Arrow’s box set of two classic Italian crime flicks continues with The Big Racket. As with The Heroin Busters this stars Fabio Testi, however, it takes an entirely different path.
A racketeering group is operating in a village in Italy. Intimidating local business owners and subjecting resistors to barbaric violence. A lot of the film focuses on the efforts of the racketeers as they terrify, burn and molest locals, sending some to take the law into their own hands with dire consequences.
Fabio is the one cop who is determined to put a stop to it and after a failed attempt to collect information on the outfit, and featuring a spectacular effect to achieve a realistic car wreck, Fabio’s boss goes cold on the approach. In typical movie style Fabio goes rogue and enlists the help of a number of vigilantes to assist him in taking down the villainous band.
In an enjoyably silly attempt to up the stakes we are treated to an overarching villain who reveals he plans once he has conquered the village to take his racketeering scheme international.
We don’t spend a huge amount of time with the other cast members, however, each one is hugely impactful. Each little story within the community being attacked feels like an assault on the audience’s community and the violence cuts quite deep. Seeing those left behind have very little work to do to convince us that their heart and soul had been ripped out as the heavy lifting has been done up front for us to witness. When Fabio approaches and asks the survivors if they are interested in revenge we need no convincing that these men have nothing to lose. Sealing their own fate, the gang is leaving a trail of damaged, vengeful civilians who are happy to accept the opportunity to have their revenge.
One thing Castellari leaves out is a romantic subplot, in fact the female cast members are severely limited to a member of the gang being a woman, and a young girl who is the focus of the gang’s depraved antics for a short time. Castellari keeps the focus and pace of the film on point.
One interesting member of the cast is Vincent Gardenia, a fantastically slippery rogue and always a welcome face in a movie. Speaking of faces, Gardenia is the man of 1,000 facial expressions. Take a look at this collection of expressions from a short conversation with Fabio.
The Big Racket contains two incredible shootouts. Castellari makes the most of both. The first is an impressive trainyard shootout, however, the second has a slow build as our “heroes” lie in wait and you can feel an epic stand off is about to occur. Whilst Fabio’s band of retaliators squabble and fight there is a solid feeling of respect when it comes to their regard for Fabio as their commander and despite their path in the movie it’s easy to root for each one and fear they might be expendable. One also can’t help but feel each has their own reason to let the side down, or even betray Fabio.
It’s difficult not to compare this to The Heroin Busters as they are in the same box set, however, they are two very different films. I feel The Heroin Busters might be the more pleasing to revisit, however, The Big Racket has a heavier narrative and feels less like an expedition into big screen thrills and a more dramatic story quest that brings the audience on board to help justify.
With a lesser emphasis on action, The Big Racket has a familiar feel of The Dirty Dozen, or half dozen for that matter. Whilst the budget is not huge, there is enough money and talent at work here to deliver a number of fun shootouts, stunt work and performances, notably wasting nothing. Castellari throws every trick he has to keep the film lively and engaging and trims out anything that might potentially bloat the piece, if you are looking for romance or subplots you are going to be disappointed.
The Big Racket is a superb thriller and another example of obscure excellence from Italy. This is an easy pickup for anyone into action thrillers and the package put together by Arrow is a wonderful combination. The box set is for sale on Amazon here.