I recently caught up with this rather schizophrenic Italian number from 1973 recently courtesy of THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE box set. Directed by Michele Lupo, mostly known for several Italian Westerns he made in the sixties, and starring Lee Van Cleef, Tony Lo Bianco and a gorgeous Edwige Fenech, MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY is a fun little Italian Crime film that surprised me at almost every turn.
Tony Lo Bianco plays a lovable small time hood named, appropriately enough, Tony who dreams of the big time, and sees his chance when an infamous mobster named Frank (Van Cleef) is released from prison. Tony's life isn't bad (how bad can your life be when you have Edwige Fenech as your girlfriend?) but he's a dreamer who wants to be like the gangster heroes of his youth. Tony begins to stalk Frank after his release from custody and after failing several times to befriend the notorious kingpin, Tony accidentally saves Franks life and the two become partners in crime.
Photographed well by none other than Joe D'Amato and featuring a gorgeous score by Riz Ortolani, MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY is a rather slight film, but it is a lot of fun. Alternately funny, violent and sexy, the film is certainly never boring and is quite endearing even though it never really reaches the heights of greatness that some of these Italian crime flicks from this period did.
The three main cast members are all very good. Lo Bianco injects a lot of humanity to Tony and Van Cleef just oozes the kind of bad ass quality that is rarely seen anymore. Fenech is unfortunately just seen in just a few scenes but she brings her usual charm to the role (even though her performance is hampered by some atrocious dubbing)...and she is absolutely stunning to look at here. French actor Jean Rochefort pops up as Frank's older Nemesis and he is quite good as well.
The film veers, sometimes uneasily, between brutal violence and near slapstick humor. It finally can't seem to make up its mind as to exactly what it is, but for the most part it fits together nicely.
The print used in the GRINDHOUSE box set is a passable port from an old full frame VHS copy. It is covered in scratches and has some notable splices but it looks to be uncut, or at least very close to it. The rather bloody killings seem intact and Fenech is featured fully nude at one point so the film doesn't feel too compromised. It apparently is also available under the rather lame title ESCAPE FROM DEATH ROW and is heavily cut in that version.
While not up to par with some of the great Italian crime flicks of the seventies, MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY is a lot of fun, and genre fans should get a major kick out of. I wish it would have cut down on the comedy a bit, and given Fenech more to do but those minor issues shouldn't veer fans away from it. Both volumes of THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE are among the biggest steals of the year in my book, with each film averaging in cost just above a dollar and featuring works from everybody from Jean Rollin to Sergio Martino. I am still working through volume one and so far MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY is one of the many highlights.