September 21, 2015


I woke up this morning to learn of the passing of Mario Caiano, a prolific, if largely forgotten, figure in Italian genre film. Though his filmography mainly consists of spaghetti westerns, Caiano made frequent pit stops in the Peplum and the police thriller, with a stay over or two in the lands of horror and Nazispolitation. I only ever reviewed a single Caiano film in the five years I operated Films That Witness Madness, the excellent CALLING ALL POLICE CARS. That review, originally posted in November 2013, is reprinted here.

CALLING ALL POLICE CARS feels like the spiritual successor to the Massimo Dallamano's excellent "schoolgirl films" WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? and WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?. Dallamano died before he could complete what would have been a loose trilogy of thematically linked films, but his screenplay for the completing film was put before cameras in 1978 by director Alberto Negrin and released as RED RINGS OF FEAR. Mario Caiano's CALLING ALL POLICE CARS could have just as easily finished the trilogy. Like Dallamano's films, CALLING ALL POLICE CARS deals with teenage sexuality (both the awakening of and the exploitation of), male preoccupation with sexual desire, societal pressures caused by class inequality, tough cops, scandal, and brutality. WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? straddled the nearly impossible to define border between the giallo and the poliziotteschi, and CALLING ALL POLICE CARS follows suit. By using policemen as the protagonists, these films would fall squarely into the realm of the poliziotteschi, but the mechanisms operating at the narrative level scream giallo.

When Fiorella, the 16 year old daughter of a very famous, very rich surgeon named Andrea Icardi, goes missing, police inspector Fernando Solmi steps in to lead the investigation. Days go by without a break in the case until a K9 unit helps track the girl to a lake outside of Rome. A diving crew quickly brings the body of the girl, bound to her motorbike with rope and shot once in the neck, ashore. With little more to go on than tire tracks and a couple of cigarette butts, Solmi his men begin weaving their way through a tangled mess of suspects and suspicions. A major turning point in the case comes when the doctors performing the autopsy discover Fiorella was three months pregnant. They turn their attention to Momolo, a tavern owner with a history of sexual deviancy. Despite the firm conviction of the police chief that Momolo is guilty of the crime, Solmi doesn't buy Momolo as the murderer. A new find in the forensics lab turns up an even more disturbing lead. A thin thread of fabric turns out to contain traces of chalk. From there, things tumble quickly downhill in a landslide of deviancy, deceit and bloody murder.

CALLING ALL POLICE CARS (titled THE MANIAC RESPONSIBLE on some prints) is not a thinly plotted film. The narrative is dense and concentrated, with multiple suspects appearing and reappearing throughout the films tight 95 minute running time. Were it not for the sure hand of Mario Caiano, the film might have been a mess. Caiano is not as well known as his more prolific contemporaries, Fernando Di Leo and Damiano Damiani, but his visual style was uniquely suited to this kind of film. Uncluttered and relatively free of fuss, Caiano's direction keeps the film moving at a noticeable clip. While he lacked Di Leo's ferocious energy or Damiani's uncanny ability to create nerve wracking action set pieces, his steady hand brings a kind of emotional gravity to the film. Many poliziotteschi feel like popcorn movies but CALLING ALL POLICE CARS feels much more mature and weighty. There isn't much in the way of subtext to be explored here outside of the usual rich vs. poor/money leads to corruption tropes that are so common in poliziotteschi, but that isn't to the film's detriment. If anything, it helps the films narrative (written by prolific giallo/poliziotteschi writers Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru) move smoothly along while Caiano's camera keeps the film anchored in reality.

The more serious approach taken by Caiano defuses many of the screenplays more exploitative elements. While CALLING ALL POLICE CARS deals with teenage prostitution, abortion, murder and sexual abuse, it doesn't ever seek to trade its moral outrage for cheap thrills. Much of the films (often full frontal) nudity is supplied by teenage girls (or at least by actresses who look like teenage girls) and we are made to identify with the lecherous older men who stare Fiorella down as she walks across the way in her bathing suit at the films beginning. This is a castigation, not a come on. The film, though it flaunts fresh flesh, is quick to note that we, the audience, have the same troubles as these older men. That is to say, that we quickly move from simple sexualization to objectification without batting an eyelash, but as the film progresses, we are led down the moralistic path of recognizing that these women, used for their sexuality, are more human than the men who judge and use them. Even during the films one true scene of exhibitionistic fantasy, our minds are constantly taken back to the haunting image of Fiorella's body being dragged from the lake or her lifeless, pale body lying still upon a table in the morgue. We are made to share Solmi's outrage at the desecration and exploitation of the young girls. It is this desire to punish not only Fiorella's murderer but the men just like him that ultimately drives the story forward.

While this lack of exploitation thrills keeps CALLING ALL POLICE CARS on the fringe of the popular poliziotteschi, I can't help but think its desire to play straight is what makes it so special. Poliziotteschi really were a dime a dozen in the mid 1970s in Italy and most of them just blur together into one giant mass of bullets, bombshells and fisticuffs. But Caiano's film stands out. It plays the same kind of game as Di Leo's films did, but it feels like altogether different kind of film. It has a real somber tone, a definite air of pathos that is missing from most films of its kind. I can't say it belongs at the top of the genre but it definitely deserves rediscovery and reappraisal. It has a definite effect to it and a genuine power.

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