Pronto ad uccidere (Risking) (1976) has a simple yet confusing narrative. The director, Franco Prosperi, and the four screenwriters, Peter Berling, Antonio Cucca, Claudio Fragasso, and Alberto Marras may be praised for creating a story which cleverly "blurs the lines" with their characters' motivations or may be chastised for being somewhat lazy with their characterizations. In between the clever or lazy bits, Risking is a standard police thriller with a few standout sequences.
Ray Lovelock is Massimo Torlani who lives with his disabled mother. One morning, after coffee, he kisses her on the cheek goodbye. With ski mask and machine pistol in his possession, Massimo attempts a daylight jewelry store heist and fucks it up very badly. Within seconds, his heist fails and the police arrive. Massimo takes a hostage and attempts to flee the scene but is subdued by the police's karate master. Now in a Roman jail, Massimo meets Giulianelli (Martin Balsam), a respected crime boss doing hard time and running the prison. Massimo earns his respect by beating down Bavoso in the yard. Not long after his arrival, Massimo is visited in jail by his "attorney," who actually turns out to be Commissioner Sacchi (Riccardo Cucciolla). Lovelock's character is a cop, and it seems getting Massimo into the prison was a ruse. Sacchi works to get Giulianelli and Massimo into the same cell, and Massimo earns his trust. They bust out, and now Massimo must stop Giulianelli and his drug ring...
Or get revenge. Massimo’s mother was put in a wheelchair by a shotgun blast to her back from a gun wielded by one of the syndicate’s henchmen. Commissioner Sacchi wants Massimo to keep focus and not let his anger hamper his investigation.
The events of the first act of Risking are cast in a new complexion after the first dialogue between Sacchi and Massimo. I especially wondered why Massimo didn’t see the police karate master coming during the botched heist. This is one of the big “twists” within Risking, and this type of narrative and character trickery is common throughout. Martin Balsam as Giulianelli is so cool during every scene, even when he takes a bullet from a rival gangster, that I often wondered if Giulianelli knew who Massimo really was and was manipulating his character for his own ends. The ending of the film supports this thesis. When Elke Sommer appears in Risking as the secretary for drug supplier, Perrone (Ettore Manni), she immediately captures both Lovelock’s character and the viewer’s attention. She flirts with Massimo only to rebuff him. Within hours later, Sommer’s character is in Massimo’s hotel room, ready for some loving. Massimo finds a pistol in her purse. Who is she really? I don’t know. What’s going on?
I like being effectively manipulated while watching cinema. However, when narrative and character twists become common, not only do they become predictable, they become distracting. I’m not the type of viewer who demands supreme closure and absolute resolution to any film’s narrative or their character arcs. I’m pretty cool with keeping things loose, but Risking feels way too contrived and poorly-constructed at the same time. It’s as if Prosperi and company had good ideas and filmed those good ideas as scenes, but when some sort of transitional scene or some revelational moment came in Risking, Prosperi and company became lazy and made some ridiculous shit up to move the film along. Risking ends with myriad loose ends, and those loose ends were never tied to anything firmly-rooted.
This is a pity, because despite its flaws and standard construction, Risking has some fantastic sequences. I love the prison yard brawl between hulking Bavoso and Lovelock. Lovelock’s character mimics a matador as he beats down Bavoso who is wearing an appropriate red muscle shirt complete with hairy back and arms. In the third act of Risking, there is a truck hijacking-cum-chase sequence which sees Lovelock’s character take many a dangerous tumble (mostly on motorcycle). Like most 1970s cinema, the stunts all appear genuine and dangerous, and some of those stunts during the truck sequence were exhilarating for me to watch yet potentially fatal for its participants. Risking has brutal and graphic and sadistic shootouts and ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious sequences. For example, Massimo and one of his criminal associates are walking down the street. A uniformed police officer recognizes Massimo and yells “Hello!” Lovelock has to give the officer a quick and brutal punch to the face to maintain his cover. It’s a brutal scene but it also induces a chuckle. Elke Sommer receives little screen time in Risking but is radiant, enigmatic, and charismatic in her role. She and Lovelock have fantastic chemistry in few scenes, and perhaps in retrospect, Risking should have been built around them. Oh, well. Martin Balsam is one of the best American actors and gives another excellent performance as Giulianelli. Balsam and Sommer certainly elevate Risking from complete obscurity. Lovelock is so good-looking and so cool that his enthusiastic fans should seek this one out.
Pronto ad uccidere (Risking) is flawed to the point where the flaws are distracting, making subsequent viewings definitely optional. This flick is for fans of Italian genre cinema and its rousing crime cinema.