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The Perfect Killer (1977)

Taking his turn as an aging hitman looking to retire from the syndicate, western favorite, Lee Van Cleef, assumes center stage in this heavily plotted effort coming at the end of the Euro-Crime craze featuring a dangerous femme fatale and another graduate of the western genre, John Ireland.

With Mario Siciliano directing, this gangland tale begins with Van Cleef and his partners in crime, Carmen Cervera (billed as Tita Barker) and Aldo Bufi Landi robbing the box office at a dog racing event. Before the heist begins Van Cleef lets Aldo know this is his last job and that he and Carmen are taking off with their cut of the cash. With a security guard shot down, Van Cleef’s supposed flame, Carmen, leaves him to his fate by locking him in the box office with the victim and makes off hand in hand with Aldo. Van Cleef takes the fall and earns a twenty year stretch.

Thankfully Van Cleef’s cellmate is well connected and with a good word placed in the right circles, Van Cleef, is released after a short stay in prison. But he’s indebted to the mob and is now a hired killer prompting a montage of hits he’ll make. No questions of asked. But when he’s assigned to kill his old cellmate he hesitates only to learn he’s being shadowed by a crazed killer, Alberto Dell’Acqua, who finishes the kill.

“I quit.” 

Van Cleef may want out but as we all know from watching scores of mobster movies, that’s not his decision to make and he’ll soon find Dell’Acqua is not only tracking him but taunting the elder statesman as well. Circling for the eventual kill. The difference between the two is he gets off on his job while Van Cleef has the stone cold look we associate with hitmen that succeed in their work. Back to that femme fatale, Cervera. Van Cleef tracks her and Aldo to a resort area but one look at her and he’s puddy in her hands and quickly back in her bed. All this against the wishes of his old friend, John Ireland, who is a specialist at phony passports.

Van Cleef will have a few run-ins with Dell’Acqua launching stern warnings as he continually embarrasses the young assassin. The end result will be bloodshed when the psychotic Dell’Acqua begins murdering people surrounding Van Cleef including a young babe who continually tries to get our toupee wearing action star into the sack. Hmmm …. a toupee? I wonder … ? Getting back on track, not only are people getting bumped off but Van Cleef is falling into another scheme with Cervana over a two million dollar take. All the main characters are going to collide on a beach in Spain where the film was supposedly shot.

Included in this bloody finale is a heck of a stunt when Van Cleef attempts to run down Dell’Acqua on the beachfront. Who is going to be left standing at the fadeout? Who is going to be holding the briefcase with the cash after multiple plot twists and double crosses? I’m not talking but thankfully I came across an old VHS copy to check it out for myself even if the transfer left much to be desired.

Bottom line is it’s a chance to sit in on a Lee Van Cleef film that had somehow escaped me all these years. No it isn’t prime Van Cleef from the late 60’s into the early 70’s but it’s still an opportunity to see this actor with the striking facial features on screen one more time at a point in his career when he was slowing down. His next role was in another double crossing heist effort called The Squeeze opposite Karen Black. Might make for a good double feature if you can score a copy of Killer. Squeeze is an easy title to locate in bargain bins or second hand shops.

I was actually surprised at the amount of sex and nudity in the film mostly prompted by the sexually aggressive killer, Dell’Acqua, who loves to taunt his prey. It should be noted that on the copy of the film I came across, the young actor took on the name Robert Widmark for the films he appeared in that received North American releases. Seriously. Robert Widmark? A quick glance and I like many others may have thought I was about to see a Richard Widmark film but I knew better having seen and actually owning a copy of nearly every Richard Widmark movie.

Lee Van Cleef looks good here sporting the aforementioned toupee. Years previously in 1957 he was on a steady diet of western heavies and appeared in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as did his Perfect Killer co-star, John Ireland. Though they never shared any scenes together in that John Sturges classic they did meet their comeuppance at the hands of the same man. Haven’t seen it for yourself? I’d say you’re long overdue so please grab a copy and give it a watch.

If nothing else, spotlighting this lesser known Lee Van Cleef role is what this movie blog is all about. Rediscovering films of a past era and giving them a moment or two in the present.

12 Comments »

  1. I’m almost certain I saw this way back on network TV late at night and chopped up to cut out a lot. I do recall from seeing a few Italian flicks that Dell’Acqua was in quite a few (I remember him from at least one spaghetti western I reviewed where his stage name was Cole Kitosh, which is memorable for all the wrong reasons…

  2. Lee Van Cleef is a badass in whatever he plays in, always scaring the bad guys with that steel gaze of his. The previous commenter’s mention of Dell’Acqua being called Cole Kitosh is correct. He used the name twice in two SW’s: Texas Addio (Texas Adios) with Franco Bero and Killer Calibro 32 (Killer Caliber 32) with Peter Lee Lawrence. By the late 60’s he primarily used Robert Widmark, and I think his one brother used it also in the 4th Sartana film.

  3. The opening to this one sounds a lot like the Lee Marvin crime thriller ‘Point Blank’ (and the Donald Westlake novel it’s based on, and the Mel Gibson remake). Funny how American actors worked on foreign Westerns in the 1960s, then did foreign crime films in the 1970s (though I wonder why none of them ever thought to do foreign teen sex comedies in the 1980s…hmmm). I think my favorite Van Cleef performances would have to be in ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, and going back a ways, in the film noir classic ‘The Big Combo’.

    • Good call on the Point Blank connection. Actors go with the flow I guess and when the western craze died out in Europe they just traded in the six shooter for a .44 A Big Combo blu ray now on my shelf and awaiting a revisit. Great film.

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