She just wants a man without a criminal record!
WAKE UP AND KILL, directed by Carlo Lizzani, is an Italian crime thriller involving a small time thief named Luciano Lutring who dreams of being a big time gangster/criminal. He meets a beautiful singer named Yvonne and, much to her chagrin, takes her on his wild ride to play King of the Italian robbery mountain. As his exploits get more and more brazen, the media sensationalizes him to such a degree that he believes himself to be unstoppable, setting him up for his inevitable fall.
The version of the film I watched on the Arrow blu-ray disc was the uncut 2 hour version. There is also a shortened English version of the film included that has around 20-25 minutes cut out, which, in all reality, is probably the better of the two versions. I mention this because, while watching the Italian version, I was struck by multiple moments in which I said to myself “None of this needs to be in this movie to accurately tell this story.” WAKE UP is decidedly 60’s in terms of style, aesthetic, and atmosphere. Push zooms, a grimy, almost neorealistic approach, and a film just out of time in terms of not quite giving audiences the sex and violence they would come to expect from similar films of the 70’s. It exists in a strange place between the conservative films of the early 60’s and the full embrace of mature content in the 70’s. In those terms, it’s interesting to view as a gateway film, showing how the crime film would ultimately be taken from it post film noir “classiness” (films such as RIFIFI and TOUCH OF EVIL) to the rough and tumble explicit grittiness of the Scorsese’s of the world.
The film itself works best early on when Luciano and Yvonne are becoming a couple. There’s a bit of Bonnie and Clyde-ness to the proceedings, with the main difference being that Yvonne is extremely vocal that she disapproves of Luciano’s lifestyle. It was refreshing to see a female character in a film like this vocalizing her opposition, even if Lizzani’s portrayal of her is, oh, what would my friend Rachel use here….problematic? Luciano repeatedly beats Yvonne throughout the film and the film does a poor job of conveying the reasons as to why Yvonne loves this guy and wants to stay with him. Nobody comes off as good in the film, though. In one scene, the police literally walk in on a guy attempting to rape Yvonne and they completely ignore her when she wants to file a report. Though I wouldn’t call WAKE UP AND KILL a sleazy film (there’s no nudity and barely any violence), it certainly has those sorts of elements in terms of how the characters treat and view each other.
The main problem with the film is that the middle hour just drags and drags. Luciano eventually has to split up with Yvonne because the police are on his tail and the film takes a nose dive in terms of interest and excitement once the two of them aren’t on screen together. There are a number of subplots that go nowhere and there’s a decided lack of cinematicness to the robberies (dude just breaks windows, grabs jewels, and runs away) that makes it hard to really find Luciano all that impressive of a criminal. I was also disappointed in the lack of extras on the disc. There are no featurettes or audio commentary tracks. In fact, had I not gone out of my way to look up some info about this film, I would have never known that it is based on a true story. Yes, Luciano Lutring was a real guy who did hundreds of robberies and became a folk hero. Learning that sort of information really changes your perception of the film and it’s a shame that Arrow didn’t put any features discussing this or showing what in the film was based on “truth” and what is good old fashioned moviemaking exaggeration.
Ultimately, I can’t really recommend this film. The lack of special features and a film that, ultimately, drags and wastes its solid set up and interesting anti-hero, make for a somewhat disappointing viewing experience. However, cinephiles who are genuinely interested in the genesis of the post-noir European crime film, would find stuff of interest in here. Just be prepared to do a little digging on your own after the fact.