La mala ordina

La mala ordinaSynopsis: The second film in Fernando Di Leo’s Milieu Trilogy focuses on Luca Carnali, a small-time mobster and pimp who has been set up by his gangland boss. When a shipment of heroin disappears between Italy and New York, Carnali is framed for the theft. Carnali is pursued through Milan by a pair of merciless American hit men – played by Henry Silva and Woody Strode, and referenced by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (1994) – whom mistakenly believe that he has stolen a drugs shipment. Following the murder of his wife, the hunted becomes the hunter as Carnali takes his revenge on his boss, the hit men and anyone else who stands in his way.

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La mala ordina 8.0

eyelights: its underdog story. its nearly unrelenting action.
eyesores: its b-movie quality.

Well, this one took me by surprise.

‘La mala ordina’ is a 1972 motion picture by Fernando Di Leo. It’s considered the second in his so-called “Milieu trilogy”, which began with ‘Milano calibro 9‘. As such, I was expecting a solid, but middle-of-the-road European crime film.

Except that ‘La mala ordina’ is anything but: it’s a white-knuckle action thrill-ride.

It begins when two New York assassins are dispatched to Italy to knock off the person responsible for a missing heroin shipment. Their bosses want to send a clear message that they won’t permit anyone to steal from them.

What they don’t know is that Luca, the pimp who’s been blamed for the theft, is being framed by Don Tressoldi. And to prevent New York from ever finding out, he’s sent his own men out to find Luca and make him disappear.

Permanently.

Poor Luca has no idea what’s coming.

What’s interesting about ‘La mala ordina’ is that it starts with the killers as the central figures. The pre-credit opening sequence, and the few minutes which follow them, suggest that they are our going to be our protagonists.

But it’s a complete bait-and-switch: soon the movie turns its focus on Luca, and the assassins become background characters who only show up again towards the end. The transition is as surprising as it is smoothly executed.

By the time we realize that Luca (played by Mario Adorf, who played Rocco in ‘Milano calibro 9’) is the main character, we’re already invested in him: his family ties, his plight, his survival instinct are established and we want to see more.

And, boy, do we ever.

The picture turns into a massive manhunt, with Luca on the run the whole time, trying to protect his daughter and ex-wife, being betrayed time and again by his friends, and brutally extricating himself out of some serious situations.

And when Don Tressaldi resorts to threatening Luca’s family, it goes full throttle, with our “hero” becoming as vicious as the “Parker” character in ‘Point Blank’ and ‘Payback’: all he wants is to make the madness stop – at all costs.

It’s impressive to see how tenacious he is, how he survives and kills his way through, just to get everyone off his back. He’s a terrible individual, but we sympathize with him and disregard his methods because he’s been treated unfairly.

We actually want him to win.

‘La mala ordina’ is not a huge production à la Hollywood, so it doesn’t have the gloss and style of a Hollywood production, but, given that it was likely cobbled on a modest budget, it’s a phenomenal achievement, a real pulse-pounder.

Its only real issue, I’d say, is the half-baked finale in the scrap yard, which felt ill-conceived. What was clearly intended to be the explosive end to this 90-minute thrill ride didn’t quite limp to a close, but lacked the intended “oomph”.

This and the low budget production aside, ‘La mala ordina’ is an excellent action film. Its plot is nothing extraordinary, but its delivered like a brick through a plate glass window. If Di Leo’s films are mostly like this, I’m going to be a fan.

I really look forward to the next installment in his trilogy, ‘Il boss’.

Date of viewing: February 16, 2016

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