Mario Colella (Luc Merenda) owns a garage that is not doing as well for him as he would like, but as a widower he has a son to dote over and try to teach him the tricks of his trade, though sometimes the boy seems to know more than his father does. Today he drops him off at school where the kid meets his rich friend, but before they can enter the gates a car zooms up and two masked men jump out, grabbing the wealthier boy and when his poorer pal tries to prevent them, the kidnappers bundle them both into the back of the vehicle and they are driven away. The detective on the case is Commissar Magrini (Vittorio Caprioli), and he immediately contacts the parents - but the better off father, millionaire Filippini (James Mason), refuses to pay any ransom.
Kidnapping was big news in the nineteen-seventies, with several high profile cases triggered by unscrupulous criminals stealing their victims away and demanding a lot of money for their return; of course, in some parts of the world this has never gone out of fashion, but in Italy of all that time ago, when the criminals were running rampant and their activities were splashed across the headlines, they provided inspiration for many local filmmakers seeking to both address the lawlessness of their nation and have an excuse to depict action and violence in many a thriller. If there was not the worldwide attention generated by such events as the kidnapping of Patty Hearst or Frank Sinatra Jr, at home everyone was taking an interest.
Here director Fernando Di Leo was one of the most prominent of the men to helm such thrillers, finding plenty of variations on themes that would in alternative hands come across as samey or covering the familiar ground of others. He still has a reputation today as one of the best in the business at delivering the suspense, action and social commentary in a combination not every one of these directors would manage, though it's worth mentioning that when they fell back on the trashier end of the spectrum, Di Leo was not above following them down that dubious road as well. With Kidnap Syndicate, he appeared to be keen to put across a serious drama about the subject, only to give that up in the second half.
Well, not entirely, but there were a lot more car chases and punch-ups in the second part than there were in the former, which was just as well as the actors were growing mired in Filippini's inaction which affected the rest of the movie and rendered it far too static. You were presumably intended to muse over the implications of the plot during these passages, with Mason not quite slotting his screen persona into Italian genre movies, though in effect that uncomfortable quality was likely a help when Filippini was such an awkward bastard when it came to saving the boys. His refusal to negotiate puts them both in jeopardy, yet actually it is really only placing one of them in peril as Colella simply does not have the funds to provide the ransom, therefore his son is expendable in the gang's view.
This leaves the handsome but stony-faced Merenda to take centre stage for the latter business as he sets out to work his way to the top of the criminals' contacts and instigators, which naturally in sobering Italian thriller style reaches to the top of the society's corporate dealings, making certain we were aware the tentacles of organised crime have infiltrated every strata of the land. This perked up the plot considerably, though it remained bogged down in its message-making and there was little "fun", for want of a better word, to be gleaned from watching he-man Merenda rocket around on his motorbike (we learn he was once a professional rider, which explains his prowess) and chase down various evildoers. It's not that such a plot couldn't be exciting, it’s just that Di Leo's inspiration made such scenes look rather rote as if they were expected of him, but he had been more interested in the dramatic material. The supporting cast included the doll-like Irina Maleeva as a moll (naturally she gets slapped about) and Valentina Cortese, way over the top as Mrs Filippini. Music, jazz flute to the fore, by Luis Bacalov.