Shoot First, Die Later (1974)

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Here’s how I’d pitch Fernando Di Leo’s Shoot First, Die Later (1974) to any of my friends: If you’d like to see a gritty Italian crime movie that evokes The French Connection (1971) and surely influenced Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, look no further than this grim bit of business. Heck, I’ll toss in one more movie reference for good measure. Are you familiar with the re-release poster for Le Samouraï (1967), the one where Alain Delon stares expressionlessly down the barrel of a gun? Imagine him grinning instead (if you can) and there you have Shoot First, Die Later. It’s as if the French shrug at the abyss whereas the Italians meet the same raw nihilism with a smile.

If you had a trivia question where you had to answer what connection there was between Di Leo and two of the foremost Spaghetti Western masters in the world (by which I mean Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci), the answer would be Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars More (1964, Di Leo’s writing uncredited) and Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966, Di Leo being here properly credited as a screenwriter). From there, the connections grow to include cinematographer Franco Villa, who has worked on many other films, including Di Leo’s The Italian Connection (1972), and composer Luis Bacalov, who scored Corbucci’s Django (1966) and much more.

Shoot First, Die Later  (1974)Directed by Fernando Di Leo

Considered one of Fernando Di Leo’s best works, the anti-hero in Shoot First, Die Later is a handsome, young cop by the name of Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda). Domenico enjoys the support of both his community and his cop father (Salvo Randone), but dashing good looks and an ability to pummel your way through a room of bad guys only goes so far when you’re rotten to the core.

Domenico ends up playing cat-and-mouse games with a reporter (Delia Boccardo), his own father, mafia assassins and the police. There’s plenty of action, gruesome twists and two wonderfully choreographed car chases – coordinated by French stunt driver Remy Julienne. It will not surprise viewer’s to know these car chase sequences ate up half of the overall budget. (Totally worth it, by the way. I could think of no better way of seeing Milan, Italy’s fashion capital, than through one of the windshields of these cars. The exception being a leisurely walk-through of El Duomo cathedral, which was perhaps the only missed opportunity here.)

Di Leo is clearly a director who loves uncompromising noir films, and he got his start as a scriptwriter on various movies, including uncredited bits not only for A Fistful of Dollars, but also For a Few Dollars More (1965, and here not only an uncredited writer but also a “Cigar Smoking Card Player” and “Assistant Director”) and much more.

Almost as depressing as the bleak tone struck by Shoot First, Die Later is the fact that Di Leo was cheated of the opportunity to work with someone who he clearly held in high esteem, director Jean-Pierre Melville. The two were slated to corroborate on a project, but this was cut short by Melville’s untimely death. Melville’s work is enjoying recent retrospectives that celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday this year (he was born October 20, 1917) – he died in 1973 of a heart attack at the age of 55.

One last word to the wise (and mentioned only because I’m a cat-lover at heart): Shoot First, Die Later is the kind of film that takes no prisoners, and this includes the cat of one particular character who winds up on the wrong side of the mob. To put that another way and for a modern audience: trigger warnings ahead. Many of them.

Pablo Kjolseth

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