Director Sergio Sollima is mainly known for westerns such as Run Man Run, Face to Face and The Big Gundown, the Eurospy movies Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell, Agent 3S3: Massacre In the Sun and Requiem for a Secret Agent and the pirate movies Sandokan, La tigre è ancora viva: Sandokan alla riscossa! and The Black Corsair.
With Violent City, co-written with Swept Away director Lina Wertmüller, he was originally upset that it was going to be a traditional gangster story. He did, however, say that “we had the chance to shoot in the U.S., and I would do whatever it took to do that.” So he worked with Wertmüller to create the non-linear way that the story would be told. He also worked with Telly Savalas, who plays the main villain in a movie of bad people, to bring out the humor in his role. As for Bronson, he found him uncommunicative while his wife Jill Ireland was the exact opposite, which is probably why they worked so well together.
He said that in the end, the movie was a lot like his westerns and all about “the encounter and struggle between the individual and the society which is all around him, and the way he reacts to it.”
During a vacation, Jeff Heston (Bronson) and his lover Vanessa (Ireland) are attacked by killers sent by an old business associate who Vanessa has seemingly left Jeff for. He’s jailed and refuses to name her, even if he receives a lower sentence. As soon as he’s released, crime lord Al Weber (Savalas) wants him to work for him, but he claims he’s retired, which is a lie, as he kills the man who set him up in the very next scene.
Of course, Vanessa has been married to Weber all along and even though Jeff wants revenge on her, he can’t kill her. Weber even tells him that his love for her will be his undoing, that she’s the one pulling the strings, but Jeff’s critical flaw is in thinking that she can’t be such a person.
The movie had two major American releases, with the first distributed as Violent City by International Co-Productions and the second wide release distributed by United Artists as The Family, complete with a logo using the same font as The Godfather and a tagline that shouted
“The Godfather Gave You an Offer You Couldn’t Refuse. The Family Gives You No Alternative.”
If this was to be strictly an Italian film, Tony Musante and Florinda Bolkan would have been the leads. There was also an attempt to make the movie with Jon Voight and Sharon Tate.
This is a moody and dark film that predates the poliziotteschi films while boasting a strong soundtrack by the master, Ennio Morricone. It also has a stark ending that I’ve been thinking over again and again in the days since I’ve watched the film.
The Kino Lorber blu ray release of Violent City has a 2K restoration of the movie in English and Italian with optional English subtitles, new commentary by Paul Talbot, author of the BRONSON’S LOOSE! books, as well as an interview with director and co-writer Sergio Sollima, trailers, TV spots and a second disc with a 4K restoration of Citta Violenta, an HD master of the American version The Family and a series of Bronson trailers. You can order it directly from Kino Lorber.