Color, 1966, 123 / 97m.
Directed by Carlo Lizzani
Starring Robert Hoffman, Lisa Gastoni, Gian Maria Volontè, Claudio Camaso, Renato Niccolai
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Sandwiched in between the French New Wave and the '70s Italian crime film wave is this compelling true crime saga from director Carlo Lizzani, who made this just before his two most famous westerns, The Hills Run Red and Requiescant. Robert Hoffman, future star of Spasmo and already a European star from his roles in Angelique series, stars here as Luciano Lutring, a real-life criminal made famous for his smash-and-grab jewelry thefts in broad daylight and his affinity for wielding a machine gun in a violin case (which earned him the nickname "the submachine gun soloist").
The film takes a procedural look at his evolution as a criminal (which eventually turned into a noted career as an artist after the events of this film) with his life in an environment of shady characters and nightclubs, where he hooks up with a singer named Yvonne (Wild, Wild Planet's Gastoni) who's been under the thumb of a prominent local gangster (Camaso). The two marry on the condition he becomes an honest man, but his weakness for crime, guns, and glory keeps him in the game, setting up jobs in Milan and, after an unexpected botched heist, he finds himself bouncing between Milan and Paris with law enforcement from both countries closing in.
While Hoffman is very good and Gastoni the most valuable player from an acting standpoint, the most interesting presence here is easily the late, great Gian Maria Volontè, one of Italy's finest and most politically-charged actors, who doesn't really turn up until the final third for what amounts to a protracted manhunt. A familiar face from Sergio Leone's first two westerns, he would go on to star in the classic Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion and Le Cercle Rouge for director Jean-Pierre Melville, whose films would play well alongside this one (especially Le Samourai). Also noteworthy is the striking score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, which features some pulse-pounding action cues and catchy lounge numbers including a great song performed early in the film by Gastoni in one of the most visually audacious scenes.
Very difficult to see outside of European TV broadcasts and bootleg video copies, Wake Up and Kill (the more accurate translation of the Italian title Svegliati e Uccidi, also known as Wake Up and Die), comes to American and British home video from Arrow in a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition containing both the uncut Italian version (with optional English subtitles) and the much shorter English-language cut, which trims the film down to a more lean action yarn with far less emphasis on Luciano's character development. The Italian version is much more deliberate in its pacing, however, so you may want to try both to see which one you prefer. Image quality is essentially identical on both, and the LPCM audio tracks both sound very solid. The 2K transfer looks excellent considering the intentionally gritty look of the film, with an emphasis on moody lighting, grain, and random bursts of bright colors where you least expect them. There's more debris and damage than usual for the label (with white specks aplenty in some scenes), but considering the rarity of the film, that's easily overlooked. The only other video extra is the English theatrical trailer (in pretty ragged shape), while the package comes with the usual reversible sleeve design (featuring both a new design and the European poster art) and liner notes by Italian crime film expert Roberto Curti.