Saturday, May 31, 2014

Un uomo dalla pelle dura (1972)

An Italian poster

Un uomo dalla pelle dura, directed by Franco Prosperi, is an Italian crime drama starring Robert Blake as a boxer, Teddy "Cherokee" Wilcox.  Wilcox is a Vietnam vet and ex-con who is trying to make a living in the fight game.  After a confrontation with his manager, who is holding out on him, Wilcox takes money that he believes he is owed by the manager and heads for new scenery.  He runs into an old acquaintance, a newspaper editor, who introduces him to a new manager/trainer, Nick.  As Wilcox starts to achieve success under the new trainer, he runs into problems with organized crime.  Generally, the new trainer is threatened with his life, unless Wilcox throws a key fight, so the trainer tries to sabotage him during the fight, leading to a confrontation.  When the trainer ends up dead, Wilcox is the key suspect.  Tomas Milian plays a hippie-stranger that turns out to be a mob enforcer behind Wilcox's problems.  Ernest Borgnine plays a police captain trying to catch Wilcox, who he thinks is guilty of the murder.  Catherine plays the role of Nick's daughter, who helps Wilcox avoid arrest and falls in love with him.  The film concludes with Wilcox being cleared, but only after a double-cross is revealed and a shoot-out with the police ensues.

I'll just start by saying this is an odd movie and an odd project for Catherine.  The film doesn't fit neatly into any particular genre of the era.  It is not a straight-up drama, nor is it a typical early 1970's Italian crime-action flick.  It is something in between, and does not excel in either regard.  With its New Mexico location shooting and the way that it is shot, what it really feels like is a biker flick of the early 1970's, minus the bikers.  As for Catherine's role, the movie never sets up any good rationale for why she would want to protect Teddy from being arrested for her father's murder.  She has no reason to think that he is not guilty, and the film had shown virtually no interaction between them prior to the murder.  So, her protection of Teddy and apparent affection for him makes little sense. 

There is nothing about this film to make it a classic, or even a cult favorite on anyone's list.  On the other hand, it is not an awful movie.  It is reasonably interesting, and the boxing scenes are competently done. Robert Blake is passable as a boxer (if you can ignore his hairstyle, which doesn't seem appropriate at all for boxing; it's too shaggy).  His incredibly short-short training shorts are hilarious now, but not uncommon for that time period.  Milian, Borgnine, and Spaak are merely supporting players.  I would guess that Catherine has 15 minutes of screen time, at most, and it is mostly weighted toward the latter half of the film.  It's just a pedestrian outing for Catherine.  There's really not much to say about her performance, because there is nothing in the material to challenge her or add anything to her resume.  It was just a paycheck (is my guess). 

With all of that said, Catherine is very beautiful in the film, with a long, flowing, almost strawberry-blonde hairstyle and mod-western clothes.  She looks tanned and reasonably like a young, New Mexico woman.  In what is becoming a trend for me in Catherine's films of this era, I can't decide for sure whether she did her own English dubbing.  She and the other actors clearly were speaking their lines in English.  I don't think that it was her on the English dubbing, but in a couple of scenes, the voice sounds close enough to give me pause.

One thing that I noticed is that Catherine seems to be carrying more weight in this film than in any film since The Empty Canvas, and that is absolutely not a bad thing.  It looks good on her, because it makes her look more average-sized for her height.  She had recently given birth to son Gabriele (with Johnny Dorelli).

Finally, the version of the film that I have viewed has clearly been edited, probably for television.  I'll address that more, later in this post.  Perhaps an uncut print would improve the film's overall viewing.  The quality of the print that I viewed is generally OK, although the color looks a bit faded, but not too bad.

My conclusion is that this film is only for die-hard fans of Catherine or Robert Blake.  There is nothing to distinguish it, or make it especially interesting, even though it is not bad, per se.   It is worth one viewing, and it is certainly not the worst film of Catherine's career.  If nothing else, you can see some shots of what the Albuquerque, New Mexico area looked like in 1971.

