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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mondo pioneer Franco Prosperi proved himself a more than capable director of narrative cinema with this intriguing suspense feature. Robert Webber stars as Clint Harris, a morose, high-paid New York hit-man sent on assignment to Paris to locate and eliminate the mysterious Frank Secchy, who's making a move on Manhattan's criminal underworld and was also responsible for the murder of Clint's brother. Compelled by his boss (Cec Linder, the original Felix Leiter from Goldfinger) to take along deadweight sidekick Tony Lo Bello (a very young looking Franco Nero), Clint runs into trouble with a heroin-addicted woman who holds the key to Secchy's whereabouts. There's lots of shooting, some great Big Apple location footage for the first couple of reels, a fine score by Robby Poiteven, a twist ending, and even a night club scene where Take A Heart, the great freakbeat anthem by The Sorrows, plays out in its entirety. The film is decent in a washed-out, pan and scan print, so I imagine it would look great on disc. Here's hoping.
"Hired Killer" is a sleeper and a really good noir. Robert Webber is a
hit man for the "organization", having gotten into this line of work by
being a top military sniper. Now he's grown tired of the killing.
The opening sequence shows him at work, and it's as good a wordless sequence as you will see, as he carries out an assignment from the roof of a building. New York City's buildings play a part as a kind of cold, incommunicative but dominating landscape that houses the hidden office and people that occupy this man-made jungle and seek advantage over one another, killing if need be. Webber gets his payoff from a business-like organization member in one of these anonymous offices that could be that of any banker, lawyer, publisher or advertising executive.
Webber turns down another generous deal to kill Frank Secchy in Paris. But when his brother is gunned down, Webber takes on the job. He usually works alone, but he's made to take on Franco Nero as both assistant, including muscle, and trainee. When they arrive in Paris, they meet with many difficulties. The main two are that Secchy has had plastic surgery, changing his appearance, and his location is unknown. Webber becomes a kind of detective searching for Secchy, with Nero, who one might not even recognize at this stage in his career.
The search and story turn out to be complex, with the elements of double cross, distrust, and deception all entering in. In a way, the atmosphere becomes as thick as the contemporary "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold". The opening scenes carry on the traditions of such noirs as "Murder by Contract" and "The Lineup". The absence of police and the deep immersion into the criminal element mark "Hired Killer" as a noir too.
Webber is good in the role. He's not at all psychopathic or kill-happy. He's professional, smart, shrewd and polite. Webber has always been an effective actor. Nero handles his role very nicely too, injecting just enough unease to make one wonder whether he will turn out to be what Jan-Michael Vincent was to Charles Bronson in "The Mechanic" (1972). The female support, Jeanne Valerie, does just fine too, playing an attractive drug addict. Her career ran 1959-1991.
This is a fairly quiet movie, more French in tone than Italian starring veteran Hollywood actor, Robert Webber and featuring an early appearance by Franco Nero, who would the same year go on to star in Django and never look back. In this though he looks and sounds (well in my dub) more like the fictional character, Clark Kent. Webber carries most of the film in a most assured manner and though there is not masses of action, interest is well held by director Prosperi (he of Mondo movie fame). Engaging from the wordless beginning the movie has a good feel and plays more like a noir than an Italian 60s crime movie. Soundtrack surprises too and instead of a steady lush score of some abrasive industrial sound this a real mixture ranging from 60s pop to full on orchestral. There is a car chase and there are fights and shootings, even slight sex and drugs inclusion but basically a decent story carefully told.
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