That's not the real title, by the way. That's what they call it in US DVD land, but I'm keeping it since the real title is boringly just Ricco. This is another film I was put on to by Quint's A Movie A Day column at Ain't It Cool, so I've included the link above in case you wanted to check that out.
Italian cinema is among the most important and versatile in the world. You've got Federico Fellini for art, Sergio Leone for spaghetti westerns and Dario Argento for giallo. You've got stars like Sophia Loren. You've got masterpieces like La Dolce Vita and yet also infamous exploitation schlock like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. Even focusing just on horrors and thrillers, I could reel off a string of names like Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Antonio Margheriti and of course Argento. (You can't blame the Italians for Jess Franco. He's Spanish.) That's one hell of a legacy. No matter what genre of cinema you're interested in, it's likely to have a significant Italian body of work. Their output isn't just more important than that of France, Germany, Spain and their other continental neighbours, but arguably more so than all of them put together.
So when you get a 1970s Italian exploitation film, it's got to be worth a look even if it's not particularly good. Well, that's what I assumed, anyway. It's the seventies, for crying out loud.
Ricco the Mean Machine indeed isn't good, but I'd expected that. What's more disappointing is that it's not even particularly mad or over the top. It's easy to wave around the label "exploitation", but this is trying to be a proper film. There's a plot. It develops. You can see a good film struggling to get out. Anyone watching for the exploitation might end up disappointed by the comparatively low levels of nudity and violence, although you still couldn't call this tame. The three main girls all get naked, while the violence is nasty enough that it's no fun to watch. Even a straightforward beating will produce plenty of blood, while one deeply unlucky man ends up with his own dick in his mouth. No, he's not a contortionist.
The problem with the film is its star. Ricco is played by one Christopher Mitchum, son of the more famous Robert Mitchum, and you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw that he's been acting for forty years by now and that he was thirty when this came out. Heavens above, he's terrible. This is the kind of performance I've only ever seen in fan videos and black-and-white quickies from the "don't give a shit" era. You couldn't even call what he does here acting. I'd have sworn he was a teenager, getting the job on the strength of his name as he stepped in front of a camera for the first and last time in his life. He walks and talks, but that's all the credit I'm prepared to give him.
His most risible moment would be on seeing his loved ones' corpses in the morgue. You can see Mitchum's trying to do something, but it's equally clear that he doesn't have a clue. He's even an odd physical choice for the role, being a blonde pretty boy with a cute smile. The Mean Machine. Yeah, right. He's tall, but that's all he has going for him. I think his character is meant to be a martial artist, but he's rubbish at fight scenes too.
This might sound entertaining in a kitsch way, but in fact it's killing the movie. This is a proper film, you see. It's about revenge and what it does to you. Ricco's father got murdered on the orders of a rival Mafia boss and his mother wants him to be a man and avenge the family name. Look at what it gets her. Serve the bitch right. Ricco goes off to see how the land lies, but I don't think he was ever really part of this gangster world. He counts a lot of them as friends, but he's a reluctant killer who once beat up three of his father's men rather than help them on a job. An actor could have done great things with this material. This could have been a terrific film had its hero been an actual character, rather than an amateur having fun in front of a camera. The battle of wits between Ricco and the impressively brutal Don Vito could have made for a wonderful story, but instead the film occasionally gets a bit dull.
Everyone else is okay. There are some decent character actors, with my favourite being Angel Alvarez as a jovial old counterfeiter with a magnificent double chin. It took me a while to get past the English dubbing, but I managed. Arthur Kennedy is playing Don Vito and he's as solid as you'd expect of a stalwart of American stage and screen, winner of a Tony Award in 1949 and five times Oscar-nominated. He did a lot of foreign films in the seventies and late sixties.
However most important of course are the women. The most famous is Barbara Bouchet, although I thought she had a slightly odd-looking face. She has a pinched mouth. They're all striking, despite two of them having been turned into redheads. It doesn't suit them. Their breasts are respectable without being King Kong, if you know what I mean, but surprisingly they're more eye-catching when scantily clad than when they're naked. There's quite a bit of that. Bouchet and Malisa Longo also happen to give strong, memorable performances, but I shouldn't think most of you weren't reading this paragraph to learn that.
The film has its unintentional amusements. Manly men can get shot repeatedly in the chest and keep going long enough to kill a bunch of people. There's some 1970s dancing which looks more like care in the community for the mentally handicapped. There's incidental music as funky as a Goblin score for Dario Argento, although sadly not enough of it.
However best of all is the homoeroticism. Let's face it, we're talking about Italians here. They're about as macho as Liberace. Thus we have a hard-bitten gangster revenge flick whose hero is a blue-eyed boy with long hair. Everyone's wibbling about revenge, but they're sometimes doing so while wearing only towels in the men's sauna. There's some 1970s interior decoration, not to mention the sideburns and moustaches. "I've never been weak myself," says Ricco's dad. "I guess that's why I don't like weak men."
It wouldn't be so funny if it were just Tom of Finland.
I'd like this film better if I knew of a subtitled version, although then at the very least I'd still have Mitchum and Kennedy being dubbed into Italian. This film could have been downright impressive if it hadn't starred a cardboard cut-out, but even so I still have respect for it. I just don't think it's very good, either.