“Why is it when I’m with you I always end up in the middle of blood and violence?”
“Well it happens the whole city is full of blood and violence. You only see it when you’re with me.”
Violent City (originally titled Città Violenta and also known as The Family) has an interesting pedigree. It was a 1970 Italian production filmed in the United States, directed by Sergio Sollima — an Italian director well-known for his spaghetti westerns, co-written by Italian director/writer Lina Wertmüller, and starring American actors Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas along with British actress Jill Ireland. The film has been generally lost amidst the many titles that Charles Bronson appeared in and in fact was but a marginal success upon its release.
Perhaps seeking to capitalize upon the film’s directorial connection to its Spaghetti Western Collection, Anchor Bay has now released Violent City in a pleasing DVD presentation.
Following a car chase and bloody shoot-out in the Virgin Islands that first leaves him for dead and then finds him arrested, professional hit-man Jeff manages to get released with the aid of lawyer Steve and then tracks the shooter and his double-crossing mistress Vanessa to New Orleans. Jeff is able to exact revenge and regain Vanessa, but in so doing he arouses the interest of local crime boss Al Weber who seeks to have Jeff join his organization. Jeff, being fiercely independent, refuses and is soon on the run from Weber and his men. Lawyer Steve provides a sympathetic ear for Jeff but it becomes apparent that Steve has his own agenda as far as Weber’s organization is concerned. The stage is set for an exciting resolution of a three-sided power struggle.
Charles Bronson was always an unlikely candidate for film stardom. With his rather sad look and angular features, he seemed assured of success in character roles and indeed that was the case for his first 15 years in films, beginning in 1951. Gradually his profile grew with roles in such popular action titles as The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Then he gained the lead role in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) and in the early 1970s appeared in a series of hits that elevated him to stardom at age 50. Among the successes were Chato’s Land (1972), The Valachi Papers (1972), Death Wish (1974), and Hard Times (1975). Coming near the beginning of this cycle was Violent City, and in many ways it contained the prototypical Bronson role — a criminal with an air of independence and conscience which elevates him from the rest of the mob, a person wronged who must seek revenge and whom the audience identifies with despite the basic shadiness of his character, and a man of few words who lets his actions speak for him.
The film is basically a by-the-numbers exercise but with something of a twist at the end. There is plenty of action with a copious number of murders as Bronson gets to heft quite a collection of guns and rifles. For those who enjoy Bronson’s work, I think you will find Violent City a satisfactory time-passer. Director Sergio Sollima does a good job of showcasing locations in New Orleans and surrounding areas, and the film benefits from a haunting score by Ennio Morricone. If you don’t like Bronson though, there’s no one else in the cast to recommend the film. Telly Savalas’s role as Weber is short compared to Bronson’s, and he does nothing with it to make his character memorable. Jill Ireland offers some appalling work in her role as Bronson’s mistress Vanessa. Umberto Orsini’s portrayal of lawyer Steve is on a par with the cheesy efforts of guys in suits with stringy moustaches in porn films.
Anchor Bay has done a nice job with its DVD release of Violent City. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer preserving the original Techniscope ratio is admirably clean and sharp. Colour fidelity is first-rate and shadow detail is very good. Edge enhancement is not a concern.
The disc contains Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio tracks in each of English, Italian, and French. The English track provides an acceptable presentation of the film. Dialogue is clear and volume levels are consistent throughout. Some dialogue is presented in Italian with English subtitles for sequences previously omitted from English language releases. The action sequences sound fine although obviously they lack the presence and pizzazz of a more modern mix. Morricone’s score is nicely conveyed although it suffers somewhat from the lack of the enveloping nature of a good surround track.
For its supplement package on this DVD, Anchor Bay has produced a featurette entitled “Shooting Violent City,” which is essentially a 15-minute interview with director Sergio Sollima. Sollima’s comments do fill in the production background to the film nicely. He’s certainly not shy about tooting his own horn in regard to some of the decisions that were made concerning the script and location shooting.
Included also are a theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery consisting of almost three dozen images, admirably complete cast and crew biographies/filmographies, and a reproduction of the film’s original Italian poster on one side of the disc insert sheet.
Violent City is basically a Charles Bronson film and if you’re a fan of his, you should enjoy it. It’s not among his best titles, but it is a good workmanlike effort that benefits from its director’s fresh take on filming in the New Orleans area and a memorable score by Ennio Morricone. On the other hand, be forewarned that Bronson’s acting for all its wooden nature is better than anyone else’s efforts in the film. Anchor Bay provides a strong DVD presentation.