Color, 1974, 111m. / Directed by Damiano Damiani / Starring Franco Nero, Marco Guglielmi, Françoise Fabian / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

An interesting paranoia/crime thriller passed off in most territories as a police actioner, How to Kill a Judge marks yet another stylistic detour in the wildly varied career of director Damiani, also responsible for The Witch in Love, Confessions of a Police Captain, and the strange Bette Davis vehicle, The Empty Canvas. This time he tackles the Mafia with the tale of Giacomo Solaris (Nero), a film director whose latest opus portrays a corrupt, bribe-happy judge who dies under the guns of mobsters. The real-life inspiration for the film, Judge Traini (Guglielmi), learns of the film and, at the insistence of his deeply-offeneded aide, has the filmmaker over for a dinner party. The meeting is far less polite than planned, however, with the two men squaring off over the film and various legal injunctions threatened. Unfortunately the judge turns up dead the next day, mirroring the finale of Giacomo's film. Though the Mafia seems to be the obviousl culprit and the victim's wife (Fabian) fingers an incensed parking attendnat, the director senses a much deeper and more sinister plot afoot and decides to investigate...

Rather than going for the superficial thrills that could be wrought from this story, Damiani aims for a more subdued, intellectual treatment with several whiplash plot twists that compensate for the absence of volatile action. Nero is top-notch and intense as usual, with the always alluring Fabian making the most of her limited screen time as a woman of dubious motives. Though visually attractive, the film keeps its style low-key with moody but traditional color schemes, accented by a spare, unobtrustive score by Riz Ortolani.

As with many Italian thrillers, the leads spoke their lines for this film in English without recorded sound, with dialogue looped later. In this respect it's preferable to go for the English option on Blue Underground's DVD, which presents the longest version of the film available on home video. Nero's familiar accent adds considerably to his performance, which sounds a bit more brusque and flat in the Italian dub also included (with optional English subtitles). However, some footage included only in the Italian release is presented on the English track in Italian with subs to translate the dialogue, so prepare for a few aural disruptions. Image quality is solid throughout, with the original negative still in solid condition.

Extras include the English and Italian theatrical trailers (which make the film look a bit more action-oriented than it really is) and a 15-minute featurette, "The Damiani/Nero Connection," in which the star and director speak in separately but intercut chats about the making of the film, its Sicilian locales, and their other projects together.

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