Lisa and the Devil was shelved after a negative reception at the Cannes Market. A Bay of Blood was a box office disappointment. So Mario Bava decided to do something unlike any of his other films — developing a “poliziotteschi” film.
According to Roberto Curti’s Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980, poliziotteschi films “generally featured graphic and brutal violence, organized crime, car chases, vigilantism, heists, gunfights, and corruption up to the highest levels. The protagonists were generally tough working class loners, willing to act outside a corrupt or overly bureaucratic system.”
Bava filmed the entire film in chronological order, but the shoot was filled with issues. Original star Al Lettieri (The Getaway) was replaced after three days, mostly for showing up drunk. The replacement, Riccardo Cucciolla, spoke no English and had to read his lines from a script hidden inside the car (so Wikipedia says, but my copy is in Italian, so I have no idea why this was an issue).
Additionally, Bava’s son Lamberto, who was the assistant director on the film, has claimed that producer Roberto Loyola bounced all of the checks to the crew, who still finished the film within three weeks. All that remained were some cutaways and a pre-credit sequence, but Loyola went bankrupt and the film was lost in the courts.
There are numerous versions of this movie that were released in the mid 1990’s. For the interests of this article, we’ll focus on the Anchor Bay release of Kidnapped that was assembled by Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava.
After four crooks rob an armored truck, their getaway car is damaged and one of them is killed. The three that remain — Doc, Blade and Thirty-Two (George Eastman! Do I really need to tell you how much I love every movie this guy is in? Our site is literally his entire IMDB catalog, with movies like Stage Fright, Blastfighter, Hands of Steel, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Warriors of the Wasteland and more) — run into an underground garage, kill a woman and kidnap another named Maria (Lea Lander, Blood and Black Lace). They then steal another car driven by Riccardo (Cucciolla), who is trying to get a sickly child to a hospital before it’s too late.
The criminals force the man to drive them to their hideout. The film grows incredibly tense as Maria is on the verge of mania as she’s kept under gunpoint the entire way. Somehow, Ricardo remains calm. The heat is on, meaning that both the cops are on their tail and that the city is in the middle of summer. Doc forces the windows up on the car, keeping the nerves inside high.
Maria tries to escape after asking to be allowed to relieve herself outside, which leads to Blade and Thirty-Two capturing her and forcing her to do the act in front of them. It’s due to dogs, wandering the streets and barking, that she is caught (someday I have to do an IMDB list of movies that have dogs randomly wandering the streets).
These are base, horrible men who only know evil acts. After stopping for food and drink, Thirty-Two becomes drunk and attempts to rape Maria, an action that causes other motorists to notice the car. Doc replies by shooting his partner in the neck. The criminal lives, but now cannot move and is even more trapped than everyone else in the car.
The car stops to refill at a small town gas station, where the owner won’t even wait on them until his lunch is up. Doc tries to threaten him, but the old man has a gun at the ready. Blade finally resolves the situation by showing the sick boy inside the car and the old man decides to get back to work. However, a hitchhiker shows up and asks for a ride. As she gets in the car, the old man sees Thirty-Two’s bloody body, but he simply shrugs. It’s not any of his business.
The hitchhiker will not shut up, annoying everyone. When she removes the blanket and reveals Thirty-Two, Blade killing her feels like a relief. Doc asks Riccardo to pull over and they dump the body. And Blade carries out his friend Thirty-Two’s body and finally puts him out of his misery by shooting him.
Finally, they reach the group’s hideout, where Doc has another car and the papers that will allow he and Blade to leave the country. Then he reveals that he planned to kill Riccardo, the child and Maria. Riccardo begs for the boy to live, but Doc refuses and asks him to get him from the car. As Riccardo holds the boy, he pulls the gun he had inside the blanket all along, killing Doc and Blade, whose machine gun burst kills Maria. He takes Doc’s car and money, then leaves, only to reveal that he had been a kidnapper all along, holding the child for ransom. And the boy? Now he’s inside the trunk.
While this film has none of Bava’s trademark magic camerawork, it’s still taunt and well made. For example, in the scene where Doc shoots Thirty-Two, Bava uses tight close-ups of Doc and Riccardo’s faces, as well as the gun that Doc holds, then cuts to black as the car enters a tunnel. In that moment of no light or color at all on the screen — such a contrast to the dynamic hues we expect from the master — we simply hear the report of the gun being fired, stopping Thirty-Two’s rape of Maria. As we return to reality, Blade deals with his rage against Doc by screaming at his friend, only to discover that he is still alive. The flashbacks are relayed to us via voiceover instead of some dramatic camera move. Again — out of character, but this proves that Bava was not all special effects and tricks. He is filming the story as it should be filmed. The action inside the car is claustrophobic. And it had to have been even more so as it was filmed, as there’s real background zooming past behind the actors, so the camera was inside the car.
Also, this is a movie where you notice the acting so much more than in other Bava work. He takes a backseat to the true sense of dread and terror that his actors tell with their performances. I know that I’m a big Eastman fan, but he’s great in this film, a gigantic man child devoted to the id, barely restrained by the adult in the car, Doc.
In his later years, Bava left behind many unfilmed ideas. He was about to start filming a science fiction movie called Star Riders with Luigi Cozzi. That movie may have been the much-talked about sequel to Starcrash, which would have starred Caroline Munro and Klaus Kinski as the evil Baron Waak. Munro said of the film at Cannes, “With (her husband) Judd as my comical robot sidekick, El, we have a new mission. To help Baslim, a faithful officer in a dead king’s army, to unravel a mysterious plot of assassination and deceit-and save the life of a beautiful young princess.”
According to this amazing article, Bava had several science fiction films in mind, including the Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, A Bay of Blood, The House by the Cemetery, as well as just about every amazing Italian horror movie that is near and dear to your heart) scripted Anomalia, a Lovecraftian script about astronauts who find a wall at the end of the universe that separates good from evil. Holy shit, this is a film screaming to be made. There was also a plan to make The Space Wanderer, based on the Philip José Farmer book Venus on the Half-Shell, that sounds even more insane than that!