Home Video Hovel: Meet Him and Die, by West Anthony
Sometimes, another country can take an American film genre and turn it on its head; think of what John Woo did for crime pictures in the 1990’s. Of course, you can also get films like Franco Prosperi’s Meet Him And Die, a 1976 Italian crime movie that outdoes its US counterparts only in terms of lurid melodrama and gratuitous sex and violence. But if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place, because Meet Him And Die plays like a go-for-broke grade-Z noir from Poverty Row with flared trousers. From the creaky dialogue that would have Samuel Fuller reaching for a red pencil to the down-and-dirty, haphazard-looking action sequences, this film is cheese all the way, but it’s the kind of cheese that action fans get a hankering for now and then. The film has been restored and released in a spiffy new Blu-ray presentation with about as good a picture quality as you’re going to get from a cheaply-made 70’s Eurocrime movie, as well as a choice between an Italian dialogue track with subtitles or an English dub. There’s also a somewhat brief intro to the film by Eurocrime documentary filmmaker Mike Malloy, but if you bought the thing, you probably don’t need him to sell you on it.
Ray Lovelock (who co-starred the same year in another Italian crime picture, the inelegantly-named Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man — See? Cheese ahoy) stars as Massimo, a seemingly unlucky thief who is really an undercover cop going after crime boss Giulianelli, played by the reliable Yankee character actor Martin Balsam. Massimo infiltrates the criminal gang, naturally plunging everyone around him into chaos and violence, but our antihero also has a secret motive for taking on his dangerous assignment… a motive for VENGEANCE! What Lovelock lacks in acting chops he makes up for in blonde surfer-boy looks and an almost too-casual insouciance that is reflected in the film’s incongruous BJ Thomas-esque 70’s singer-songwritery theme song, a far cry from Don Ellis’ atonal blasts of brass in The French Connection or Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy scores for films like Bullitt and Dirty Harry. Lovelock gets to fool around with Euro-bombshell Elke Sommer when he isn’t busting heads, but she isn’t given much to do otherwise; same with Balsam, who isn’t bad in his role — it’s just badly written so that it’s practically a cameo. Like many American actors who worked in Italian films back then, Balsam delivered his lines in English and had all his dialogue dubbed by an Italian actor; if you turn on the English dub track you can hear his real voice.
Let’s go back to Bullitt for a moment. Meet Him And Die is certainly making a valiant effort at measuring up to what I refer to as producer Philip D’Antoni’s gritty Car Chase Trilogy: the aforementioned Bullitt and The French Connection, as well as 1973’s The Seven Ups, directed by D’Antoni himself in the delusional haze that can only come from winning an Oscar (ironically, while The Seven Ups is the weakest of the three, it also has the best car chase). Prosperi wants his film to measure up to his American counterparts, but, given the obvious limitations of his budget, it is unlikely at best. One can detect echoes of these and other American crime films of the early-to-mid-70’s, but what it boils down to is this: should you watch this film wringing your hands over what it isn’t or sit back and enjoy it for what it is?
I say the lo-fi cheesiness of the film is very much its own reward: the B-movie plotting and dialogue, as well as occasionally clumsy stuntwork that includes a brunette stuntman for a blonde hero, lends Meet Him And Die a scruffy, almost homemade charm that must have inspired filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez to throw his measly seven grand into the ring and come up with his own no-budget action epic El Mariachi (and who can say that Rodriguez’s own lo-fi aesthetic hasn’t stood him in good stead over the years?). Prosperi’s compliment to Hollywood genre filmmaking has, it would seem, been returned by another generation of filmmakers who were smitten by his efforts and those of his fellow Italian Eurocrime auteurs. Because sometimes, another country can take an American film genre and turn it into a genre all their own.