Joshua Reviews Umberto Lenzi’s Gang War In Milan [Blu-ray Review]


Over the last few years, the world of genre cinema has become not only one of the most popular types of film in mainstream audiences, but has seen a boost on the home video scene thanks to niche and boutique labels taking to some unsung gems within genre cinema. Be it Criterion picking up some beloved masterpieces like Scanners, or Shout Factory sub-label Scream Factory ostensibly building their brand on giving breathtaking transfers to films you’d never assumed “deserved” them, or even existed in the first place.

However, few labels have been as interested in world genre film quite like Kino bunk-mate Raro Video. With films like Fernando Di Leo’s Shoot First, Die Later and a cavalcade of other underrated classics, many of which make their domestic home video debut with their respective releases, the company has become the go to brand for film nerds with an interest in the world of world genre cinema.

And their latest release may be one of their most interesting yet.

From director Umberto Lenzi comes Gang War In Milan, a perfectly and beautifully titled gem of a crime thriller, making its Blu-ray debut with this solid Raro release. From 1973, this Italian poliziottesco picture stars Antonio Sabato as a local pimp Salvatore Cangemi who, one night, finds his “top girl” dead in a pool. Now, what looks like a picture that starts as a true crime picture quickly turns into a film more resembling its title, when a fellow gang leader known as “The Captain” makes an offer to Cangemi for his girls to hustle his drugs. When he denies the offer, the film spirals down into what is best described as a series of set pieces where the two central gangs become hell bent on one upping, and ultimately offing, the other.

The film’s strong suit here, in the fact that it’s a far cry thematically like many of this era’s genre pictures (it lacks the sociological relevance that many of the poliziottesco pictures from this era), is its direction. Lenzi is one of the more notable Italian genre filmmakers, primarily for his work in the horror genre, but with 10 films made during the ‘70s in this genre, he’s one of the most important Italian genre directors of his time. With this film, he’s at the height of his cinematic powers, taking the gorgeous photography from Lamberto Caimi and really using the widescreen format to its absolute peak. Looking like pop art tableaus, each frame here screams ‘70s mod design and really pairs well with the brutally shot action setpieces. Those very set pieces are wonderfully staged and choreographed, and with a script chock full of humor and a few brief moments of shockingly biting social commentary, the film here is one of the more intriguing, if slight, genre classics you’ll find. There are a few frames here in particular, like one during a torture sequence involving the blocking of the frame by a fallen chair, that make this film as intriguing to actively watch as any picture from this time period.

Acting wise, the film is admittedly standard. Sabato is an absolute scene stealer here as our lead, Cangemi, whose mixture of brash playboy charm and off the hinges temper really makes him an interesting character to watch fall apart. Other names like Philippe Leroy, Tano Cimarosa and Mirsa Mell join the film, but again it’s not necessarily an acting showcase as much as it is an experiment in style and genre tropes.

The structure here is what will ultimately leave most talking. As mentioned above, the film’s main thrust is launched in the opening sequences, involving the discovery of a dead body in a pool. Now, while most pictures would strive to find out who did the crime, that’s discovered almost in the next frame, instead finding this film the rare case of a title that doesn’t actually lie. Ostensibly about two warring gangs one upping one another, the film is a rocket of a picture, never really slowing down to allow the viewer to catch his or her breath. Now, while the treatment of women here on the other hand will have viewers eye rolling, if one can get passed that, this is a bombastic and action packed thriller that is truly a must-see gem of world cinema. Genre hounds will have a field day.

And then there’s the new Blu-ray. Led by a gorgeous new transfer that highlights both the photography from Caimi and the beautiful score from Carl Rustichelli, the film is rather light on supplements. There is an introduction by scholar Mike Malloy that hints at the film’s rushed nature and misogynistic tone, while also hinting at what would be a lively career in the world of Eurocrime cinema from Lenzi, but that’s really about it. This is one that’s for the genre hounds only, but for those looking to be introduced to the world of Eurocrime, there are few better places to start.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.