European crime films -- Foreign rip-offs of American flicks offer more sex, shooting, and sleaze

European crime films

We grapple with a pair of ’70s European crime thrillers and come up with the usual suspects — a hitman, an ex-con, and a blond bombshell.

Italian filmmakers have always been wonderfully inventive knockoff artists. In the ’60s and ’70s, they spaghetti-ized the Hollywood Western, giallo-ed the Hitchcock thriller, and parlayed the zombie genre into their own gory little cottage industry. But when they copied American crime flicks like Bullitt and The French Connection, they added a few new tasty ingredients to the sauce — namely, more bullets, more babes, and more blood. Blue Underground has just rereleased a couple of these racy Roman gems, and they make a great Eurosleaze double feature. Start with Sergio Sollima’s Violent City (1970), starring Charles Bronson as a lone-wolf hitman who tangles with a loony Mob boss (Telly Savalas) and beds a backstabbing blonde (Jill Ireland). It’s badly dubbed, but the climactic assassination is a honey. Next up: Sergio Grieco’s Mad Dog Killer (1977), starring the easy-on-the-eyes Marisa Mell and Austrian tough guy Helmut Berger as a sadistic escaped convict. It may feel like subpar Sam Peckinpah, but it’s a nice opportunity to experience the gonzo Berger, who resembles a deranged Hall from Hall & Oates. If macho mayhem and stilted one-liners (”You’re a filthy hyena!”) are your thing, then buon appetito!