Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nello Rossati's Top Line (1988)

The Sensuous Nurse (1975), fun and forgettable, like a lot of 70s Italian sex comedies, revelled really in its representative nature with its farcical humor and sight-gags, starring international sex symbol, Ursula Andress. Its legacy, at least in the American memory, was the second life Andress's nurse breathed into the production during the subsequent decade, where on late-nite cable television, The Sensuous Nurse sent boys' boxer briefs flying into the ankle zone. Meanwhile, in cinemas, Franco Nero was resurrecting an old hero and an earlier role with his return as Django in the fittingly-titled, Django Strikes Again (1987). While you are still wrapping your head around the image of a nude Ursula Andress (or have left and are wrapping your hand around your head), I will reveal the connection between the two films: their director, Nello Rossati. As of date, Rossati has helmed fifteen films in his career, with the above two most likely his most notable, but the year following Django Strikes Again, Rossati would deliver, along with star, Franco Nero, a real hidden gem of 80s Italian genre cinema, Top Line (1988). Top Line is a ridiculous and excessive blend of action, adventure, science-fiction, and suspense. It's also totally radical fun, like an ancient hidden spaceship in a Colombian mountain or like a bull charging a cyborg. Those similes are allusions to images within Top Line, but you're probably still thinking about nekkid Ursula Andress. Anyway, bad jokes aside, Top Line is about a writer, Ted Angelo (Franco Nero), who's destitute and drunk, living in Colombia. His publisher and ex-wife, Maureen De Havilland (Mary Stavin) cuts off his funding and sends him a plane ticket for a trip back to Italy. One morning, Angelo's local girlfriend awakens him at knife point, and Angelo's relieved that she didn't kill him and extremely excited that the knife's an antique ("Where did you get this?"). She leads Angelo to her brother, who found the knife in a cave, while trekking though the jungle. Her brother seemingly is the only one who knows the location of the cave and he allows Angelo to have a diary that he found there. Angelo takes the diary to his best friend, Professor Alonso Kintero (William Berger), who tells him that the diary holds the secret to a cache of pre-Colombian gold. What a find! Does Angelo know what this means? Yeah, historical value be damned. Unlike Indiana Jones, this treasure doesn't belong in a museum but in private hands of a collector, preferably holding some sweet cash. Kintero agrees to hook Angelo up with sinister and dangerous Heinrich Holzmann (Oscar-winner, George Kennedy), who's the largest private collector of pre-Colombian artifacts. Before Angelo gets to see the German, Berger's Kintero turns up dead, the victim of some brutal torture. Coincidence? Angelo doesn't think so and he forces the kid who found the diary to take to him to the cave. Inside the cave, Angelo finds a secret passage and inside the passage, a five-hundred-year-old Spanish ship resides with an alien spaceship parked right next to it.After the first act of Top Line, a lot of guests show up at the party: the CIA, the KGB, a cyborg, Angelo's ex-wife, and of course, aliens. Ted Angelo's not having a very good time while uncovering a vast world-wide conspiracy, but Franco Nero is obviously having a splendid time in his role. After exiting the cave, Angelo comes back to his hotel, where he is greeted by two unwelcome guests, who have just finished rummaging his room. An exciting foot-chase sequence plays out, with Kennedy's Holzmann leading the pursuit. Angelo barely escapes into the arms of Professor Kintero's assistant, June (Deborah Moore), who accompanies Nero for the remainder of the film, as his confidant in his quest to uncover the conspiracy and as his burgeoning love interest. Watching Nero guzzle his booze and relay his alien theory, quickly like an excited child, is hilarious ("Hey, this is no bullshit."). The only thing really driving the incredulous story line is Nero's sincerity as Angelo. Franco Nero is a fantastic and legendary Italian actor. Some of my favorite Nero performances are in Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966) and Companeros (1970); Enzo G. Castellari's High Crime (1973) and Street Law (1974); Pasquale Festa Campanile's Hitch Hike (1977); and Menahem Golan's Enter the Ninja (1981). Mary Stavin's performance is pretty sweet, as her character becomes quite an unexpected surprise. Stavin was previously in Fred Dekker-scripted, Steve Miner's fun House (1986) and subsequently appeared in Bruno Mattei's powerhouse actioners, Strike Commando 2 (1988) and Born to Fight (1989), both alongside Brent Huff. Berger and Moore's performances are quite good too.
Finally, praise needs to be sung to Top Line's unsung hero, Nello Rossati, in one of his most unsung films. Rossati's film isn't filled with a bunch of signature and showy shots but instead, the whole film shines with a slick, commercial gloss, regardless of its budget. Rossati also possesses one of the few traits that many film makers never had and that many have lost touch with today: knowing when to loosen up and have fun. The addition of the Terminator-like cyborg showing up near the end is totally unnecessary to the plot, but its inclusion is totally necessary to Top Line's overall sense of fun. It's almost as if Rossati perfectly knows how to moderate his film's ridiculousness and excessiveness (however, exceeding those limits is often okay, too). Top Line is a terrific Italian 80s genre picture. Seek it out.


Samuel Wilson said...

Hans, I'd never heard of this one before, but it looks like something I should see. Nero is nearly always interesting to watch. Thanks for the tip.

Tower Farm said...

Wow...this movie sounds SOOOO all over the place. Anything that randomly has a cyborg showing up is destined to be good. And you can't go wrong with George Kennedy.
I'll keep my eyes out for this one!

Mr.LargePackage said...

Hans, when the terminator-like cyborg shows up at the end, did he or she say "Advantage: Putman"? If the cyborg did, that would be large and in charge.