Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Retro Review: CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (1974)

(Italy - 1974; US release 1976)

Directed by Andrea Bianchi. Written by Piero Regnoli. Cast: Henry Silva, Barbara Bouchet, Fausto Tozzi, Vittorio Sanipoli, Mario Landi, Patrizia Gori, Dada Gallotti, Alfredo Pea. (Unrated, 93 mins)

Titled QUELLI CHE CONTANO in Italy, which translates to the vague THE ONES WHO COUNT in English, this tawdry 1974 Eurocrime thriller was given a sleazy, drive-in-ready rechristening as CRY OF A PROSTITUTE for its 1976 US release by grindhouse outfit Joseph Brenner Associates, Inc. It's not exactly false advertising--there is an ex-prostitute who figures into the story and she indeed cries--but it probably disappointed those specifically looking for T&A trash, though audiences did end up getting a more-violent-than-usual Italian mob movie out of the deal. The great Henry Silva, who was getting a ton of work in poliziotteschi films throughout the 1970s, is Sicilian-born hit man Tony Ariante, who returns to his rural Sicily village birthplace after spending years with the American mob in Brooklyn. He's back at the behest of Don Cascemi (Vittorio Sanipoli), who wants to start a war between two other bosses, Don Cantimo (Fausto Tozzi) and Don Scannapieco (Mario Landi). The three warring dons have gotten involved in the drug trade, though Cascemi and Tony are appalled that the bodies of dead kids are being used to move junk back and forth between Europe and America. In classic YOJIMBO fashion, Tony plays both sides against the other ("Whose side are you on?" Scannapieco asks, to which Tony replies "The winner") and things escalate when he steps in and offs three goons who try to kill Don Scannapieco's handicapped son Zino (Alfredo Pea). If that's not enough, Tony's lured into a sadomasochistic fling with Don Cantimo's alcoholic, nympho wife Margie (Barbara Bouchet), the former prostitute of the title, who ropes Tony in by gently fellating the tip of a peeled banana at the dinner table. Fortunately for Tony, Don Cantimo gets off on being a cuckold, demanding dirty-talk confessionals about her extramarital flings while they have sex ("God, what a whore you are!" he ecstatically moans in the velvet tones of veteran voice dubber Michael Forest). Tony doesn't have time for romance, instead opting to anally rape Margie in the barn while beating her and forcing her face-first into the gutted, raw carcass of a hung-up pig in a scene so wrong in so many ways that it has to be seen to be believed.

The casually cruel nature of CRY OF A PROSTITUTE shouldn't be a surprise since it's directed by Italian trash auteur Andrea Bianchi, whose later films include the charming 1975 giallo STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, the sleazy 1979 supernatural horror/porno crossover MALABIMBA: THE MALICIOUS WHORE, and the 1981 zombie incest masterpiece BURIAL GROUND. Silva plays one of the most vile sociopaths of his career, possibly even more despicable than the similarly nihilistic asshole he played in Fernando Di Leo's THE BOSS, aka WIPEOUT!, a year earlier, the difference being that Tony's the hero. Not only is there the extremely brutal sodomy scene in the barn, but he also later whips Margie with his belt, finishing her off with a few thwacks across her face with the buckle (the end result adorned Joseph Brenner's US poster art, which would not fly today). He also finds it's not enough to kill a couple of rival gangsters, but he also has to drive over and flatten them with a conveniently-available steamroller. The only thing that makes Tony even slightly human is the small amount of sympathy he feels for the helpless Zino, and a surprise reveal at the end tries to justify Tony's actions, but it's pretty hard to excuse his--or the film's--treatment of the pathetic Margie, played by the gorgeous Bouchet at her least glamorous. After opening with an instant classic decapitation, CRY OF A PROSTITUTE is a little slow-going and predictable for a while, but Bianchi clearly gets bored and starts going increasingly over-the-top in ways that make Silva's next Eurocrime gig--Umberto Lenzi's incredible ALMOST HUMAN--seem tame by comparison. Whether it's the misogynistic sexual violence, the pervy antics of Don Cantimo, or the insane killings (another guy gets his head split when it's pushed through a band saw), CRY OF A PROSTITUTE never resists a chance to go for shock value.

It also takes advantage of its rural, old-country setting by essentially making the story a spaghetti western in poliziotteschi disguise, from Tony's FISTFUL OF DOLLARS machinations to his climactic resurrection to take on Don Cantimo's men after he's presumed dead. Also noteworthy to the spaghetti western motif is Tony's ominous whistling before the kill, an obvious nod to Charles Bronson's Harmonica in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. There's some good ideas in Piero Regnoli's script but Bianchi, by all accounts still with us at 90 though long-retired from the movies, is just too rude and crude to pull off any notion of stylistic, genre-melding subtleties. In the relatively controlled hands of a Di Leo, an Enzo G. Castellari (STREET LAW), or a more politically-minded genre figure like a Damiano Damiani (CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN), CRY OF A PROSTITUTE could've been a much smarter film. But Andrea Bianchi never did subtle or smart, so it still scores as unabashed drive-in garbage, which is fine on its own. It also offers an essential Silva performance, with the actor getting in one of his signature, emphatic "MotherFUCKER!" bellowings ("Will you please clean my shoes?") that have retroactively made him the Samuel L. Jackson of Eurocrime.

Newspaper ad for CRY OF A PROSTITUTE, opening in Toledo, OH
on 6/2/1977, significantly toned down from the brutal one-sheet art. 

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