Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stelvio Massi's Mark il poliziotto (1975)

Franco Gasparri is Inspector Mark Terzi, a narcotics officer who works in Milan. Mark knows the streets and its inhabitants, like the drug addicts, the thieves, and the drug peddlers, very well; and knows what is fueling the street crime is not coming from within. A well-organized, well-connected, and well-financed syndicate is bringing the drugs into Milan, and Mark has targeted wealthy and influential businessman, Benzi (Lee J. Cobb), as the source. Lacking any evidence at all connecting Benzi to the Milan drug trade, "Mark the Narc" is not deterred: bureaucracy, corruption, and procedural laws might get in his way, but Mark has his good looks, determination, and his .44 Magnum. Cue Stelvio Cipriani's funky jazz score in Stelvio Massi's Mark il poliziotto (1975).
Mark il poliziotto is Stelvio Massi's second poliziesco following Squadra volante (1974) and has an interesting commercial genesis. "I said, 'Why not make a film with Franco Gasparri?'" says Massi. "He [presumably this is producer, Pietro Bregni at P.A.C. who financed all of the Mark films (Italia Calibro 9, same reference as later in this paragraph)] said: 'No, who'd go and see it?'" Massi continues, "'Look, there's fifteen million picture stories sold a month. If we make it and the girls go and see how he moves--because he is static in the picture stories--maybe it'll work.' We started work two days later." (Massi's quote is taken from an interview included as a supplement on the No Shame DVD of Squadra volante.) Federico Patrizi and Emanuele Cotumaccio, authors of Italia Calibro 9, write: "Mark il poliziotto e il secondo poliziesco di Massi, interpretato da Franco Gasparri, idolo dei fotoromanzi ‘Lancio’ (quindici milioni di lettori al mese!). Amarcord racconta il pessimismo del regista all’epoca: ‘Allora con la P.A.C. facemmo due calcoli: diciamo che al cinema non vengono quindici milioni di persone senno fai questo film e ti sistemi per tutta la vita, nemmeno cinque, nemmeno la meta… diciamo la meta della meta. Aho… so venuti al cinema…!’” (p. 85, Mondo Ignoto S.R.L. and Profondo Rosso S.A.S., Rome, Italy: 2001.) Despite having made a few films prior to Mark il poliziotto, Franco Gasparri was famous as an idol in fotoromanzi (the "picture stories," e.g. magazines. There are examples with photos of both the covers and inside pages located in the "foto" section at this site.); and seemingly Massi and P.A.C. were hoping to tap into Gasparri's strong and commercially-solid fanbase.Unsurprisingly, extremely-handsome Gasparri is both focal with Massi's camera and with the narrative (from a screenplay by legendary Dardano Sacchetti, from his story with Massi, Raniero di Giovanbattista, and Adriano Bolzoni). Superficially, Gasparri's Mark the Narc character seems a hybrid of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and Al Pacino's Serpico. One can see, beyond Dirty Harry's weapon of choice, the .44 Magnum, that Mark shares Dirty Harry's style of police investigation: warrants, evidence, and criminal procedural rules are obstacles. Intuitively, Mark, like Dirty Harry, knows the criminals are adhering to no rules themselves, so the only way to stop them is adhere to no rules to capture (or kill) them. Pacino's Serpico character (and Pacino's performance) is timeless and wonderfully complex and rich. Gasparri's Mark adopts Serpico's attitude towards police work with his appearance: like Serpico, Mark's hair and clothes match the youthful culture in which he works (which his boss, also, dislikes). Mark is also quite the ladies' man and in a more overt nod to Pacino's policeman, Mark has an extremely large pet dog, named Whiskey. Again, these are superficial comparisons, but Gasparri's character in Mark il poliziotto is only slightly deeper than his glossy photos. (Although Gasparri's Mark drives Sacchetti's script, his character is a vehicle which advances the plot. The character's actions do not create his own consequences and results which create the story. In other words, hero and villain are going to confront each other in the final act.) Considering the film's commercial genesis, some depth to Mark's character comes with his doomed romance with drug-addicted Irene (Sara Sperati). Mark shows pity on Irene at a crime scene where Mark and his straight-laced partner, Bonetti (Giampiero Albertini), find a dead body from a known figure in the drug trade. Appearances of his death lead to an overdose of heroin, but Mark believes it is a cover up for murder. Irene is a drug addict, also, and she floats around in the drug scene, frequently a target for men who sleep with her in exchange for drugs. Mark takes her to his apartment and calls a doctor to help her dry out. When she recovers, Mark sends her on her way, knowing more than likely, Irene is going to use again and hit the streets. This point is emphasized when Mark gives her a some money for a meal when the two separate: Irene refuses the money, because it is too tempting to go and use. She expresses a willingness to quit. Mark tells her to take it anyway, as he has little faith that she's genuine. The two reunite again after Irene has gone quite a few days without using (and the viewer sees in scenes that Irene is having a tough time, as no one wants to help her recover, including her mother). Eventually Irene's character becomes an essential plot device in Mark's investigation and Sacchetti's screenplay and Sperati's character yields to it.
Franco Gasparri is not only handsome but extremely charismatic. Massi does not spare the close-ups on his actor. "He was a real treasure," says Massi, "truly incredible. Apart from his good looks there were crowds of girls wherever he went. In Genoa they filled the piazza. And he was good, serious, and polite..." (taken from the Massi interview from the No Shame DVD of Squadra volante). The story of Mark il poliziotto does little to taint Gasparri's image: by far not a violent film (just compared to Massi's previous poliziesco) nor does it have a gritty depiction of street life nor a truly socially-critical message (despite the serious subject matter). Mark il poliziotto is the portrait of a young, good-looking, defiant cop who, no doubt, is relatable to the youthful audience to which the film was aimed. Likewise, there's a youthful energy to Mark il poliziotto and wherein lies its fun. Most of the adults (e.g. specifically the much older men) are depicted as money-driven, hollow, souless people. Lee J. Cobb's Benzi (whose casting was a real coup d'etat. The legendary American actor brings an amazing amount of professionalism to his role. He dubs himself in the English version and gives a great performance) is a strong example. Benzi sits in his palatial mansion one late evening going over paperwork. His wife is doing a crossword puzzle. Gasparri's Mark plays a prank on Benzi by calling him and playing a tape-recorded message of gunshots. Benzi doesn't care: he has too many important figures, including the police, on his payroll. He cannot be bothered with small-time cops or, for that matter, enjoy time in his house, doing something light and fun with his wife. Sacchetti's script does have some clever sequences, such as when Bonetti and Terzi go to see an importer/exporter (involved in the syndicate) and question him. The import/export business involves goods like small trinkets and toys. Bonetti picks up a toy police car and asks the businessman, "How much for this?" "You can have it," says the businessman, "for very little." "No thanks," says Bonetti. Very nice joke on corruption. Likewise, Massi's camerawork creates a very handsome production with Mark il poliziotto. "Technique's what helped me more than anything else," says Massi, "because I'd been an assistant and... And then an advantage I perhaps had was to be able to take the screenplay and slowly change it to my viewpoint. It was nothing extraordinary but that was it." (taken from the Massi interview on the No Shame DVD Squadra volante supplement.) Mimicking his own humility towards his artistic craft, Massi's style in Mark il poliziotto is elegantly simple and organic: no flashy compositions to compete either with Gasparri or the screenplay. Massi's desire is to make an entertaining action film and he delivers. Mark il poliziotto was phenomenally popular with filmgoers: "Il film costo 208 milioni, e ad un mese dall'uscita aveva gia incassato oltre due miliardi." (taken from Italia Calibro 9, same reference as above.) Massi would helm two sequels with Gasparri, Mark il poliziotto spara per primo (1975) and Mark colpisce ancora (1976) (with coverage of the two here soon).


Samuel Wilson said...

Fascinating! The only comparison I can imagine from the U.S. would be starring Fabio in a dramatic film, though the results in the Italian case probably turned out better than I can possibly imagine in Fabio's.

Hans A. said...

Ha, ha! That's a good one, Samuel. I think Fabio's a tad old. Perhaps a younger fashion model may be more akin to Gasparri. Have a good one.

Gideon Strumpet said...

Nice work! I love Cipriani's score for this film, in fact I posted about Cipriani earlier today, including a nod to his work for this film.

Hans A. said...

Thanks Gideon. Cipriani's score is one of my favorite aspects of the film. I read your post and thought it was great. Appreciate it when you visit and talk about the great composers!