Arrow Heads! Vol. 13: WAKE UP AND KILL (1966)

Arrow Heads — Arrow Video, a subsidiary of Arrow Films, humbly describe themselves as merely a “Distributor of classic, world, cult and horror cinema on DVD & Blu-ray”. But we film geeks know them as the Britain-based bastion of the brutal and bizarre, boasting gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging and bursting with extras (often their own productions). Their collector-friendly releases had traditionally not been available in the U.S, but now Arrow has come across the pond and this column is devoted to discussing their weird and wonderful output.

Like some other Euro-crime films (including Killer Cop which I’ve previously covered), Wake Up And Kill pulls its plot right from the headlines. Luciano Lutring was a real-life gangster who was dubbed the “Submachine Gun Soloist” (or simply “Machine Gun Soloist”) by the media, in reference to his use of a violin case to tote his signature weaponry. After his 1965 capture, director Carlo Lizzani wasted no time in capitalizing on the high profile true crime story. Svegliati e uccidi (other aliases include Wake Up and Die, Too Soon To Die, and Lutring) made its debut a scant seven months later.

As the film tells it, Luciano (Robert Hoffman) wasn’t really any kind of incredible crime genius but rather a common, even inept, smash-and-grab hoodlum who inadvertently picked up media attention, making him infamous. Despite his criminal occupation, he’s a jittery and wildly emotive man, nervously rushing through every job and always choosing flight over a fight. Even his decision to arm himself is motivated by self-preservation — he’s too terrified to operate without a weapon.

Had the film focused solely on Luciano, it would’ve been much worse off. He’s not a very charismatic or compelling character, and indeed rather stupid and unsympathetic. Instead it’s his love interest, Yvonne (Lisa Gastoni, who won the Italian equivalent of an Academy Award for her role), who injects some humanity into the tale.

As they first meet and fall in love — he first sees her as singing at a nightclub — he hides his criminal occupation, even while stealing cars and gifts in order to romance her. Her agony at discovering his secret life, and eventual decision to accept it, is the film’s most compelling point. Even after they marry and she becomes complicit in his activities, she continues to resent his every crime, not so much for his thuggery as the fact that she constantly worries for his safety.

There are also some subtle but noteworthy themes here about how the media creates news, as Luciano’s ascendancy from a common looter to the notoriously nicknamed “Machine Gun Soloist” is almost completely manufactured by splashy headlines. As his notoriety grows, he’s forced to stay on the move, increasing his vulnerability and benefiting the film by showcasing different cities across Europe. At the pinnacle of his desperation, he storms into a newsroom and threatens the journalists at gunpoint to stop writing mean things about him. This theme is also evident in another scene in which Yvonne is convinced to appear on television to appeal to Luciano to turn himself into the police.

As things get worse, she fears more and more for Luciano’s life. She realizes that his capture would save him from a worse fate, and wrestles with the temptation to collaborate with a police detective (Gian Maria Volontè, best known for his villainous roles in Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More) who promises his safety in exchange for her cooperation.

Unfortunately these ingredients, even with some car chases and action beats mixed in, just don’t gel into a great film. It’s too drawn out at 2 hours (though the much shorter English cut is also included on the disc), and the constant, bafflingly stupid decisions made by both Lutrings — not to mention that at the end of the day they’re the bad guys — make it difficult to empathize much with their self-inflicted woes. Worse, exemplary of one of the genre’s more unfavorable tropes, Luciano repeatedly beats his wife when displeased with her, making him even more unworthy as a protagonist.

In the end, the result is an interesting but disaffecting film which offers a true but unsatisfying narrative.

The Package

Wake Up And Kill is now available in a 2-disc dual-format Blu-ray and DVD pack from Arrow Video. Like most Arrow titles, it features a booklet and reversible cover, packed in 14mm clear case.

Special Features and Extras

English Version (97:38)
 The English version is not only dubbed but significantly edited, cutting the film by almost a half hour (from 2:03:51 to 1:37:38).

Theatrical Trailer (1:18)
 English language trailer which sports the alternate title Wake Up And Die. Intriguing as a trailer but poor PQ (apparently VHS sourced, with combing).

Having viewed several Arrow releases now, this is the first one that feels to me like a dud. The film’s rather unremarkable outside of its “true story” angle, and the supplementary material doesn’t add anything that would warrant a purchase, which is unfortunate because a documentary about the real-life Luciano Lutring would’ve been a perfect complement to the cinematic take.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 Wake Up And Kill — [Blu-ray]

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