Color, 1972, 88m.
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Starring Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Philippe Leroy, Lionel Stander

Color, 1972, 95m.
Starring Mario Adorf, Henry Silva, Woody Strode, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Femi Benussi, Sylva Koscina

Color, 1973, 100m.
Starring Henry Silva, Richard Conte, Gianni Garko, Antonia Santilli, Howard Ross

Color, 1976, 85m.
Starring Jack Palance, Al Cliver, Harry Baer, Gisela Hahn

Raro (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The advent of the poliziotteschi crime and action films that exploded from Italy in the late '60s and throughout the '70s was fertile ground for several filmmakers, but none approached the movement as uniquely as Fernando Di Leo. Like most of his more prolific peers, he began as a screenwriter and graduated to features by trying out a number of genres including one of the trashiest gialli ever made, 1971's Slaughter Hotel, and went on to infamy for the incredibly shocking 1978 sexploitation film, To Be Twenty. However, his crime films are usually noted as his most notable achievements despite their availability in most regions in lousy-looking, dubbed editions. Italy's Raro Video rectified this situation by unleashed several of his titles in much-needed remastered editions with Italian and English language options, though the copious extras were Italian only. This situation was remedied with their belated American release of four key films in a nifty DVD box set, whose contents include the three so-called "Milieu Trilogy" titles (all the early '70s ones) which rank among the high points of Euro crime cinema.

First up is the great Caliber 9, better known to collectors as Milano Calibre 9, and you can read more about that release and a later upgraded edition from Arrow films here.

Called The Italian Connection for its American DVD release but better known to collectors as Manhunt (and to Italian audiences as La mala ordina), Di Leo's follow-up film promots Adorf to leading man status as Luca, a Milanese pimp framed for the theft of a major heroin shipment bound of America. When the would-be recipients decide to get instant payback, they send two gun-toting hitmen, Frank (Strode) and Dave (Silva), to gun Luca down. However, when Luca's family winds up dead in the crossfire, he decides to take matters into his own hands and face down the tough guys by himself. A riot of action, wild clothes, wilder hairdos, and berserk interior decoration, The Italian Connection is a pure blast from start to finish and offers a solid leading vehicle for Adorf, an atypical hero here who really shines in the spotlight. Once again the cast is a lot of fun for cult movie fans, especially as it reteams Thunderball stars Adolfo Celi and blazing redhead Luciana Paluzzi and throws in parts for Femi Benussi (A Hatchet for the Honeymoon) and Sylva Koscina (Lisa and the Devil). Weirdly, Cyril Cusack also pops up in the first of five features he made in Italy while on vacation from British TV. Also noteworthy is the catchy Armando Trovajoli score, which offers the perfect accompanifunk to the proceedings.

The disc again features both language options, though the English is really more fun as you get to hear Strode and Silva with their original voices. The extras here are a bit lighter as, in addition to the gallery and filmography, you only get a 23-minute featurette about the role of the mafia in '70s crime films with input from actors like Gianni Garko and Pier Paolo Capponi along with Di Leo and Novelli. It's fairly interesting but only a little relevant as it focuses more on the crime structure of southern Italy as a narrative force, which doesn't have much to do with wrongly accused drug traffickers from Milan.

The third film, credited here as The Boss, also features an array of different confusing titles including an American release as Wipeout! This time Silva really gets center stage via an unforgettable opening action sequence (best left unspoiled here). This time the action moves over a bit along the crime spectrum to Palermo, with hitman Nick (Silva) hunting down the revenge-seeking survivor (Capponi) of a theater bombing that wipes out most of a crime gang. In retaliation, the battle-scarred thug kidnaps the rival gang's debauched young daughter (Santilli), setting off a manhunt between the assassin and the police to get to the vengeful gangster first. The pairing of Silva and Santilli is one of the film's more memorable elements and vaguely foreshadows the trashy verbal duets from the Charles Bronson vehicle Murphy's Law, and the colorful cast also includes reliable character actor Richard Conte (as the blackmailed don) and Gianni Garko (The Psychic) as the police commissioner on the case. Bacalov returns this time for the music score, and while it isn't as solid as his first outing, he gets his groove on when it counts. Another mafia featurette, "Stories of the Mafia," is the real noteworthy extra on Raro's disc (with the usual roster of participants, and at least this film is far more mafia-themed). As usual you get the option of Italian or English dialogue, and it's still a trade-off either way but does benefit from Silva's vocal performance in English.

