Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
Silvio Narizzano was never going to direct a masterpiece but, at his peak, neither could
he be branded a maker of films that bored the viewer. Confusion, curiosity, vitality,
silliness, the oddball and duff social messages, a buckshot discharge, to be dodged,
to be struck by, no single scene could one relax with. None too surprisingly, he did
turn out the occasional film that was to develop a cult audience, and Georgy Girl
(1966) is one of the most revisited. If I once took to The Class Of Miss MacMichael
(1978) it had more to do with the mildly shocking secondary school mischief and how it
potentially reflected my ongoing school life, striking a comparison between the misfits
from the fictional against those in my fourth and fifth years at Holy Cross R.C. High.
His films are characterised by miscasting, by sporadic excesses and a dismissive attitude
towards conventional paradigm and structure, and an unreality and unexpectedness, an
escalation of the incidental that pushed it outside the radius of the believable.
Disturbed characters populate his films and there can be none crazier than Memphis (Telly Savalas), the lead desperado in Redneck (aka: Senza Ragione) his 1973 UK-Italian co-production, murderous and unpredictable, a visitor from the American South who screws up a jewel heist, gunning the shop owner down. Action is followed by more action as the getaway car takes us on a thrill ride through streets lined with evocative Italian frontages, exchanging vehicles and inadvertently picking up a stray, Lennox Duncan (Mark Lester) the spoilt brat of a very wealthy couple. A nationwide manhunt is on and, as obvious as they are together, they evade capture right up until the border. Memphis' companions in crime are Mosquito (Franco Nero) and Maria (Ely Galleani), a loser and his prostitute girl, who strangely respect and naturally fear him respectively.
Memphis is insane, never stops talking and strutting, and, bizarrely, the second he kills or starts killing (because, as Hitchcock first informed filmgoers, neither killing someone or dying are easy) he begins to blame someone else, be it the victim, the captor or a cohort, anyone but himself. Memphis might even, once the murderous deed is irreversible, try and prevent the completion of the killing. As a German family are bundled back into their caravan the boy Lennox tries to alert them to his captive status and counts as disobedience enough for Memphis to disconnect the caravan from the car and allow it roll down into the lake. Memphis tries to slow the escaping caravan down but big fellow that he is the caravan wins dragging him by the seat of his pants down to the water. Memphis ends up with a ripped up arse if not worse as a result and still pursues the sinking caravan into the lake. His self-harm is the convincer that he is not playing up on the blaming of others.
Redneck is organised chaos. It contains many peculiar episodes and touches. When Lennox does a runner the trio chase him around a field, the boy giving Memphis a kick in the groin. A shepherd boy witnessing the activity also makes a dash for it, across an old viaduct, Memphis taking aim and shooting him down, in a dramatic shot the boy collapsing dead and dropping to the floor on the other side of the bridge. The chase of the first boy, the rich man's son, is set to highly playful music that is cut off abruptly for the killing of the peasant boy. It is a successfully introduced shock, a difficult to gauge moment, particularly as the film never stops moving or doing. The villains are a ragbag of the stupid and the unimaginative, but still our director tries to make something heroic and good of Mosquito. You are not allowed to call it a road movie because they leave their last stolen vehicle halfway through the film.
I will always add additional merit to a movie set in a foreign land that retains the indigenous language, as it should when the locals are overheard or cut to. The leading characters being fronted by the deranged American and the English boy ensures that the conversations in close company are in English, Mosquito reverting to Italian when necessary, though if a scene is extended it soon finds an excuse to turn back over to the English. At least it tried. The German family speak only in German, and when their bodies are found it is reported back to the station in Italian: "Madre, padre, tre bambine, tutte morte." The film is consistently unusual, that is consistent in its inconsistency. The story cuts from the green, scenic murder of the German family to the white snowy mountains of the final chapter. You are thrown at every turn of the odd journey. Neither are you certain who is going to side with whom. The boy is spoilt but hardly loved and when the car is stolen the mother (Beatrice Clary) is more concerned about her stolen fur coat than she is for her boy. So it is of no surprise that the loveless boy should try and become the compassionate Mosquito and the killer Memphis in one, his new guardians, his new parents, good or bad, they have emotions, something his parents appear to have a deficiency of. By the time this happens Maria has been disposed of, by Memphis, apparently also incapable of a sex attack without killing.
It is well filmed and edited and the transfer is good though on the GMVS DVD there is no chapter menu. The quality of the image is surprisingly good for a GMVS release, and in something closely approximating the original widescreen, it only becomes lost in the poorly lit night scenes once or twice in the film's 84 minute duration, blurry in the dark. Its major false move is to stick a naked Franco Nero in the room with the underage Mark Lester and then later slowly film the boy undress as he mimics him. Then I remember that in The Class Of Miss MacMichael Narizzano had a boy flasher in a running joke that culminates in the child justly dealt by with a mousetrap to the genitals. Putting children in awkward positions might be a motif of his to be suspicious of.
The boy Lester is his usual untalented self, a pipsqueak bringing a short and perverse film career to a close. Throughout the 1970s Ely Galleani appeared in a number of exciting and sexy Italian exploitation films, sometimes as Edy or Justine Gall. Among those films were Mario Bava's Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970), Lucio Fulci's Lizard In A Woman's Skin (1970) and Corrado Farina's the stylish Baba Yaga, Devil Witch (1973).
Telly Savalas is embarrassing in his overplaying of the role of Memphis with a deeply affected Southern drawl and Harlem body language, like some dreadful mockery of a blaxploitation villain. If Telly ever caught the dailies and realised how preposterous he looked then it was obviously far too late to redress it. There is none of the legendary cool and his role in The Dirty Dozen (1967) can only hint at how far he goes in Redneck, though that earlier role might have been the reason for the character's creation or his casting. Franco Nero plays second idiot, an inept simpleton who never quite realises his predicament until it is far too late. Nero is immensely talented and daring and pulls off the trick of amiable daftness. Throughout the 1970s he challenged the expected heroic image his good looks granted him by picking roles lying the furthest away from type be it the scowling alcoholic reporter of Luigi Bazzoni's meandering The Fifth Cord (1971) or the perpetually terrified crime victim that maintains a clumsy frightened condition throughout his subsequent vigilantism in Enzo G. Castelleri's best film The Anonymous Avenger (1974). For Franco Nero, Redneck, to some extent, plays like a rehearsal for Pasquale Festa Campanile's Autostop Rosso Sangue (1977), released to UK cinemas as Death Drive and currently available from Anchor Bay on DVD. Only with the Narizzano film it is a more interesting, curious and adventurous first take. Originally a sick fuck movie with an inarguable X rating, Redneck has been granted a 15 for video today, though it is still an edgy film that will age you by an extra crease in your brow by the end of viewing. Being on the GMVS label, this is commonly available for one of our English golden nuggets in selected quid shops. For that, with this, you really cannot go wrong.