Alien Terminator / Top Line (1988)

1.5 out of 5

This perplexing piece of nonsense, produced at the increasingly desperate rear end of the 80s, pertains to be a swashbuckling Science Fiction Adventure of sorts when in fact it's better described as a confused cobbling of wildly conflicting generic ideas, buoyed only by the bemused expression of one Franco Nero in the rather ill-advised lead. A South American treasure hunt leads to a muddled alien conspiracy, an incredulous duel between an angry bull and a malfunctioning android "terminator", Nero's wife transforming into a gooey body snatcher and a bunch of Nazi's led by none other than George Kennedy.

Bodyguards, The / La scorta (1993)

4.0 out of 5

Despite a fair amount of bangs and kablooeys, fans of genre shoot’em-ups may not go for La Scorta. This sobering account of a squad of bodyguards—the “escort” of the title—assigned to protect a Mafia prosecutor in Sicily lacks the cartoonish violence of many poliziottesco thrillers. That’s because it’s based on the true story of a magistrate who became isolated and threatened after he sniffed out mob infiltration of a local city government. But the film is also a rare view of Italy’s self-sacrificing bodyguards, here morphing into the judge’s investigative unit as the powers try to quash his political probe.

Despite a constant atmosphere of deadly menace, much tension derives from personal conflicts that flare up in the cramped quarters of protective bunkers and surveillance vans. Misfit Angelo, played by hangdog-faced Claudio Amendola, is the most volatile of the bunch, a volunteer among the family men assigned to the dreaded detail. But it’s his rough sense of justice that wrangles the team into a cohesive fighting machine. That anti-Mafia judges in Sicily today still require armed escorts makes the film both fresh and terrifying.

Grand Slam / Ad ogni costo (1967)

2.5 out of 5

This slow-starter from Paramount aspires to be a diamond heist thriller of the Rififi/Ocean’s Eleven school but falls short. Edward G. Robinson, a retiring English professor in Rio de Janeiro, appears onscreen just long enough to assemble a team of European professionals to loot the diamond company he’s been drooling over from his classroom window.

Despite the unexpected challenge of penetrating the newly installed “Grand Slam” safe, wooden dialogue and a lack of distinguishing traits among the four recruits prevent the caper from ever heating up. Most of the conflict is generated by parachutist Klaus Kinski, who inexplicably bullies playboy Robert Hoffman throughout. The latter’s woo skills are needed to obtain a security key from the diamond company’s icy secretary, Janet Leigh—a humdrum affair.

All could be forgiven if the third-act heist had any measure of suspense. Besides a few snags, some nifty gadgets and a surprise ending, the only fireworks in the plot come from Rio’s Carnaval celebration outside.

Day of the Owl, The / Il giorno della civetta (1968)

4.0 out of 5

Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia’s controversial crime novel of 1961, The Day of the Owl, is considered the first accurate depiction of the Mafia in fiction. Damiano Damiani’s 1968 film version is remarkably true to Sciascia’s cynical tale of a murder, a disappearance, and the institutionalized corruption of a small Sicilian town. But shot mostly in daylight, the movie is brighter than the noirish world conjured by the book.

The film has all the trappings of a sixties international co-production: a widescreen format, slightly garish Technicolor, a dub job of varying accents, and an international cast. Hollywood’s contribution was Lee J. Cobb, the great heavy who plays untouchable godfather Don Mariano Arena.

Claudia Cardinale plays the wife of a “disappeared” Mafia lackey. Fending for herself, she expresses fear, rage and dignity at once with a furrowing of her brow. Bleached blond Franco Nero is the embodiment of an adroit police captain whose wiles even Don Mariano respects. He must solve the murder by insinuating himself into a city of “friends” and “arrangements”—in the Sicilian way.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics