Saturday, August 8, 2009

Duccio Tessari's Tony Arzenta (1973)

Alain Delon is Tony Arzenta, who in a very well-done opening sequence, kisses his son and wishes him a happy birthday and "many, many more." Arzenta embraces his wife, Anna, and tells her that he has to leave his son's birthday party and go out for a while. At a health spa across town, a disgusting, bearded fat man is groping his lady in the sauna, smacking his henchmen at the bar, and barking orders over the phone. The fat man calls for his henchman, but before the chump can break the threshold, Arzenta has killed the man, as icy and cold as his own stare.
Delon's Arzenta is a hitman in Duccio Tessari's Tony Arzenta (1973), who quickly gets into "a vendetta kind-of mood" after his opening hit. The disgusting, bearded fat man was a crime boss, whose hit was ordered by other syndicate boss, Nick Gusto (Richard Conte). Arzenta tells Gusto that this was his last hit and he wants out of the organization. Gusto gives Arzenta the obligatory mafia answer: once you're in, you can't get out. But Gusto will see what he can do. At a meeting of the syndicate bosses, who are meeting to divvy up the bearded, fat man's territory, Gusto brings up the subject of Arzenta wanting out. The bosses are unanimous: not happening. Kill him. Anna and Arzenta's son soon want to go shopping, but Anna's car won't start. Daddy, is it all right if we take your car? Of course, says Arzenta, and from the window of his apartment, Arzenta watches his wife and young son go up in a ball of flames with the car's explosion. From the iced-over look in Arzenta's eyes, the viewer can tell that his soul went somewhere else and was replaced with the taste for vengeance.
Tony Arzenta is a bona fide, Eurocrime classic, not because of its all-too-familiar plot but for Delon's intense performance and Duccio Tessari's direction, specifically the film's well-orchestrated and exciting action sequences and kills. There are four crime bosses, including Conte's Gusto, who Arzenta is out to kill. For example, after the first boss, Carré (Roger Hanin), berates and beats his beautiful lady, Sandra (Carla Gravina), Carré decides to take a train trip to Hamburg. Delon's Arzenta gets a tip from a beautiful lady on Carré's whereabouts and boards the train. In a fantastic sequence, the daylight train enters a tunnel. Arzenta donning black gloves and a black raincoat looks like death walking down the train corridor. With little movement from his hand, Arzenta ices the bodyguard and stares down Carré, who begs a little bit. Arzenta shoots him in the face and Carré falls through the train window. Unfortunately, Carré's legs get caught in the compartment and his torso and head get bashed on trackside scenery. In the film's coldest hit, Arzenta wakes his victim up from a nice nap in a chair, so he can look Arzenta in the face before he takes a bullet to the forehead.
The most jarring aspect of Tony Arzenta is the most brutal violence is enacted upon women. Carla Gravina's Sandra gets spit on and berated by Carré, only later to have some thugs give her an extremely brutal beatdown. Eurocult titan and sexy siren, Erika Blanc, makes a brief appearance as a prostitute, who Arzenta witnesses receiving a beating in a hallway by her boyfriend. I have no evidence as to whether Tessari and company were enacting their own misogynist views or were delivering sequences for an audience which expected such violence. However, when Domenico, Arzenta's "sidekick," played by Marc Porel, is tortured by the same thugs who beat up Sandra, the violence is pretty sick but nowhere near as graphic and brutal.
My man-crush for actor Alain Delon is only rivalled by my man-crush for Steve McQueen. By the time Delon had appeared in Tony Arzenta, he had already starred in three crime classics by Jean-Pierre Melville: Le Samouraï (1967), Le Cercle Rouge (1970), and Un Flic (1972) (everyone should see these three multiple times). He would subsequently appear in two very underrated French crime films, both directed by Jacques Deray: Le Gang (1977) and super cool, Three Men to Kill (1980), alongside beautiful Dalila Di Lazzaro. Delon's performance in Tony Arzenta is up there with his French crime classics. His trademark icy stares and stoic demeanor are used perfectly by Tessari in this role.Italian genre director, Duccio Tessari, like his contemporaries, made films in multiple genres and his work, today, is perhaps underappreciated. Tessari directed two of the finest Italian Westerns ever made, both with Giuliano Gemma, A Pistol for Ringo (1965) and The Return of Ringo (1965) (both scripted, incidentally, by Fernando di Leo, perhaps the finest director of Italian crime films). Tessari made a terrific giallo in 1971, The Bloodstained Butterfly, before Tony Arzenta. Subsequent to Arzenta, Tessari made the excellent and entertaining Tough Guys (1974), with Lino Ventura, Isaac Hayes, William Berger, and Fred Williamson. Tessari's action choreography, his compositions, and his pacing are all extremely well-done in Arzenta, and arguably, this film is his finest accomplishment as a director.
Finally, Tony Arzenta has some of my all-time favorite music from an Italian genre film (to be fanboy specific, this is an Italo/French production). Gianni Ferrio is credited with the score, and it's an excellent mix of funky and jazzy sounds and used liberally throughout the film. Erika Blanc's brief appearance is welcome and lovely Eurocult legend, Rosalba Neri, appears in the film (at least in the version that I saw) for under a minute. No strangers to European cult cinema, Carla Gravina, Marc Porel, and Richard Conte give excellent supporting performances. A true favorite of European crime cinema which is also a classic. See it.


Mr.LargePackage said...

Vendetta kind of mood? That makes you a cantaloupe. And that is large and in charge.

Neil Fulwood said...

Alain Delon is a freakin' icon! 'Le Samourai' is one of the coolest, sharpest crime movies ever made - not the mention the best hitman movie ever made - and nobody, but nobody could wear a fedora like Delon. If you rate his performance in this film as on par with his work in the Melville classics, then I'm sold.

Samuel Wilson said...

This sounds like a must if it's in the league of the Melville films. Tessari is a known quantity to me thanks to (Three)Tough Guys, so that's another plus. Having Richard Conte around (see also The Violent Professionals) is a bonus.

Hans A. said...

Mr. LP, once again you have one-upped me.

Neil and Samuel, if you're a Delon fan this one is right up your alley. I hope a copy comes across your way. I would really like to hear both of your thoughts on it.

Thnx to all of you for reading and commenting. You don't know how much I appreciate it.