Underrated and overlooked crime gem about a corrupt detective hired to harass and tail suspects becomes more convoluted when a murder occurs, linking several suspects, each of whom has something to hide, and causing poor Detective Belli (Franco Nero) to lose his cool and endanger his position with the police force.
Confusing his life is Vera (Florinda Bolkan), the wife of financial benefactor Fontana (Adolfo Celli), and illegal immigrant Sandy (Equinox’s Delia Boccardo) with whom Belli develops a relationship that may be wholly disingenuous on Sandy’s part.
Director Romolo Guerrieri directs with a solid assurance, and his gamble to focus on nuances deepens otherwise archetypal characters, and he’s particularly trusting of audiences to be patient with reaction shots, particularly a generous use of variable close-ups. Guerrieri probably realized his entire cast was unusually beautiful, so why not allow viewers to admire Nero’s fine chiseled face, Bolkan’s sultry screen persona, and the model qualities of Boccardo? Susanna Martinkova (Monella, Who Killed Jessie?) is also affecting as a pampered upscale model, wearing a bizarre peroxide Shirley Temple wig and living in an ornate pop-art studio pad.
Ring of Death may be a progenitor of Bad Lieutenant (1992) or Internal Affairs (1990), because as with their central villains, Belli remains corrupt almost to the end, extorting money and reminding clients of payments owed, beating up suspects with total impunity, and sleeping with suspects because it kills an hour in an otherwise routine day. Perhaps the scene that endears Belli (for all the wrong reasons) is when he takes little Sandy for a ride, racing towards opposing traffic in the hope she delivers information; he’s sleeping with her, protective of her, yet he’s willing to risk a head-on collision to hear something that may be true, or a cunning lie.
Adding to the weird mix of bad behaviour is Roberto Gerardi’s taut cinematography and Fred Bongusto’s crazy jazz / lounge / bossa nova score, with a catchy main theme that almost pushes edgy scenes into the absurd.
Code Red’s source print comes from the U.S. release version via Sig Shore, and while frank with nudity and violence, it runs 7 minutes shorter than the original Italian version. Ring of Death was shot in English, but the Italian dubbed version reportedly features longer dialogue scenes, and a longer ending where Belli’s fate isn’t so clear-cut. Shore probably figured the film needed extra tightening, and the original finale seemed redundant, but he failed to miss the visual choreography Guerrieri uses, cutting back & forth between intense reaction shots, and holding on the actors’ suspicious eyes instead of standard POV cutaways.
The longer Italian versions is out in Italy on DVD, but it too features the same terrible sound mix with hot levels whenever the music and sound effects get sharp. Pity no one’s released a cleaner version (with both cuts and English subtitles), but Nero fans won’t be disappointed with this forgotten gem.
Guerrieri’s other credits include Johnny Yuma (1966)and The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968).
Note: this titleis part of Code Red’s Detective Double Bill series, and includes vintage trailers and the serial killer / detective thriller Blade [M] (1973).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan