Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling (1969)

aka The Falling Man

aka Frame Up

Inspector Sterling (Henry Silva being intense and a bit disturbing, as he does best) of the San Francisco Police Department has had a bit of a rough time these last few months: first, he's framed for killing an informer by the two hoods who actually did it in front of his own eyes, then he loses his job, then he witnesses said hoods in a payroll hold-up while staking them out (for revenge, one assumes) and sees his former colleagues botching the easy catch, then his little son is killed in a drive-by shooting by you know who, and finally his wife leaves him. It's like the most depressing country song ever written, except for the lack of a dying dog.

Giving this series of events, it's not exactly a surprise that Sterling is now out for vengeance, nor that he is perfectly willing to torture the hoods, threaten a model (Beba Loncar) somehow connected to the mysterious mastermind of the whole affair, or provoke shoot-outs. Sterling's former boss Inspector Donald (Keenan Wynn) is none too happy with Sterling's new hobby, but then, he doesn't seem to be getting anywhere with his more lawful investigative methods.

Not that Sterling himself is all that successful, really. His best witnesses have the tendency to get killed by somebody before he can punch what he wants to know out of them. Worse, all the violence he commits and suffers through finds him in an increasingly deteriorating physical and mental state. The question is only if he'll be able to catch whoever his enemy might be before he breaks down completely.

Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling was directed by the rather wonderful Emilio Miraglia whose small filmography in all of everyone's favourite Italian movie genres is a thing to behold, though all of his few films but his two giallos, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, are increasingly difficult to find in complete versions with decent print quality. Going by the wonderful surreal spy movie Assassination and the film at hand, this state of affair is quite a loss. For my tastes, there's absolutely no reason why Miraglia shouldn't be up there with his better-known colleagues of Italian genre cinema, and I'm sure the two of his films I haven't been able to see until now won't change my mind about that.

Anyway, Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling is not quite as surreal and dream-like as Assassination (also starring Silva) was, but its narrative style isn't exactly straightforward. Unlike in my synopsis, Sterling's background and motivation are explained in a series of intense, feverish flashbacks throughout the film, mirroring the character's increasingly alienated sense of his surroundings, and increasing the feeling that Sterling is just a short step from a total mental breakdown; something his actions make quite clear already. Often, it even seems as if Sterling's actions have become divorced from his supposed motives for them, as if he had lost himself so much his actions have become automatic.

Driven by the flashbacks, the rest of the movie's action consists of scenes of Sterling attempting to make sense of the few clues he has by punching them, Sterling looking at 1969's pop culture with a disgusted and confused face (this sure isn't the world he grew up in, one can't help but assume), and Sterling in various violent altercations and chases. The further the film progresses, and the more obsessed Sterling becomes, the less Miraglia seems interested in action movie realism or the logic of his mystery, and the more Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling shares Sterling's own reduction to his simplest impulses, the world becoming a truly strange place to him and to his audience.

This state of affairs is foreshadowed by an early scene where Sterling witnesses a group of young, pretty people killing each other in a shoot-out that is then revealed to be the shooting of a jeans commercial, a revelation Sterling reacts to with a mixture of confusion, disgust yet also disinterest. I somehow doubt the Levi's logo used here is product placement, or you'd have to doubt to sanity of the PR people responsible.

All this does of course have clear parallels to the tales of alienation so often told in noir movies on more than just the most basic plot level, it's just that the world the film's hero is alienated from (possibly by) is quite a different one from that of the 1940s, and therefore his alienation needs to be expressed a little differently, pop art aspersions replacing German expressionism.

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