Un uomo dalla pelle dura was shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Rome around July, August, and September of 1971.  Alberto De Martino was originally slated to direct, but for some reason, he was replaced by Franco Prosperi.  Based on his IMDB listing, it looks like Prosperi was an experienced, though not very distinguished director.
  • The July 28, 1971 Variety reported:   "Franco Prosperi stepped in for director Alberto De Martino on 'Tough Guy' now filming in Albuquerque with Robert Blake and Catherine Spaak for Cinegai."
  • The August 11, 1971 Variety reported:  "Cast of Cinegai's 'Tough Guy' is topped by Robert Blake, Ernest Borgnine, Catherine Spaak, Gabriele Ferzetti and Tomas Milian with Franco Prosperi now directing in New Mexico."
  • The October 27, 1971 Variety reported:  "Robert Blake and Ernest Borgnine recently completed 'Tough Guy' for Cinegai in New Mexico and Rome." 
Note:  In the future, I hope to have an opportunity to research the Albuquerque, New Mexico newspaper for this time period to see if there is any discussion about the film and Catherine.

According to IMDB, the film was released in Italy on February 2, 1972 and in the U.S. in May 1975.  I have not yet been able to piece together the odd history of this film's release(s) and titles in the U.S.  My best guess at this point is that it was released in the U.S. soon after filming to little fanfare and was released again later in the 1970's under a different title after Robert Blake found himself in a hit TV show, Baretta, which ran from January 1975 through May 1978.  I'll have to continue researching this issue and update this post as new information becomes available.

The film has apparently been referred to or released at one point or another as The Boxer, Counter Punch, Tough Guy, Murder in the Ring, and Ripped Off.  As indicated above, it was referred to as Tough Guy in Variety while being filmed, but I have seen no publicity material with that title.  Here is an English language one sheet poster as The Boxer.

There are also three U.S. DVD releases under that title, one from Alpha Home Entertainment, one from Synergy Entertainment, and one from Tango Entertainment:

It received a 1991 VHS release as Counter Punch:

Here is an English language one sheet poster as Ripped Off, along with a VHS and a DVD release under that title:

It was released in Italy on Super 8mm film at some point, using the original title:

Finally, the film was released on DVD in Italy in 2010 under its original Italian title:

IMDB also shows a title of Murder in the Ring, but I have not seen any other indication of that title.

The real question is whether or not any of these releases are an uncut version of the film.  Generally, the releases list a running time of 72 minutes or 83 minutes, although the Ripped Off DVD says 76 minutes.  The confusing part is that I have read some comments indicating that some of these releases may be labeled as having the 83 minute running time, when in fact the version included is only the 72 minute version.  Case in point:  The version that I watched is the Tango Entertainment DVD version which is listed on Amazon and Netflix as 83 minutes, but it's only 69 minutes.  My presumption is that 83 minutes is the original version of the film, since IMDB lists that as the running time, and the Italian PAL DVD has a listed running time of 87 minutes.  I have not seen a Greek version myself, but some folks claim that this old VHS video from Greece has a PAL running time of between 93 and 94 minutes:

I suspect that the shorter versions (like the one that I watched) were edited for U.S. television.  The one sheet posters shown above show an "R" rating, but there is nothing in the version that I watched that would remotely warrant an "R" rating.  There was no swearing, no nudity, no love scenes, and little in the way of grisly murder scenes.  My guess is that swearing and some of the murder scenes were edited for television.  There is one point in the film where Catherine's character and Wilcox are off alone, where it seems like a love scene would have typically been inserted, but there is not even a hint of it in what I saw.  If one had been edited out for this print, you would think that there would still be some indication that it took place (just with some trimming of the scene).  There is a scene where Wilcox bursts into a bedroom and orders that a woman be sent away.  It's possible the uncut version could have had some nudity in that scene.  I'll update this post in the future as more information becomes available to me about the various cuts of the film.

Here is an English language trailer for Ripped Off:

A Danish trailer:

Danish Trailer

And, here is the Danish poster (from the archives at

An Italian one panel poster, an Italian locandina poster, and Italian fotobustas:

An Italian soundtrack album (Note: This album attracted 32 bids and sold for $1,506.28 on ebay in April 2014.  If you see one in a flea market, get it!):

A Spanish poster:

An Argentinian poster:

A Turkish poster:

A Yugoslavian poster:

Mexican lobby cards:

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