9 June 2003 | overlook_productions
A Masterful Hybrid of Polizier and Giallo!
Skip through the special features on the DVD of Peter Yates Bullitt (1968) and you'll find an interesting featurette entitled Steve McQueen's Commitment to Reality; a promo made at the time of the film's production. As this quaint little curio unravels, we're told that McQueen had driven the iconic Ford Mustang for real, during the seminal car chases. The viewer is given the impression that the film's star is really something special for doing so. FACT: Next to French superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo's stunt work in Peur Sur La Ville, McQueen was merely dipping his little toe in a very deep pool! Reality indeed!
The action sequences in Peur Sur La Ville are nothing short of jaw dropping, even by the standards of movies today. One chase sequence in particular has Belmondo pursuing a suspect up an interior stairwell, out through a window, across a series of rooftops whilst hanging onto various fascias and bits of guttering. Smashing through a skylight, he falls into a department store. Once again on street level, a car-chase ensues, climaxing with Belmondo running atop a moving train! Verneuil lets his audience know that it's his leading man putting his neck on the line. Belmondo is clearly seen, every step of the way. This is undoubtedly one of the best examples of its kind ever committed to celluloid.
Peur Sur La Ville would probably never have been conceived if it hadn't been for the aforementioned Bullitt or for that matter, William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971).For years, European critics sneered at American remakes/reworkings of classic foreign language films and held theirs heads high with the view that continental cinema was not only innovative, but actually set the trends for the Yanks to replicate. However, Bullitt, French Connection and Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (1971) set the record straight once and for all; the anti-hero cop was as American as the hamburger. These groundbreaking films introduced audiences to unorthodox cops that had a case to break, by any means necessary. Sometimes these cops would act as ruthless as the criminals they were fighting to keep off the streets. All three films upped the ante in terms of action and break-neck editing.
By the mid seventies, Italian directors such as Enzo G. Castellari (High Crime), Franco Martinelli (Violent Rome/Roma Violenta) Fernando De Leo (Calibre 9/Milano Calibre) and Umberto Lenzi (The Tough Ones/Italia a Mano Armata) were all dabbling with this new found genre. Whereas their American counterparts had cast the likes of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Gene Hackman, the Italians were making stars out of Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Maurizio Merli and Fabio Testi. Although immensely enjoyable almost all of these Italian poliziers never rose above formulaic. However, Verneuil, a Turkish film-maker working in France managed to pull off a real coup with Peur Sur La Ville. By making his film a hybrid of both polizier and giallo, it works on both levels and gives it the substance lacking from the Italian pictures.
A diabolical killer calling himself Minos, is on the loose in Paris. Having lived through the `free love' of the sixties and not getting any, he decides that he will `act as an arm of justice that will condemn without pity and execute all those who wallow in the sexual mud that is drowning us.' After establishing his motive, he sets about murdering promiscuous females. Hot on his heels is police Inspector Latelier (Belmondo). Minos taunts Latelier by sending a piece of his picture after each murder, in the view that the photograph will be complete when his work is done.
As Paris' most unorthodox detective, Latelier gets sadistic pleasure from seeing his suspects squirming. During one of the Sub-plots, Latelier refuses to call a critically wounded drug dealer an ambulance until he gets the information he is after, which echoes Eastwood's Callaghan in Dirty Harry.
As much as Verneuil was influenced by the like of Siegel and Freidkin, Peur sur La Ville owes a huge debt to the films of Mario Bava. The opening scene in which Minos taunts a victim on the phone, is reminiscent of The Telephone episode of Bava's anthology Black Sabbath (1963).Later during the aforementioned chase sequence, after crashing through the skylight, Latelier and Minos face off amongst the mannequins of a poorly lit store room; a nod to the Italian maestro's Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1969).
Peur Sur La Ville features a wonderful music score by none other than Ennio Morricone. The score is integral to some of the set pieces as one would expect. During the tense opening, Morricone orchestrates only a single drumbeat. This is extremely unnerving, as we the audience, know that Minos is about to knock at the door!
Canal + Video's DVD is presented anamorphically, in its original widescreen ratio of 1:66:1. This is as good a transfer as one could expect from a film of this age. Print damage is minimal but the colours seem a little washed-out. The sound is presented in two-channel mono, but is well balanced and serves Morricone's score well. The viewer has the choice of watching the film either in the original French language or in a dubbed English version. There are no subtitles available. Extra features are limited to the original theatrical trailer (in French), an interview with Verneuil (again in French) and a poster gallery.
Peur Sur La Ville is one of the lost landmarks of action cinema but is also so much more. If you have a thing for poliziers or giallos, this ones for you!