Gambling City (La Citta Gioca D'azzardo). by Sergio Martino (1975).
Another day, another European Drama. Not one that firmly sits in any particular Cult genre, although Crime Movies may be such a thing (in their many fractured forms), and not particularly as charming as a result. There are similarities with his Giallo and Polizia movies, but Martino is firmly on over-familiar territory. This Martino movie is hybrid of primarily a Crime Drama and Romance secondly, with all the usual charms of fairly pulp cinema (good looking cast, nice locations, action, a reasonable amount of plot points to keep things going, a little spicy action and some vibrant splashes of red blood), it may sit well within a flow of such movies, but as a standalone experience its' another fairly odd experience. Well crafted, with masterful use of minimal locations and people, overall its saved by its superb presentation on DVD and its masterful Cinematography- it has its saving graces in amount substantial enough to make it an interesting experience in many isolated regards. As a story, it's far too familiar, as an out-of-time experience its strangely surreal and dream-like.
The Story :
Luca Altieri (played by French actor Luc Merenda) is a young and handsome career-criminal. A trickster who skillfully cheats rich card players out of their cash, but one who can also play straight if he wants to or needs to - it just doesn't pay as well. Coming to the attention of a Night Club owner ('President' played by Enrico Salerno) who spots his skills via the monitors in his security system, Altieri enters his employment and works the tables for a cut of his winnings as he fleeces Presidents' customers out of their cash on a nightly basis. Riches follow, success goes to his head, womanising begins - Lucas' eye is charmed by the beauty of Presidents' daughter Maria Luisa (played by Canadian actress Dayle Haddon). She strays from power-hungry boyfriend Corrado (played by Corrado Pani) and the battle begins for power of the Night Club, control of the money and Maria Luisas' heart itself.
Much fighting, shooting and dodgy dealings keep things running along at a reasonable pace, but the elements are just about functional enough to construct an effective but familiar narrative - the strangest aspect of the story is how the films shifts neatly from Crime to Romance, intermingling on many occassions. All the performances, main characters and bit-players are perfectly solid and convincing, nothing is at all substandard - infact its a masterful example of how to make an effective little film on very little money.
The locations are srtipped and vibrant, the blend of night and day effective - works perfectly well if you're familiar with such European Cinema, the kind that was almost churned out on a weekly basis in almost several hundred examples every year in Italy at that time. As we aren't able to see it in that manner, potentially the films is for those already passionate about such films. As it is, it's another strange experience, interesting from largely an academic perspective (which is unfortunately how viewing for reviews can sometimes become if the film isn't entirely engaging).
The Direction / Cinematography.
Its saving grace in many respects. It's not always entirly clear exactly who's resposible for which choices in terms of the visual representation on display, hence the cross-over of the title. Who ever it may have been, the most interesting element of the film is the hugely bold compositions that turn the simplest locations and minimal elements into striking visuals. Great dynamic camera angles, physical beauty, architectural richness, heavily contrasted images, they all are used to great effect. Even on a relatively small screen, its clear that the 'less is more' approach has been realised with skill, and Martino uses it to make the film go beyond the mundane or functional story, potentially also lifting it beyond the many other examples of such films.
Remeber that this film has to both survive alongside as well as stand out from everything else of its time; the stars may be familiar box office draws, the themes of general use, but the cinematography and visuals are very individual. There's a use of color and shapes here that make the overall experience border on the oddly surreal, almost dream-like. It's not the ultra-controlled lighting of a Dario Argento movie, it's all real / familiar light forms and colors, but it's so vibrant and bold, well composed enough to make the familiar seem fresh.
The Disc / Extras / Subtitles.
Again, I believe I've said this before, such films rely heavily on their accurate and rich representation. On a Cinema Screen you will only get so much quality, and to my eyes this film would have worked astonishingly well there - as a film on DVD it probably takes a step up. The faultless print (couple of brief audio drop-outs on this one) which has been given a superb restoration accurately (if not faultlessly) brings all the best elements of the films' qualities to life. Another fine example of disc mastering, hopefully without subtle technical quibbles that some are convinced they found on earlier discs, its' an example of DVD both for issuers of small budget films as well as major studios.
We get a selection of reasonably long (almost 30 minutes each, as always) interviews with either specific figures from the film, or an intercut group of Stars, Staff, Writer and Director. Still surprised that everyone involved, prolific as all these European Stars and Directors of the time were, manage to recount so well many impressions of each other and the project in question. Fleshes out the whole film very well as usual. There's also the usual suspects in poster / artwork galleries, Trailer (with both English and Italian language tracks - as the film is also available with, within this disc) and a surprise inclusion of a Commentary track with main man Luc Marenda too.
Subtitles are tight and smallish as usual, perfectly timed and relatively easy to read. Literal translation is again used, and again causes little issues with grammar or clarity. Brief moment when Subtitles don't appear during one particular card game that made me think my player had switched them off somehow - but the dialogue that's missing is the announcement of the numbers shown on the cards being dealt, and the one-word instructions given to those playing : nothing key.
Pretty standard fair, well crafted and stunning presentation on DVD. Probably not going to find a huge audience outside those particularly interested in these films, the Director (or Stars), or European Cinema. Worthy as an example of how to craft a film on little money, and another fine example of how worthwhile it is to bring such films to a wider audience on a regular basis and in such great style too - there may not be a huge audience, but at least a good presentation should make its qualities more obvious and substantial. NoShame are probably one of the finest examples of how a small company can do a first class job in selecting and presenting lesser films in a way that gives them more worth than initially may be apparent. I enjoyed the skill on display from all the parties envolved, but the story simply isn't original enough to make this an overall experience that takes it beyond an interest and into pure pleasure.
'Gambling City' is out now on R1 USA DVD from NoShame.