The Heroin Busters (Enzo G. Castelleri, Italy, 1977)

A cop named Mike (David Hemmings) and an undercover agent named Fabio (Fabio Testi) work together to infiltrate a vicious heroin smuggling ring working out of a theatre group so they can identify and arrest the mastermind behind it. But when Fabio’s attempt to ingratiate himself with the gang’s boss (Joshua Sinclair) by walking into police headquarters and stealing back some valuable heroin the gang have lost sparks a bloody shootout, both Mike and Fabio find themselves fighting for their lives.

David Hemmings is the last person I’d imagine as an action hero but here he is this fey, boyish icon of swingin’ sixties London swearing like a trooper, punching thugs out and in one glorious moment copping a feel of some bird’s tit as he hitches a ride on her motorbike while offering a not terribly convincing apology! He’s much more fun here than he was in Michael Apted’s half-assed Sweeney wannabee The Squeeze (1976), which got so carried away with the sordidness of its characters lives it forgot to include much in the way of actual genre thrills. Thankfully there are no such problems with this juicy slice of pulp. Hemmings, as it turns out, is actually pretty damn good as the hard driving copper determined to bust a heroin smuggling ring and co-star Fabio Testi is well matched with him as the smart arse hippy Hemmings busts and gives a rough time to early on but who is later revealed to be (surprise!) a fellow copper working with him undercover.

The pair have good chemistry, the plot – which revolves around a smuggling ring run out of a theatre company – has some effective twists (not the least of which is an audacious attempt by Testi to walk into police headquarters and nick back a stash of captured heroin, a plan that goes thrillingly awry), doesn’t paint the villains as stupid and is fairly unstinting in depicting the horror, sordidness and degradation of drug addiction in a sub-plot involving a cokehead and his girlfriend whose ghastly fates you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. There’s a satisfying variety of action and stunts too what with chases by car, foot and air plus a cracking setpiece in which Fabio is pursued by a thug on a motorbike right down into a subway. The production values look really good too with location filming on the streets of Rome, Amsterdam and Hong Kong (I’m invariably surprised at how polished these mid-70’s low budget productions can look) and an aerial sequence at the end involving duelling planes is so superbly choreographed that I actually couldn’t tell if the shot of one flying under a bridge and then exploding was a model or not so convincing did it look. Goblin – who did such a memorable job on Dario Argento’s Deep Red – supply the rockin’ score and director Enzo G. Castellari handles it all very smoothly indeed. This is an excellent rough n’ tumble genre pic. Recommended.

Last Known Address (Jose Giovanni, France, 1970)

Leonetti (Lino Ventura), is a tough policeman who after nicking a lawyer’s son is unfairly demoted because of political pressure. Kicking his heels in the sticks Leonetti finds himself teamed with a rookie cop named Jeanne Dumas (Marlene Jobert) in the search for an important witness in a major criminal trial. But as the pair slowly close in on their quarry amidst the teaming Parisian streets the accused’s henchmen are shadowing their every move and will do anything to stop the witness arriving at court.

Top notch, thoroughly engrossing slow burn thriller with a strong sense of place, palpable chemistry between the two leads and a catchy score by François de Roubaix. With her character’s charmingly guileless nature the beautiful Jobert (who I only recently discovered is the mother of Casino Royale’s Eva Green) makes a splendid counterpoint to Ventura’s great old warhorse, epitomised in a lovely moment where Ventura discreetly taps Jobert on the arm, a warning for the latter to stay expressionless in the face of a horror story from one of the witnesses they’re interviewing. As the hunt for the elusive witness develops so too does an attraction between our coppers, winningly played out between snatched lunches at small cafes, on the streets, or in the police car hurtling from one scene of crime to another. By the time Jobert finds herself in Ventura’s flat it feels like a genuinely intimate threshold has been crossed.

However a grimly effective climax only serves to underscore the unbridgeable gulf between the pair and gains added poignancy from the fact that Leonetti is a man all too well aware of his shortcomings. Director Giovanni handles the material with complete control even throwing in strikingly impressionistic moments – such as Jobert’s nightmare vision that the witness they’re looking for might not actually exist (a possibility the film smartly allows to percolate in the viewer’s mind through the first half) and a courtroom testimony so stylised and at odds with the film’s realist aesthetic you might think it had come from an entirely different movie – and yet it works. There’s only one fight scene here but the buildup to it is terrific and when it comes it’s a real humdinger as Ventura goes up against three burly thugs in a dark alley armed with a knuckle duster. It’s shot and staged in such a way you feel every painful blow and the film doesn’t stint in portraying the awesome damage a duster can inflict on someone’s face. In short, a terrific policier whose comparative obscurity is baffling. This would be a winner in any language.

This Sweet Sickness (Claude Miller, France, 1977)

Obsessed with his ex-girlfriend Lise (Dominique Laffin), an accountant named David (Gerard Depardieu) builds a cabin in the forest outside of town that he furnishes in the expectation Lise will move in with him. As David bombards Lise with letters, phone calls and personal visits – much to the annoyance of Lise’s husband – David becomes the object of affection from Juliette (Miou-Miou), the girl who lives next door to him.

Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith story this is a chilling psychological portrait of a very disturbed man and a cleverly constructed tale of obsession. Depardieu’s excellent performance socks over the yearning and adoration David has for Lise and then chillingly undercuts it when the latter turns up at his cabin and at what should be the moment of his greatest triumph David watches her – not with joy or satisfaction – but with dead, lifeless eyes. As Juliette discovers, for all David’s romantic overtures, when finally confronted by the woman he professes to love in the setting he’s dreamt about he has literally nothing to offer her. When David’s neighbour, the pretty Juliette makes a pass at him he agrees to sleep with her but as she’s about to give him a blowjob he launches into an abusive tirade, against her – against all women. Sex clearly terrifies this fully grown man. What is it, we wonder, that David really wants from Lise? Not an adult, loving relationship it seems but a return to some sort of infantilised, pre-adolescent state in which sex doesn’t even exist.

One of the strengths of Claude Miller’s film is that it treats this potentially melodramatic subject matter with restraint and its characters are both sympathetic and credibly written. When Lise finally does turn up at David’s cabin we assume she’s given in to him. But it turns out what she’s actually doing is laying the past between her and David to rest, once and for all. David’s melancholy longing to recreate the past will strike a chord with anyone who’s never quite gotten over that One Great Love. But once the film gets under David’s romantic obsession to reveal a control freak with a capacity for frightening violence one realises just how dangerous this man is. There are some great moments here, especially the way David finds himself hoist on his own petard as his obsession with Lise is reflected in neighbour Juliette’s unwanted intrusions into his own life. And once we get to the third act Miller does a superb job in conveying David’s descent into madness with impressionistic touches, the most memorable of which is the final scene in which David literally wills back time and the director obliges by having the film simply replay its climactic scene of disaster in reverse to the moment before it all goes wrong. It’s the perfect visual metaphor for David’s own sweet sickness, the whole world rearranging itself for his own satisfaction. Impressive stuff and along with the brilliant The Grilling (1981) one of its director’s very best films.