The 1970's were a turbulent time for Italy, as the mafia's influence on politics and the judicial system sparked a nationwide distrust amongst its citizens, especially the poor. Things only worsened when the country tried to clean up the system, with the organized crime families refusing to let go of their power, and the already strained relationship between government and the public reaching a near breaking point. It was during this period that Italian cinema became much more than just a means of escape. Everything from the spaghetti western to the farcical comedy offered some sort of metaphor for the current state of politics and corruption in Italy, but some filmmakers took things to dangerous extremes, including Damiano Damiani, whose 1967 classic, “A Bullet for the General” ( El Chuncho, quien sabe? ), widely considered one of the most influential spaghetti westerns, was already seen as one of the most thinly-veiled attacks on the Italian sociopolitical system. One of Damiani's most notorious films, “How to Kill a Judge” is a prime example of the subversive cinema that came out of Italy at this tenuous time, and is now available on DVD.
Giacomo Solaris (Nero) is a filmmaker whose latest movie chronicles the recent murder of a judge, and the inept investigation and trial that followed. Solaris' film suggests that the magistrate in charge of the proceedings was in the pocket of the wealthy Mafioso thought responsible for the murder, and also suggests that said magistrate manipulated testimony and evidence to get the crime boss cleared of all charges. In a bit of artistic license, Solaris has the magistrate die at the conclusion of his film, something that the real man this character is based on, Magistrate Traini (Marco Guglielmi) finds amusing, while his wife, Antonia (Fabian), and his political cronies see this as disrespectful and potentially dangerous. Antonia invites Solaris to a dinner, expecting the director to apologize to her and her husband, but he has no intention of doing so, as his research into this case has him convinced that Traini is as corrupt as they come, and has surrounded himself with an even more corrupt circle of political allies. When Traini is murdered in a way that reflects his death in Solaris' film, the director finds himself at the center of a conspiracy that pits him against both high ranking officials and the crime bosses who fund them, and his only hope is to team up Antonia to get to the man pulling all of their strings.
How to Kill a Judge is a fast-paced, enthralling thriller with a sense of urgency that must have been even more palpable during the decade of its release. On the surface this is something of a formulaic crime drama, but the very real underlying themes of corruption, greed, and hopelessness of the general public seep through, making this film something of an incendiary protest film (much like Solaris' movie), and probably one of the most important releases of its time.
Blue Underground presents How to Kill a Judge with a great widescreen transfer, but I have to say I did notice two very brief moments where digital noise filled the screen. I'm not sure if it was simply an issue on my screener disc, but it is something I've dropped them a line about, as I know this company is extremely concerned with the video and audio quality of their releases. Extras include a featurette about the relationship between star Franco Nero and director Damiani, as well as the English and Italian trailers, and choice of English (2.0 Dolby) or Italian (2.0 Dolby) soundtracks.
UPDATE: The digital noise issue was, apparently, confined to my screener copy of this DVD, as Blue Underground sent me off another copy that did not feature any noise or artifacts whatsoever. Are these guys cool, or what?