Over a long and wide-ranging career, director Enzo G. Castellari (Keoma, The Inglorious Bastards) helmed some of the most infamous of all the poliziotteschi – the gritty, action-packed crime films that proliferated in Italy throughout the 70s. Buckle up for a heart-stopping thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of Italian society in two of his most celebrated thrillers! In 1976’s The Big Racket, Inspector Nico Palmieri (Fabio Testi, What Have You Done to Solange?) is hot on the heels of a gang of ruthless racketeers. Realizing he’s not going to get anywhere within the confines of the law, Nico recruits a crack squad of civilians to dole out their own brand of justice.
Then, in 1977’s The Heroin Busters, rule-flouting cop Fabio (Testi) goes deep undercover, chasing a globe-trotting ring of drug-smugglers suspected to be operating out of Rome. But can he and Mike Hamilton (David Hemmings, Deep Red), an Interpol agent with a hair-trigger temper, stay one step ahead of the criminals long enough to bring them down from the inside? Featuring death-defying stunts, explosive shoot-outs and a pair of addictive, toe-tapping soundtracks courtesy of the De Angelis brothers (Torso) and legendary prog rock group Goblin (Suspiria), these two films represent the crème de la crème of the Italian crime thriller, both making their high definition debuts with stunning new restorations in this feature-packed box set from Arrow!
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The two films in the Rogue Cops and Racketeers box set make their domestic Blu-Ray debut thanks to Arrow Video with brand new 1080p masters in their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Each film has been restored from their original 35mm camera negatives with a 2K scan completed at L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. By and large these two releases are very similar to one another and will be discussed as a pair with any meaningful differences pointed out.
The only word to describe these presentations is fetching. The careful photography which captures the gritty 70s era of Italy shines in high definition with natural grain intact and nicely resolved. There are moments that spike ever so slightly when it comes to darker scenes, but these moments are fairly brief. The contrast is well defined, and there is virtually no print damage to be found outside a few stray moments such as in the opening moments of The Heroin Busters. There is a tremendous amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing, both in the fancy clothing of some of the antagonists to the more modest street clothing of some of the shop owners.
These new transfers show off a striking amount of depth and enhanced detail, but admittedly the close-up shots hold up better than the long shots and brief optical shots. There are certain elements like smashed up vehicles or gunshot wounds that look quite striking in their clarity. Black levels are very deep with no trace of black crush or compression artifacts. Although, some very minor color temperature fluctuations give certain darker scenes a more milky appearance, but, for the most part, this is not an issue. Arrow Video has done an admirable job with all of these transfers in a way that should make fans who have been waiting for more from this genre extremely happy.
The Big Racket and The Heroin Busters both come with a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mono track in the original Italian with an additional English language option for those who do not care for subtitles. Each of these tracks represents these worlds in a pretty impressive way sonically, but we would suggest sticking with the Italian tracks for the most authentic experience. These films have their dialogue post-looped which results in some loose sync instances that may be annoying to some, but it is a product of this period in filmmaking. These tales mostly take place in busy towns which creates a din of sound that creeps through to provide some excellent ambient details. All of the various sounds in the mix seem accurately rendered so that nothing ever feels artificial. The dialogue itself comes through crystal clear without being crushed by the sound effects or score. There are many powerful moments of gunshots that make an impact without becoming a muddled mess in the ensuing chaos. The memorable music throughout these films brings a very distinct mood to the proceedings that is represented well in the mix. Everything is presented with an excellent fidelity with only the occasional instance of sound presenting as a bit thin or boxy. This presentation is free of any hiss or other age-related wear-and-tear. Arrow Video continues to treat their films with respect.
The Limited Edition Collector’s Set of the Arrow Video Blu-Ray of Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers From Enzo G. Castellari comes beautifully packaged in a hard outer case and includes a 58-page bound book featuring the essays “Viva La Muerte! Enzo G. Castellari’s The Big Racket” by Roberto Curti and “Cops of Two Nations: The Heroin Busters” by Barry Forshaw. These works provide a great analysis of each film and the genre at large in a thoughtfully written style. The package also includes reproductions of lobby cards. The on-disc special features are as follows:
The Big Racket
- Audio Commentary: Film critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint provide a very enlightening commentary track in which they discuss the socio-political mood of Italy at this time, the cynical nature of the feature, the work of Enzo G. Castellari, the dangerous stunts, how this fits into the subgenre, the background of the performers and much more.
