A car is run off the road with the driver decapitated and his lady passenger crushed, but Italian police discover the child travelling with them was already dead. Turns out the Sicilian mafia are smuggling heroin inside the corpses of murdered children. The older mafia dons are disgusted by this ghastly revelation, particularly Don Cascimi (Vittorio Sanipoli) who has designs on the rural town of Colle Pietra. To that end he sends granite-faced, whistling assassin Tony Aniante (Henry Silva) down South to settle a long-running feud between affable Don Turi Scannapieco (Mario Landi) and the ruthless, despicable Don Ricuzzo Cantimo (Fausto Tozzi). However, Tony faces distraction in the form of Don Ricuzzo’s luscious, ex-prostitute wife Margie (Barbara Bouchet).
Essentially another retread of Red Harvest, the Dashiell Hammett novel that inspired the likes of Yojimbo (1961), A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Miller’s Crossing (1990) and Last Man Standing (1996), this near-unbearably gruesome, sleazy and sadistic Italian crime thriller stands as the strongest directorial effort by Andrea Bianchi. Best known as the hack behind trashy horrors Burial Ground (1981) and Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975), his atypically taut, evocative direction imbues the sordid story with an air of twisted panache. Never one to let subtlety or good taste get in the way of a rattling yarn, Bianchi serves up great dollops of grotesque violence and sleaze: a head bisected by buzz-saw, a graphic autopsy on a little boy, Tony flattens enemies with a steamroller.
Much harder to stomach are the sadomasochistic sex fantasies enacted between Tony and Margie who, as the Don’s prized possession, delights her perverted husband by describing her flings with other men. Though celebrated for her exhibitionistic roles, Bouchet had acting talent to match those blonde bombshell looks. Her role here may largely be that of sex object, yet she hits every note as a self-loathing, alcoholic, sadomasochistic, nymphomaniac. Whilst playing along with Don Ricuzzo’s sordid sexual fantasies, she projects a flicker of revulsion. Margie latches onto Tony out of desperation, but like almost every character here is already damned. Tony destroys Margie in a manner closer to defacing private property than abusing a human being, which is not to excuse his reprehensible actions merely place them in context.
Henry Silva makes a uniquely dead-eyed anti-hero, sweaty and shark-like as he ploughs through the swarthy Sicilian mobsters. Strong-stomached viewers still have to trawl through a lot of macho mafia bluster to get to more substantial points raised about rural prejudice and pointless blood feuds. The local priest has almost resigned himself to the Sicilian way of life (“murder is as common as playing cards”), while the root cause of this vicious cycle is pinpointed when someone hands a crippled boy a gun and says: “You’re the last man this family has. Fight!”
A Romeo and Juliet love story between Don Ricuzzo’s son Paolo (Pier Maria Rossi) and Don Turi’s daughter Carmela (Patrizia Gori) is also woven into the plot. Tony shows more compassion to these two, perhaps latching onto them as the one pure thing in an increasingly nightmarish, nihilistic world. Bianchi is better at bloody action set-pieces and seedy goings on than making sense of the murky mafia conspiracies. Tony’s plan is none too clear compared to that of the Man With No Name but the film reaches a satisfying conclusion where every character suffers for their transgressions, which counts as some kind of ethical message in a largely amoral affair.