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After serving 12 long years behind bars for armed robbery, tough guy Hank McCain  (John Cassavetes) finds himself the pawn of a ruthless mob runt's rebellion against a high level don. When McCain discovers that he's been betrayed and abandoned by his new employer, he retaliates with a high stakes Las Vegas casino heist that erupts into a chase and battle through the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Not blood, nor lust, nor wedding vows can come between McCain and his money...or his machine gun.

 Machine Gun McCain
The Italian gangster films of the 1960s and ‘70s, also known as Eurocrime, or Poliziotteschi genre, regrettably sit outside the average scope of my knowledge base, so I’m unable to squeeze out another long, boring genre specific essay, as is my M.O. for most Blue Underground’s Blu-ray releases. Sorry guys. Anyway, Machine Gun McCain is actually a good place for a relatively uninitiated viewer like myself to work from. Director Giuliano Montaldo (who also directed Blue Underground favourite Grand Slam) embraces the swinging ‘60s with relish, creating an atmosphere Bullitt, Bond, and Walker would all feel perfectly comfortable walking through. Though this obviously dates the production, it also sets it apart from many similar Eurocrime releases, and is generally visually interesting. Montaldo isn’t a particularly flashy director, but he has a solid control over the widescreen frame, gets good use out of the era images, and clearly studied John Boorman’s work on Point Blank (the seminal, non-Bond staring crime flick of the 1960s, in my opinion). Montaldo also efficiently sets up McCain’s heist plans as well, without ever depending on dialogue to explain anything unnecessary, and cuts a mean montage when called upon. I hear Grand Slam is a more solid representation of this skills, and a generally more stylized film, but I haven’t gotten around to that one yet.

The script, which is co-written by Montaldo, is better than average, featuring interlacing plots, and just enough intrigue to sell the relatively routine storyline. The use of an occasional narrator is the only particularly ham-handed storytelling element, save a few less than impressive lines of dialogue. The cast is especially extraordinary, more so than I’m used to expecting from era Italian thrillers. The casting appears to up the production values, but at the time most of these actors were relatively unknown, or at least not particularly famous. The exception is star John Cassavetes, who had already developed quite a name for himself with his transitional work in the director’s chair here in America. Cassavetes was known for taking whatever acting jobs he could get to finance his films, so the effort he puts into the roll is actually quite satisfying. Cassavetes brought his wife (widow) Gena Rowlands onto the project, but the remaining names apparently came on to the project for the work. These include future Columbo Peter Falk, future Bond Girl, and Wicker Man dancing lady Britt Ekland, and Italian all-stars Gabriele Ferzetti ( Once Upon a Time in the West, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Night Porter), Luigi Pistilli ( For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), and Fulci favourite Florinda Bolkan ( A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture a Duckling).

 Machine Gun McCain

Video


Blue Underground is in fine form here with this 2.35:1, 1080p transfer. It’s not impossibly good looking, but the overall image quality is about as perfect as a film from 1969 can be expected to look without regular upkeep over the years. I don’t have a DVD version for comparison, but am guessing colour clarity, and detail levels barely compare between transfers. Machine Gun McCain isn’t too flashy, but the late ‘70s mod style presses the palette into some pretty bright arenas. Skin tones are natural, as are skies and outdoor vegetation, but the primary hue saturated costumes, cars, and interiors  Shots of the Vegas strip are especially impressive, displaying a rainbow of hues brightly, and sharply lit against deep, clean blacks. Some of the darker interiors lead to bleeding blues, softer edges, and a loss of detail, but grain plays a relatively consistent roll throughout. The film shakes a bit (which is probably the most distracting issue), and I caught some hard to miss pieces of minor print damage, but on the whole this is a pretty clean transfer, certainly considering the source’s age and relative obscurity. These problems are so underwhelming overall that stock city shots actually stick out quite a bit, which is quite the compliment.

There appear to be a few frames missing from the print here and there, and most of them pertain to violence, but no clearly deleted sequences. I’m not sure if this is a cut print or not, but my violence-sense is tingling…

 Machine Gun McCain

Audio


Machine Gun McCain makes its American video debut with a no frills, uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono soundtrack. Like most period Italian productions it’s likely the entire film was shot without sound, and it’s just as likely that certain actors are speaking Italian or some other language, so occasionally mis-synced vocals, and different aural qualities are excusable. Higher volume vocals (usually Peter Falk) exhibit quite a bit of distortion, and most of the basic foley is tinny, but these have likely been inherent issues since the film’s initial release. The big audio moments, such as car scenes, suffer a bit from the flattening, and lack of LFE support, but are still sonically successful. The only reason to lament the lack of 5.1 enhancement is Ennio Morricone’s score is flattened to a solitary channel (I have CD versions of the recordings that really benefit from the stereo separation). Morricone mixes his jazz-infused Giallo work with his Spaghetti Western work, both of which served as the composer’s bread and butter throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, and includes some amusing lyrics over the end credit theme that will drill themselves into your brain like a cancer.

 Machine Gun McCain

Extras


The rather sparse extras begin with an interview with director/co-writer Giuliano Montaldo (22:40, SD). In proper Blue Underground tradition Montaldo runs through most of his career, putting emphasis on Machine Gun McCain and Grand Slam (which Blue Underground released on DVD several years ago). Discussion includes his love of simple direction, his work with American actors and settings (permits, etc), the McCain production process, and the difference between his film’s and their Hollywood counterparts. The extras also include the English and Italian trailers.

 Machine Gun McCain

Overall


As stated, I’m thinking Machine Gun McCain is a good entry point for those of us uninitiated in the ways of Eurocrime, or Poliziotteschi genre films. It’s stylish without flash, efficient without stupidity, and features a very impressive cast, including art film demigod John Cassevetes, and a pre- Columbo Peter Falk. The new 2.35:1, 1080p transfer looks better than it should, thanks to the super high standards at Blue Underground, and the DTS-HD 1.0 soundtrack does its job effectively enough. Extras are brief, but the director’s interview is informative enough to fill in a few behind-the-scenes blanks.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.


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