Friday, October 12, 2012

This Film Puts the 'Ass' in 'Assassins': "Season for Assassins" (1975)

Joe Dallesandro and his gang of annoying juvenile delinquents take on police commissioner Martin Balsam and his understaffed police force. Bored, yet?

Pierro (Joe Dallesandro) is a real sociopath. He has a former hooker wife and a sick baby at home, but he is always hanging out with his gang of ne'er-do-wells. The gang participates in random acts of violence, and the occasional small time burglary for the local crime lord. Sure, we all want something out of life, and Pierro has dreams. Big illegal dreams. He wants to score a big time burglary for the local crime lord. The police commissioner Castroni or Petroni, I could never understand the pronunciation of his name, is played by Martin Balsam. The commish's hands are tied when it comes to the gang, he always seems to find an excuse to reluctantly let a gang member go on the flimsiest of technicalities.

There are two people trying to change Pierro for the better. Father Eugenio (Rossano Brazzi, a long way from "South Pacific") takes care of Pierro's father in an asylum, and admonishes the vile gang of hoodlums with stern looks, quick forgiveness, and rousing games of checkers. Shy virgin Sandra (Cinzia Mambretti) is intrigued by Pierro, and falls in love with him.

The gang's rather clever burgling of an apartment gets them a job robbing a jewelry store owner. The police are there, tipped off, and one gang member is shot. The rest of the gang escapes, since the film makes it obvious that the Italian police are the world's worst pursuers. Pierro's life begins to really unravel when Father Eugenio is attacked by the gang, Pierro's wife starts selling her junk on the street corner, Sandra is pregos, and Pierro decides to kill whomever squealed info to the police, all while Castroni/Petroni sulks in his office and yells at underlings.

I am no lawyer, or cop, but I would imagine the Rome police are a little more equipped at handling crime than this film would have you believe. The gang assaults, rapes, kills, and even pees in public, but the only time the police show up involves cop cars careening down embankments and smashing into parked vehicles, radioing HQ that "we lost them." Is Pierro our hero? The majority of the film dwells on his degenerate life, making me wonder why the screenwriters found him so fascinating. Balsam's Castroni/Petroni is nothing but a frustration. Of course, no one wants a dirty cop fabricating evidence to hold a suspected criminal, but the police commissioner plays catch and release so often you would expect fishing licenses to be involved. The action scenes are also grinding, no one has filmed a really good chase scene involving tiny harmless little European cars except for the makers of "The Italian Job." The film was shot in Italian and dubbed into English, which explains many a failed scene due to bad translation (the HAM radio scene with French language and Italian subtitles) and the nonsensical English name of the film (what assassins?).

"Season for Assassins" was released on videotape in the mid-1980's, when thousands of bad movies flooded the marketplace to keep up with consumer demand. I doubt you will be seeing a restored print debuting at the Venice Film Festival any time soon. (*) out of five stars.