DVD: Contraband / The Smuggler / Luca il contrabbandiere (1980)

July 23, 2015 | By


Contraband1980Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Standard

Label:  Blue Underground

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  August 3, 2004

Genre:  Crime

Synopsis: After Luca’s brother is mowed down by gunfire, the gang’s new leader must convince associates to refute the influence of a sadistic heroine-peddling Frenchman.

Special Features:  Theatrical Trailer / Star & Director Bios.




As much as Contraband is affected by weak dubbing (many of the male voices don’t wholly fit the age of the actors) and a sometimes uneven script with odd bouts of humour, there’s much to admire in this rare non-horror effort by Lucio Fulci, especially the film’s semi docu-drama style, with Sergio Salvati’s loose camerawork trained on grungy Naples locales, and Vincenzo Tomassi’s razor sharp editing which keeps the film’s pacing quite tight.

Fulci was one of four writers credited with the scenario, but it’s a surprisingly cohesive if not fairly generic crime entry in which a local Neapolitan gang fights for survival when a French heroine dealer called the Marseillaise (The French Connection’s Marcel Bozzufi) seeks to not only realign the gang’s distribution of contraband cigarettes to hard drugs, but massacres everyone in sight, leaving just Luca (Fabio Testi) alive for a no-choice deal. The fact the Marseillaise is willing to wipe out his only viable Italian contact is pretty absurd – with no local partner, how’s he going to move product? – but the heavy bodycount just ramps up Luca’s rage until all hell has to break loose.

Fulci’s fixation on sadistic violence is as dominant here as in his horror work, with faces burned off, throats blown out, and intestines sloshing out of freshly excavated tummies, and Luca’s wife is put through a revolting rape by Marseillaise’s scumbag executioner in a sequence that doesn’t really make sense – Why doesn’t Luca just lie and agree to the Frenchman’s terms to save his wife from further brutality? – but it’s part and parcel of this mean-spirited drama that substitutes violence in place of car or street chases.

The dialogue ranges from banal to occasionally witty, and alongside some very black humour there’s a bit of a socialist undercurrent in which the government is chastised for not looking after the poor and being responsible for the 1930s American gangsterism that’s raging through the city. Even though the gangs break laws, they deal in cigarettes and don’t want to upset the local order because it’s clearly bad for business.

Drugs mess up a perfectly functional system where most battles seem to end as stand-offs – both Luca and his brother lose $2 million worth of cigarettes in the film’s opening sequence, but it’s more of s thorn than complete disaster – and seem to bring out the worst in crooks, leaving it up to members of an older class of mobsters to exact a ‘market correction’ by essentially rescuing Luca and his wife at the last minute. (Midway in the film, the veteran don is repeatedly seen watching TV, flipping channels as banal adverts and TVs shows offend his taste buds until a decent spaghetti western pops up.)

Part drama, part black comedy, Contraband has its share of flaws, but what grounds the film is Testi’s strong performance, underplaying his reaction to the mounting brutality but still revealing the inner torment of a good brother transformed into a tool of vengeance when his mentor is massacred and wife is assaulted.

Also of note are some exceptional stuntmen who perform really risky actions – in one stellar sequence, when Luca’s bother is machine-gunned, it’s very clear it’s a person tumbling Homer Simpson-style down a jagged ridge before crashing into the water below – and really intriguing locations, including a ship graveyard, and a city dump smoldering like some underworld hell.

Fabio Frizzi’s score features a strong central urban-pop theme, but it’s often hacked up and repeated throughout the film; besides the weak dubbing, the music edits are very harsh, and in the film’s opening scene, the music often cuts out when there’s English dialogue.

Blue Underground’s DVD features a decent transfer of the uncut Italian version, but what’s needed at this stage is a Blu-ray edition featuring both English and Italian dub tracks with English subs, allowing the original performances to really resonate.

The archived trailer blows all the main money shots, while text bios provide decent profiles of Testi and Fulci, who’d previously worked together on Four of the Apocalypse (1975).

An interview with composer Fabio Frizzi discussing the restoration of the film’s soundtrack is also available.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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