (ZOMBIE) served as make-up artist.
Released stateside in 1970 by Jerry Gross' Cinemation Industries as WAKE UPAND DIE – on a double bill with Jose Ramon Larraz's WHIRLPOOL in some territories – the film disappeared from circulation in America apart from boots of foreign-subtitled cassettes. Arrow Video's dual-country release features the original Italian theatrical cuts (123:51) and the significantly-abridged English-language version (97:38), the latter apparently a reconstruction using the Italian version and a couple slightly scratchier inserts from the English version including the opening credits and a single shot exclusive to the English version (presumably also sloppily inserted by the preparers of the English version since Arrow would presumably have included any surrounding cutaway angle to make the transition smoother if they existed). The English cut of the film might be the more preferable option had it been edited with any degree of finesse, seeming instead like it was cut down from the full-length after it was dubbed. Much of the trimmed material is Gastoni emoting endlessly, along with some superfluous newspaper room scenes, and scenes where character establish that they are going somewhere. The major losses are a sequence in which Luciano holds a newsroom at gunpoint for what they have printed about him, a sequence in which Candida meets Luciano's father for the first time (while he is on the run), the entirety of Luciano's Amsterdam excursion, and a superfluous action sequence where Luciano arrives back in Paris, flees customs agents checking his bag and hops a bus, loses them and returns to the airport to make his connecting flight to Milan. Whereas the Italian cut shows Candida – here called Angela but Yvonne remains her stage name – fending off Franco's assault, the English cut starts with the police bursting in and leaves ambiguous whether she was being attacked. The English cut also leaves ambiguous Luciano's fate by omitting a final text card that appears in the Italian cut after the "Fine" optical. While the English credits omit much of the crew, it does add narration informing the audience about the factual nature of the film and refers to Lutring's smash and grab artist as an "international thief" whose birthright was violence.
Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encodes sport bold blues and reds and a mostly crisp image when cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi (Visconti's THE DAMNED) – assisted by Vittorio Storaro's regular operator Enrico Umeteli – is not placing smoke and scrims in front of the lens, and the focus pulling can be a little lazy during the zooms and pans. The LPCM 2.0 mono English and Italian tracks are of similar quality with Morricone's score coming through with more presence than the gunfire for which the foley work is to mainly to blame. The Italian cut comes with optional English subtitles while the English cut features SDH subtitles. There are no scene menus for either version but the main menu options are selectable from the main screen or as pop-up options. The sole video extra is the English-language theatrical trailer (1:18), but the package also includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist as well as an illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Robert Curti (author of ITALIAN CRIME FILMOGRAPHY, 1968-1980). (Eric Cotenas)
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