Last but not least we get Rulers of the City, better known to video hounds as Mr. Scarface. This one's had the longest international life on video and in theaters thanks to the presence of a leering Jack Palance as "Scarface" Manzari, a mob kingpin with a penchant for fancy cigarettes. However, the real stars here are regular Fassbinder actor Harry Baer (Berlin Alexanderplatz) and beloved, wooden-faced Eurosleaze veteran Al Cliver (Zombie) as Tony and Rick, a mob collector and a newbie gangster who run afoul of Manzari when Rick loses a big haul of cash and gets beaten to a pulp for his clumsiness. Manzari writes a bad check to cover the loss to Tony, who concocts a gun-blazing plan to get what's coming to him. As these things must, it ends in a protracted, impressively mounted shootout and concludes on a weirdly cheerful note. More of an upbeat buddy film than the usual grim story of treason and bloodshed, this is still a very entertaining film and really pays off in the final third; it's also nice to see the talented Baer expanding beyond his usual somber dramatic milieu. Bacalov offers his third score of the bunch here, and not surprisingly, it's a lot more lilting and goofy than the prior ones. Definitely watch this in English, as it suffers greatly without Palance's distinctive intonations. Once again you get a making-of featurette here, and at 15 minutes it's the shortest of the set. However, it's great as always to see Cliver talking on camera (apparently he's still a big fan of Di Leo), along with Di Leo himself, Amedeo Giomini, and weapons coordinator Gilberto Galimberti. The set comes packaged with all four discs in slimline cases, along with an illustrated booklet (and half-postcard insert thingy) featuring a text interview with Di Leo as well. For some reason, between the back sleeve, the DVD sleeves, and the booklet, Quentin Tarantino's name gets dropped at least a dozen times.

The warm reception given to this DVD release prompted Raro to issue the films with surprising haste as one of their initial Blu-Ray releases, and comparing the transfers proves to be interesting. On the DVD front, all four titles are essentially the same as their Italian predecessors. The first three films are all anamorphic and were excellent for their time (and still pretty good now). They're about as good as Euro standard def releases got for the label, with some eye-popping colors (especially those reds during Bouchet's big dance scene). For some reason, Rulers of the City is the only film in the DVD set presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and the drop in resolution definitely hurts a bit; still it's a lot better than the cruddy quasi-PD versions that have floated around for years. All of the Blu-Rays sport new HD transfers with the same language options and extras, and obviously, it's great to have an anamorphic, improved version of Rulers of the City. The most impressive titles of the Blu-Ray set are easily The Boss and The Italian Connection, which look extremely film-like, natural, and unprocessed, with pleasant flesh tones and natural, modest grain. The other two are clearly considerable leaps over their SD counterparts, though they tend to look more harsh and digitally filtered in comparison; close-ups fare well enough, but at other times there's a milder form of that watercolor effect found in some other Italian transfers like The 10th Victim. Whether this is due to lesser elements requiring more digital tweaking is anyone's guess (particularly given the very rocky history of Palance's film), and there's still enough normal-looking grain for it to look like film, but basically it's a case of two excellent Blu-Rays and two good ones. All titles are 1080p (MPEG-4 encoded) with DTS-HD Master audio for both languages; interestingly, the English subtitles for all look a bit larger proportionately speaking and more narrow than the DVD versions.

Updated review on January 16, 2012.