The coolest man in black this side of Johnny Cash, Yul Brynner, played his last role in this Euro crime thriller under the direction of the prolific Antonio Margheriti. Oscar winner for The King and I, Mr. Brynner, is joined by fellow Academy Award winner Martin Balsam as a police inspector who is keeping a keen eye on Yul’s supposedly retired yet legendary mafia assassin touring Naples.
“There are only three important things in this business. The preparation, the shot and the getaway. Make a mistake on any of them and you’re dead … or under arrest.
One of the many crime thrillers to come out of Italy during the 1970’s when filmmakers were ‘cranking” them out in untold numbers. That’s what makes the Italian cinema of old so much fun. Give them a taste of success in a specific genre and the race is on. Peplum, Spaghetti and then crime. This time out it’s the retired Yul Brynner who has to go back to work for one last hit. And it’s personal. I know, it’s been done to death but with Yul Brynner taking center stage, I’m all in.
After a violent shootout at a horse track in Naples, the U.S. mob let’s Yul in on a tip that the man behind it is the same who had at one time killed his brother. That shootout is seen fleetingly in flashbacks along Yul’s journey for revenge. In no time at all Yul is overseas and enjoying the sights of Naples. It’s here that local con man and part time comedy relief, Massimo Ranieri, recognizes Yul and quickly becomes enamored of the smooth talking hitman. Hero worship soon follows and eventually Yul will give in and take the youngster under his wing teaching him some of the tools of the trade and offering much advice on how to stay in the game and live a long life. Shades of The Mechanic? A little bit.
Yul is a marked man when the Naples mob learn he’s in town and Yul will be dodging bullets and assassination attempts on his life for a good majority of the film leaving a trail of dead bodies behind. Inspector Marty Balsam wants the same man Yul is after and is hoping that they might set up an uneasy alliance as long as Balsam gets his man and Yul heads back to America with his new found love and leading lady Barbara Bouchet. Yes Naples has brought out the tender side of the great bald one. According to the trivia section over at the IMDB, the pair did not get along on camera though it doesn’t show. Miss Bouchet was only 23 at this time while Yul was a well conditioned 56. Only in the movies.
Car chases, bloody gun battles, a car falling from a cliff, thugs shot up and crushed by a subway car, beatings and what appears to be guerilla style filmmaking through the crowded streets of Naples, all mandatory once you’ve accustomed yourself to the genre. On that note, makes sure to see the wonderful documentary put together by Mike Malloy Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s . A must see for fans of the genre and the many actors that populated them.
Once the final shootout comes around we’ll see that a star of Yul’s magnitude has to do the right thing and won’t let his young charge become the patsy as was intended all along. Brynner goes out guns ablazing for his final on screen appearance. Death Rage was Yul’s second go around in a genre title from Italy. He’d appeared in the western The Bounty Hunters aka Indio Black that was slated to become the third title in the Sabata series released here in North America where he took over the title character from Lee Van Cleef. The Irony of that is the fact that Van Cleef had taken over Yul’s iconic gunslinger role as Chris of The Magnificent Seven in the fourth entry of the series, The Magnificent Seven Ride.
I’m old enough to remember Yul Brynner traveling around North America as The King on stage and recall the stage production coming to Toronto Canada. Sorry I didn’t see the show but looking back I was a bit too young just yet to secure tickets and travel to the big city. I can only assume it’s the play’s popularity that prevented Yul from ever making another motion picture before his death in October of 1985. As a fan I wish that hadn’t been the case and that he would have made a few more movies in the nine years between Death Rage and his passing.
Not to missed here in Margheriti’s film is the rather bizarre soundtrack that at one minute has me thinking I’m awaiting the appearance of Jake and Elwood Blues before it morphs into some Oriental chopsticks melody. Trust me, it stands out at various moments in the film. Martin Balsam was no stranger to the Euro Crime thriller having already appeared opposite Franco Nero in the well done, Confessions of a Police Captain among others during the decade.
If Barbara Bouchet catches your eye here gentleman, make sure you see her in one of my favorite crime thrillers of the Italian era, Milano Calibro 9 from director Fernando Di Leo.
Death Rage can be found pretty much any where you’re to find a DVD bargain bin full of budget labels. The problem is the various running times it’s available in. Unless you can locate a 90plus minute edition on DVD for the collector inside you, you’re probably best just to check it out on youtube.
All I need is this one sheet for the vault here at Mike’s Take that draws on Death Wish and Yul’s old Magnificent Seven pal, Charles Bronson, for purely exploitation reasons.