On behalf of the Corrasco clan grimacing hitman Lanzetta (Henry Silva) blows up a porno theatre and wipes out the Attardi clan. All except Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi) who quickly figures out Lanzetta's boss Don D'Aniello (Claudio Nicastro) is responsible. Looking for revenge, Cocchi has his thugs kidnap D'Aniello's daughter Rina (Antonia Santilli). A distraught Giuseppe requests help from Don Corrasco (Richard Conte, trading on his career-capping role in The Godfather (1972)), a master manipulator with his own agenda. He tasks Lanzetta to resolve the situation in his own inimitable and ruthless fashion. Soon local police can only sit and watch helpless as the string of revenge killings escalates wildly out of control.
Brutal, uncompromising and relentlessly grim, the Italian crime thriller Il Boss was re-titled Murder Inferno for release on the American grindhouse circuit, capitalizing on gruesome scenes where Lanzetta dumps an ever-mounting string of corpses (along with one unfortunate living victim) into a fiery furnace. It is a prototypical example of writer-director Fernando Di Leo's output within the Euro-crime genre. Even though fans rate it the least accomplished of his so-called 'Milieu trilogy' after Milano Calibre 9 (1972) and Manhunt in Milan (1972). Fueled by a blistering electro-funk score by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, the film gets off to a literally explosive start. Yet thereafter settles into a talkier, more pedestrian affair as Di Leo dwells on scene after scene of greasy moustached mafiosi in ugly Seventies suits gabbing away about vengeance and honour while gesticulating wildly.
While enthusiasts like Quentin Tarantino rate Di Leo as an auteur at the same level as France's Jean-Pierre Melville there really is not the same depth to his work. Certainly Di Leo's films offer a cynical study of the corruption and sociopolitical rot that led crime to fester in Seventies Italy (Murder Inferno supposedly landed the director in trouble for allusions linking the mafia to Italy's Christian Democratic party that to non-Italian viewers seem rather vague). Yet their social satire is counterbalanced by elements that unmask Di Leo as a reactionary: grudging respect for the mucho macho values of take-charge tough guys like Lanzetta, disdain for lily-livered liberals (between abusing Rina, Cocchi's gang whine about the 'pointless' social activism of her do-gooder student friends) and that tiresome old standby of Italian cinema: rampant misogyny. It is all but inevitable that voluptuous Rina is stripped, humiliated and gang-raped while the mobsters call her a slut ("You are going to be laid till your feet cum"). In a typical bullshit Italian plot twist, she loves every minute. Early on police commissioner Torri (spaghetti western staple Gianni Garko, set up as a worthy antagonist then disappointingly wasted after a plot twist reduces him to another goon) blames the rise of violent crime on social reforms forcing the old mafia bosses into exile. Less interested in justice than stability, the film argues cooperation between mafia rivals is the only for Italian society to thrive. It never contemplates a world without them.
What action there is, interspersed between the all the mafiosi chit-chat, is well-orchestrated and suitably visceral. Still the film grinds to a halt whenever Di Leo tries to expand his narrow range and take a stab at pathos. Such as staging his idea of a romantic subplot wherein Rina makes a move on Lanzetta, begging him for whisky and dope. The impassive goon slaps Rina silly, calls her a "hopped-up nympho" then shags her anyway. In a typical bullshit Italian plot twist, she loves every minute. If the film's sexual politics are nauseatingly neanderthal at least its dog eat dog view of the underworld seems authentic. Amidst a sea of self-serving bastards, the shark-like Lanzetta is frighteningly compelling. Imported Hollywood star Henry Silva is really the whole show.