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Retro Review: STREET PEOPLE (1976)

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STREET PEOPLE
(Italy - 1976)

Directed by Maurizio Lucidi. Written by Ernest Tidyman, Randal Kleiser, Gianfranco Bucceri, Roberto Leoni, Nicola Badalucco and Maurizio Lucidi. Cast: Roger Moore, Stacy Keach, Ivo Garrani, Ettore Manni, Fausto Tozzi, Ennio Balbo, Loretta Persichetti, Pietro Martellanza, Luigi Casellato, Romano Puppo, Rosemarie Lindt, Aldo Rendine, Emilio Vale, Salvatore Torrisi, Franco Fantasia, Giuseppe Castellano, Salvatore Billa. (R, 92 mins)

One of four films Roger Moore made in quick succession between his second and third 007 outings (1974's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN and 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), the 1976 Italian-made mob thriller STREET PEOPLE was always an oddity in his filmography, and that's even counting his appearance in the 2003 Cuba Gooding Jr/Horatio Sanz atrocity BOAT TRIP. Moore never held himself in any particularly serious regard as an actor, and with the mountains of cash he was making once he got the James Bond gig, his other jobs seemed to be decided by how nice of a working vacation they'd provide. Much of STREET PEOPLE was shot in San Francisco--which offered plenty of sights to see in his downtime--with interiors done in De Paolis Studios in Rome. Moore is quite improbably cast as Ulysses, the half-Sicilian/half-British consigliere to his uncle, San Francisco mob underboss Salvatore Francesco (Ivo Garrani), who helpfully gets the viewer up to speed on Ulysses sounding like Roger Moore by mentioning, apropos of nothing, "The smartest thing I ever did was get you out of Sicily and into that English law school!"






It's Ulysses' job to make Uncle Salvatore's business ventures look legal and that gets difficult when Salvatore arranges the importing of a large Sicilian cross from a church in the small town where he grew up in the old country. It arrives at a pier in the warehouse district, accompanied by Father Frank (Ettore Manni), a childhood friend of Salvatore's. But it turns out the inside of the cross, unbeknownst to Father Frank, has been packed with a massive heroin shipment that's hijacked by three ambitious gangsters--Nicoletta (Fausto Tozzi), Pano (Pietro Martellanza, aka "Peter Martell"), and Fortunato (Romano Puppo)--looking to make a huge score. Salvatore claims to know nothing about the drugs and pleads his case to boss of bosses Don Giuseppe Continenza (Ennio Balbo), who orders all the drugs off the streets in order to find the culprits. Don Giuseppe's edict still doesn't out them, which means it must be an inside job with someone in the organization, prompting Ulysses to recruit his racing driver pal Charlie (Stacy Keach) to track down the three gangsters and find the mastermind behind the shipment.


The mystery doesn't prove to be a difficult one to solve, especially once an enraged Father Frank starts reminding Ulysses about a long-suppressed traumatic memory from his childhood. The plot gets far too convoluted for its own good, and it doesn't sufficiently explore the frayed relationship between Salvatore and Father Frank or any parallels you might expect in the friendship between Ulysses and Charlie. It's possible these themes were touched upon in the 101-minute European version titled THE SICILIAN CROSS, but the film was chopped down to 92 minutes and rechristened STREET PEOPLE by American International when it played drive-ins and grindhouses in the fall of 1976. Director Maurizio Lucidi (STATELINE MOTEL) was one of six credited screenwriters, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if none of them bothered to check anyone else's work. Other hands in the screenplay include diverse figures like future SANTA SANGRE co-writer Roberto Leoni; a 30-year-old Randal Kleiser, the same year he directed the John Travolta TV-movie THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE and soon on his way to big-screen fame with 1978's GREASE and 1980's THE BLUE LAGOON; and Oscar-winning FRENCH CONNECTION screenwriter Ernest Tidyman, no stranger to '70s crime thrillers having also written 1971's SHAFT (based on his own novel) and 1975's underrated REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER.


Just out on Blu-ray in its US cut from Kino Lorber with a new Stacy Keach interview (because physical media is dead), STREET PEOPLE isn't quite on the level of those gritty Tidymen-penned gems. But it does get a lot from some genuinely likable Terence Hill/Bud Spencer-style camaraderie between Moore and Keach, the latter having an especially good time as a devil-may-care hellraiser prone to oddball quips ("I'll have to tell everyone on the street that you're a turkey deluxe!" he says to a potential snitch who doesn't want to play ball), ambitious but foolhardy schemes (switching out the heroin with powdered milk), and some proto-SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT levels of wanton destruction. In addition to a vaguely FRENCH CONNECTION-inspired car chase, there's a long sequence where Charlie takes a car being sold by a cash-strapped Nicoletta for a test drive and speeds up and down the streets crashing into anything in sight and demolishing the car to the point where it's a barely-recognizable hunk of metal. It's unquestionably the film's highlight and also does a nice job of showing off Keach's rarely-utilized comedic skills. As enjoyable as STREET PEOPLE's goofy side can be, it's also indicative of its struggle to find its own identity, as the film can't decide if it wants to be a gangster buddy comedy, a violent pseudo-polizia mob thriller, or something more serious in terms of Ulysses confronting a horrible childhood memory, which is really sold by composer Luis Bacalov going for his best mournfully elegiac Ennio Morricone-style cues. Lucidi (1932-2005) had a generally undistinguished journeyman career, dabbling in peplum (1965's HERCULES THE AVENGER), spaghetti westerns (1967's HALLELUJAH FOR DJANGO, 1972's IT CAN BE DONE, AMIGO), macaroni combat war actioners (1969's PROBABILITY ZERO), gialli (1971's THE DESIGNATED VICTIM), and he even used the alias "Mark Lander" when he made a one-off, late-career sojourn into hardcore porn in the late '90s with A GYNECOLOGIST AND HIS VICES. He was also one of several uncredited directors who didn't want to deal with the always-unstable Klaus Kinski on 1988's notoriously troubled NOSFERATU IN VENICE. Lucidi isn't exactly an Umberto Lenzi or a Fernando Di Leo, and STREET PEOPLE isn't about to make anyone's list of top 1970s Eurocrime outings, but it's got some great San Francisco location work throughout (check out Keach driving through the city's seedy red-light district, and Moore and Keach chasing Tozzi across some downtown rooftops), and it's better than its reputation, even if Roger Moore was rarely more miscast.



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