There has been a breakout at the prison, and Mad Dog Nanni Vitali (Helmut Berger) is the one who has escaped with his gang. They take a guard hostage and bundle him into the back seat of the waiting car, then drive off at high speed with Vitali slapping him about all the way and police Inspector Santini (Richard Harrison) in hot pursuit until the guard, semi-conscious and bleeding, is thrown from the vehicle. The cop gets a lucky shot and kills the driver of the fleeing car, but Vitali takes aim and shoots at Santini, crashing his ride and as he rolls free, blowing it up in a fiery explosion, then when they encounter another car heading in the opposite direction they halt it and drag the occupants out, then take off in it...
Mad Dog Killer goes by a number of names, but this one seems the most appropriate as Berger put in a seriously committed performance of evildoing, as if determined to prove he was not just a pretty face. Unfortunately for him, that's what he was relegated to in the minds of far too many who bothered to follow his career after the mid-seventies or so, and when those admittedly striking good looks faded he was left with the reputation of an ungrateful grouch who was bitter about the path his life had latterly taken. Still, he continued to find work, and was the subject of what was an extraordinary but little-seen documentary that had those in the know wondering whatever had possessed him.
Take a look at his Vitali here and you could begin to perceive why he was willing to take more risks than many big stars of his generation, not that he was really a major player in cinema outside of Europe, and even then only for a ten year period. In this, he emphasised the savagery of his portrayal to be seen as formidable as possible, which in that case indicated descending into screen depravity to prove something to his audience and perhaps himself also. When in the first act he has not only killed a petrol station employee rather than actually pay him for the fuel, then gone on to track the man who ratted on him which apparently gives him all the excuse he needs to rape the man's girlfriend in an unpleasantly extended sequence, you may well think he was going too far.
The girlfriend was Giuliana, and she was played by Austrian starlet Marisa Mell, though by that time her ingénue days were growing further and further behind her as she sank into a collection of largely exploitation roles. Her life story was a sad one in spite of attaining a certain level of movie stardom, and witnessing what she was reduced to, not to mention what Berger was setting about with undue enthusiasm, you couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her as Giuliana was simply present to be abused by Vitali. As if that were not bad enough, the plot did not even give her the respect of a resolution to her character arc, leaving her wounded and with a question mark over what she would do next with still around half an hour of the film to go, the abused starlet part taken over by Marina Giordana.
She essayed the role of Santini's sister who is kidnapped along with their judge father in an attempt at vengeance by Vitali which you had to admit was going rather well for him as he ran rings around the cops, mostly to stretch out the storyline to an hour and a half. There were longueurs as Harrison doggedly followed his quarry around Italy, and it was unfortunate to say that the highlights, or at least the most interesting aspects, were when Berger was behaving despicably, but that sort of activity came with the territory. The Italian crime movie craze of the seventies was starting to run out of steam by this stage, and while they were reluctant to settle for sending up the genre here, there was a feeling that they were winding down and going over their old tricks with an ever-sleazier approach, not that what had come before was any the less sensationalist, it was just that as the style grew increasingly tired, you could tell inspiration was running dry even as Berger energised the production. Mad Dog Killer did however achieve something its contemporaries did not: it was shown as a clip in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown twenty years later, prompting a bunch of "what was that movie...?" queries. Not a bad score by Umberto Smaila.