BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jul 27th, 2004 •

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Blue Underground
1980 / 97 mins / Dolby Digital / Not Rated

In the films of Italian director Lucio Fulci, the human body is a fragile thing that is constantly getting ripped, burned, shot, melted, and otherwise rudely penetrated. In Fulci’s best films, like his 1981 horror classic The Beyond, he achieves a violent, hallucinatory, dream-like quality that swiftly sweeps us past any qualms about wooden acting and illogical plotting. Unfortunately, Contraband, Fulci’s 1980 gangster drama is almost completely devoid of Fulci’s merits, forcing us to focus our attention on his weaknesses. Only Fulci’s typically excessive gore, and a surprising amount of nudity, distinguish this film from countless other post-Godfather gangster films.

Our hero, Luca Di Angelo (Fabio Testi), is a handsome and honorable smuggler with a beautiful wife (Ivana Monti) and an annoyingly cherubic young son. Along with his brother, Luca is simply carrying on the family business. Luca and his brethren, in their trademark blue boats, keep the city of Milan supplied with cheap cigarettes. None of them would ever consider dealing drugs. When Luca’s hotheaded brother is machine- gunned to death in a brutal ambush, it seems to signal the start of a gang war between the city’s various criminal factions. However, it soon becomes clear that they are actually facing an outside threat. The Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzufi), a ruthless and sadistic French drug lord has come to town. He is extremely pleased to slaughter anyone who gets in his way, and drag the survivors into the drug trade. The idealistic Luca quickly finds himself on a collision course with the savage Frenchman.

Like The Godfather, from which it lifts numerous plot twists and themes, Contraband is a crime drama with a conservative social vision. Fulci gives us a tale of happily married mobsters who band together to fight a single (possibly homosexual) foreigner who wants them to give up their “honest” criminal activities and sell drugs to kids. Throughout the film, sexuality outside of marriage is explicitly linked with moral degradation and villainy.

Ironically, Contraband actually has better acting than some of Fulci’s superior films. Italian screen legend Fabio Testi (mainly familiar to American audiences from his performance in Vittorio DeSica’s Academy Award winning The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) brings the perfect blend of strength and charisma to his role as our upstanding hero, and Marcel Bozzufi (The French Connection) is delightfully malignant as The Marsigliese. Sadly, both are somewhat undermined by mediocre English language dubbing.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than hardcore Fulci fans and Italian crime film completists being interested in this run-of-the-mill thriller. However, those interested in seeing Contraband will probably never see a better presentation than Blue Underground’s lovingly produced new disc. Working from the original negative, this release marks the first appearance of the uncut version of the film. The 16×9 enhanced transfer captures Sergio Salvati’s skillful cinematography, carefully reproducing his palette of muted blues and grays punctuated by Fulci’s trademark splashes of red blood. The extras are fairly paltry, just an original theatrical trailer and talent bios of Fulci and Testi, but that will matter little to the dedicated fans who will desire this disc. Only the addition of the original Italian language track could possibly offer a meaningful improvement to this excellent release.

Screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni De Chiara. Cinematography by Sergio Salvati.
Directed by Lucio Fulci.
Starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti and Ferdinando Murolo.

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