Thursday, September 3, 2009

Joe Dallesandro on Film: Savage Three (1975)

A fascinating and extremely violent early blueprint for films as diverse Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar and Mike Judges’ Office Space, 1975’s Fango Bollente from director Vittorio Salerno and writer Ernesto Gastaldi is an exciting and sometimes shocking warning against working conditions that turn men into mere numbers on a grid. Starring Joe Dallesandro in one of his great perfrormances, Fango Bollente (or Savage Three as it is known in English language territories) is a real buried treasure worthy of discovering for Italian film enthusiasts.

Savage Three stands as one of just a handful of films that Salerno directed in a career that covered a couple of decades in Italian cinema. Better known as the writer of several Spaghetti Westerns from the sixties, and as the assistant director on such works as 1970’s The Anonymous Venetian, Salerno had first worked with the legendary Gastaldi on the terrific Libido in 1965. Gastaldi explained to Tim Lucas in the pages of Video Watchdog 39 how he had initially began working with Salerno recalling that he, “was the brother of Enrico Maria Salerno, a famous Italian actor”, and that, “he was really important at the time.” Gastaldi told Lucas that he, “had met Vittorio in 1963” and that they became friends at a time when they were essentially both unknowns. After an abandoned earlier project called The End of Eternity that was supposed to star Salerno’s brother, the two scripted Libido together, and they were credited as co-directors on the film even though Gastaldi admitted to Lucas that Salerno was essentially “useless” in this role.

The writing and directing credit on Libido helped establish both Salerno and Gastaldi’s names, and they would continue working as co-writers throughout the sixties on works such as 1966’s Spy Against the World and Blood at Sundown. Gastaldi would not be involved though with Salerno’s first solo directorial project, a little seen thriller from 1973 entitled No, The Case is Happily Resolved. The two would join forces again though on Savage Three two years later, a film that would turn out to be their most artistically successful co-venture since Libido ten years earlier.

Savage Three is unfortunately not discussed in Lucas’ terrific interview with Gastaldi in Video Watchdog 39, and articles on the film in general are not east to come by. Even Dallesandro’s official website mostly dismisses the film as “dismally exploitive” and to my knowledge it has never had any kind of proper DVD release anywhere in the world. My copy is a decent widescreen composite print taken from what looks to be British and Greek VHS copies. Savage Three’s lack of general availability and dismissal by the few who have seen it is a real shame, as it is a really thought provoking film that to my eyes ranks among the most interesting works Gastaldi penned in the seventies, which is no small compliment considering the phenomenally creative and extraordinary career the man had during the decade.

Dallesandro plays Ovidie Mainardi, a frustrated lab assistant who spends his days staring at a computer screen or watching caged mice act out sad little consequences of being locked together in captivity. Ovidie and two of his co-workers hang out in the evenings and on the weekends to unwind, and work out their frustrations, with drinking and partying. Things begin to turn ugly one weekend at a Soccer match when the three inadvertently cause a mini-riot. Finding that the violence they caused gives them pleasure, the three start causing havoc at every chance they get. Things begin to get really ugly when the men begin to resort to murder to satisfy the frustration of just being considered nameless workers by the powers that be. Finally, much like the mice confined together in closed in spaces, they slip deeper and deeper into madness as they become twisted shadows of the men they once were.

Savage Three has all the elements of just another Italian exploitation film from the seventies, but Gastaldi’s extremely thought provoking script and Dallesandro’s frightening performance really elevates it at every turn. While Ovidie is ultimately a total psychopath, for at least half the film Dallesandro is able to play him as a man who has been categorized and labeled by a cold and uncaring system for far too long. The plight of the nameless man has been covered time and time again in literature and film and, with this in mind, Savage Three is part of a very long and valuable artistic lineage, rather than just another exploitation thriller looking to deliver thrills.

The fact that Savage Three does deliver not a small amount of exploitable fare in the violence and sex department really only adds to its allure as a fully rounded and successful film. Here’s a rare film that can appeal both to our basest needs as filmgoers as well as to some of our deepest as human beings. Savage Three is a valuable work deserving of a larger audience than it has ever been granted.

Joe Dallesandro was just a few years into his European film career here and he gives an absolutely stunning performance as Ovidie, a man who has lost himself completely. Dallesandro’s work in the film marks just about his darkest turn in front of the camera, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a scene, late in the film, concerning his wife and a particularly twisted phone call a totally destroyed Ovidie makes concerning her fate.

An exceptional cast, including the director’s brother Enrico, Martine Brochard and Luigi Casellato, joins Dallesandro in the film. Recognizeable Italian exploitation actresses Ada Pometti and Carmen Scarpitta also pop up in two of the film’s most disturbing sequences. Behind the scenes the most recognizable name, outside of Gastaldi, is probably composer Franco Campanino, who delivered the unforgettable score to another 1975 Dallesandro film, The Climber.

If I have one complaint about Savage Three then it is that finally it perhaps doesn’t take itself seriously enough. Certain sequences, especially a series of conversations between Ovidie and the police captain on the case, don’t go far enough while others seemed designed to just titillate even at the expense of the film itself. Still, despite some concerns, Savage Three is an extremely interesting, thought provoking and entertaining film and a DVD release is way overdue.

Salerno had only two more directing assignments after Savage Three and one of them (1981’s Notturno con Grida, which is apparently a partial reworking of Libido) is again co-credited with Gastaldi, which makes me wonder if the famed screenwriter had a hand in Savage Three’s direction as well. Any more information on this would be greatly appreciated.

Dallesandro, of course, stayed on in Europe for nearly the next decade and within a year of Savage Three he would work with the likes of Louis Malle, Serge Gainsbourg and Walerian Borowczyk. Savage Three remains one of the most interesting performances and films of his impressive European run, and I highly recommend that the great man’s many fans search out any copy they can find.

IMDB lists Savage Three’s running time at 88 minutes and my copy runs ten minutes shy of that, which naturally leads me to believe that my version is heavily cut even though it is clearly a composite print. I would venture that the IMDB’s listing is incorrect, as my version doesn’t shy away from nudity or bloody violence, but under 80 minutes is extremely short so apparently my copy is missing at least a few minutes.


Amanda By Night said...

Joe Dallesandro = honey, so yeah, I'm there! :)

You wrote about another Joe Dallesandro movie on here that I wanted to see. I need to remember what that was. The list is getting long!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Amanda,
I really admire Joe and think he is so underrated as an actor and figure in pop culture. I hope to eventually write on his European films (and some of the American ones as well).

Rev. Phantom said...

Damn, this sounds good. I'll have to search it out.