- The Years Of Racketeering: A new 30-minute interview with co-writer and director Enzo G. Castellari in which he discusses where he was at in his career before this film, how the film reflected the reality of Italy at the time, his relationship with various creative collaborators, the work of Fabio Testi, shooting on location, his memories of the remainder of the ensemble, the work of his daughter in the film, filming tough scenes, the film’s legacy and more.
- Violent Times: A new 19-minute interview with actor Fabio Testi in which he discusses his early career, getting involved with The Big Racket, tackling films with social issues, his creative process with Castellari, filming the scene where he had to roll in the car, memories of his co-stars, how they lightened the mood on set, the critical reaction of the time and more.
- Angel Face For A Tough Guy: A new 43-minute interview with actor Massimo Vanni in which he talks about his relationship with Castellari, his initial foray into film, stumbling into a real-life robbery, memories of his co-stars, the filming of various action sequences, the process of filming with guns and more.
- King Of Movieola: A new 28-minute interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci in which he discusses getting into the film business, his work as an assistant to Castellari, the stylistic flourishes implemented in The Big Racket like slow-motion, working to make the best film possible on a smaller budget, the most complicated sequences to edit and more.
- The Great Racket: A new 45-minute appreciation piece and career retrospective of composers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon. Jon discusses their early life, why producers flocked to the brothers, the vibe they created in 1970s Italian film, key films they contributed to in their career, the internalized mania of The Big Racket, and more that is worthwhile for any fan of the film.
- Theatrical Trailer: The four-minute trailer is provided here.
- Image Galleries: There are still galleries provided for Posters, Italian Fotobusta, German Lobby Cards and a German Pressbook.
The Heroin Busters
- Audio Commentary: Film critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint provide another entertaining and informative commentary track in which they discuss the state of Italy at this time, the place of dubbing in the culture, the production design, the work of Enzo G. Castellari, the dangerous stunts, how this fits into the subgenre, the background of the performers and much more.
- Endless Pursuit: A new 24-minute interview with co-writer and director Enzo G. Castellari in which he discusses how he settled on making a film about drugs, his discomfort with handling the material, his relationship with Fabio Testi, shooting on location, filming the memorable chase scene, the special effects, the film’s legacy and more.
- Drug Squad: A new 16-minute interview with actor Fabio Testi in which he discusses the state of Italy in the late 1970s, getting involved with The Heroin Busters, the real-life inspirations for the feature, his creative process with Castellari, touring the world with a skeleton crew, the special effects of the film, putting his pilot’s license to good use and more.
- The Drug Dealer: A new 21-minute interview with actor Massimo Vanni in which he talks about his role in The Heroin Busters, his excitement to work with Castellari again, what he wanted to accomplish with his character, the positive atmosphere on the set, some action scenes he filmed with Testi, his memories of the producers and more.
- How They Killed Italian Cinema: A new 20-minute interview with editor Gianfranco Amicucci in which he discusses his work on The Heroin Busters, the difficulty in getting the plane sequence right, the special effects prowess of Castellari, his friendship with the director of photography, the behind-the-scenes disagreements which drove him crazy and more.
- A Cop On The Set: A new 24-minute interview with retired poliziotto and criminologist Nicola Longo in which he discusses how much of The Heroin Busters was based on his real-life cases, the elements that the film got right, his interest in flying planes, how certain situations played out differently in real life and more that is honestly very fascinating.
- The Eardrum Busters A new 39-minute appreciation piece and career retrospective of composers Goblin by musician and disc collector Lovely Jon. Jon discusses their evolving lineup, the influences on their sound, key films they contributed to in their career, the various styles incorporated into The Heroin Busters, and more that is worthwhile for any fan of the group.
- Theatrical Trailer: The nearly four-minute trailer is provided here.
- Image Galleries: There are still galleries provided for Posters, Italian & German Pressbooks, and German & Spanish Lobby Cards.
Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers From Enzo G. Castellari contains a pair of really memorable and pulse-pounding crime dramas that showcases a time when you could only get so far playing by the rules. While The Big Racket may be slightly better than The Heroin Busters, both will have you on the edge of your seat and cackling with delight as the bad guys are dealt a special brand of justice. Enzo G. Castellari showcases an eye for narrative execution that will have you keeping a close eye out for more of his films if he is not already squarely on your radar. Arrow Video has released another can’t-miss box set featuring a nearly 5-star A/V presentation, engrossing special features, and top-notch packaging. Those who appreciate the thrill of a criminal takedown complete with well-executed action sequences should not pass this up. Highly Recommended
Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers From Enzo G. Castellari is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.