Color, 1973, 100m.
Directed by Ferdinando Baldi
Starring Ben Gazzara, Silva Monti, Malisa Longo, Fausto Tozzi, Jess Hahn, Steffren Zacharias
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Color, 1973, 100m.
You've got to hand it to the American distributors of this film, Joseph Green Pictures, who picked it up a few years after it hit Europe under the title Afyon Oppio and managed to cash in on both The French Connection and The Godfather at the same time. In fact, the title was so catchy it was later pilfered for two different movies in the '80s, a Cannon import directed by Damiano Damiani (also known as Pizza Connection) and a little-seen Tonino Valerii Italian/Japanese co-production. Anyway, this one's fascinating as a rare Eurocult outing for the late Ben Gazzara, who had cut his teeth on prestigious American TV shows including the successful Run for Your Life and was just starting to make a splash on the indie circuit with Husbands, whose director, John Cassavetes, would change Gazzara's career forever. Strangely, Gazzara apparently didn't stick around long enough to loop his own dialogue, so instead he's dubbed here by the same guy who voiced Gabriele Lavia in the English version of Deep Red.
"From the poppy fields of Turkey to the sidewalks of New York!" bellowed the posters for this one, and that pretty much summarizes the plot as small time hoodlum Joe Coppola (yep, that's his last name), played by Gazzara, tries to realize his dream of making it to the big time by getting a big stash of Opium to New York by going through a mob-controlled region in Sicily. At first he's aided by his girlfriend, Claudia (The Fifth Cord's Monti), as he gets a first hand look at the harvesting of opium (which is actually pretty fascinating to watch). However, things get complicated in Italy when he tangles with a mobster's daughter, Rosalia (A Cat in the Brain's Longo), so he's soon playing an international game of cat and mouse with both the criminal underworld and international law enforcement as the opium gets secreted into a strange variety of disguises. Once he makes it to New York, the film goes into high gear with a protracted car cash and several shoot outs, leading to a wry twist ending (which, now that you know, might not be that much of a twist).
Often lumped in as an early entry in the poliziotteschi wave of Italian crime films, this is more of a straight-up action film combined with a procedural look at the inner workings of the drug trade around the world. Gazzara does a fine job as always (despite that dubbing), and it's all attractively shot with colorful scope photography and buoyed by a catchy, pop-laced score by the great Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (who were at a high point here, scoring Torso and The Violent Professionals the same year). It's also a rare modern effort for director Ferdinando Baldi, who normally specialized in spaghetti westerns like Get Mean, Comin' at Ya!, and Blindman but does a competent job of keeping the narrative flowing cleanly from start to finish. Don't expect to be blown out of your chair, but as far as '70s drive-in films go, it's a perfectly enjoyable time killer.
Inexplicably underrepresented on home video, The Sicilian Connection finally gets a worthy edition from Code Red as a limited Blu-ray sold exclusively through Screen Archives. The packaging boasts a "brand new HD transfer from Italian vault elements," which means you get Italian text at the end of the film. Image quality is pretty nice, about on par with a freshly struck 35mm print; colors are very vibrant throughout without tipped over into garish territory, and it has a fair degree of sharpness throughout while still keeping that slightly hazy 35mm film stock look of the time. The DTS-HD MA mono audio track sounds fine, giving about as much support as possible to the canned dialogue and the bouncy music score. The sole extra is the English-language theatrical trailer.