THE CLIMBER (1975) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Pasquale Squitieri
Arrow Video USA

One of Little Joe's first adventures in Rome, THE CLIMBER, comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo from Arrow Video USA.

Incurring the wrath of his boss' clients when he takes it upon himself to raise the prices on contraband cigarette, meat, and other goods, smuggler Aldo (Joe Dallesandro, MADNESS) is betrayed by his boss Don Enrico (Raymond Pellegrin, BEATRICE CENCI), beaten by his men, and dropped off on the side of the road. Hitching his way up to Rome with motorist Luciana (Stefania Casini, SUSPIRIA), Aldo decides to get into business for himself with married and settle cousin Carlo (Ferdinando Murolo, CONTRABAND) who introduces him to local fence Corrado who offers him quick startup money to intercept a shipment of diamonds for him. Corrado and his men try to ambush them as soon as the case is in Aldo's hands but he and Carlo get away and discover that the case actually holds a million dollar in drugs. When Corrado's men murder Carlo in search of the drugs, Aldo allows himself to be captured by their rightful owner: Don Enrico. He promises the return of the drugs in exchange for Don Enrico's men dealing with Corrado's men while he takes care of the fence himself. Aldo murders Corrado and loots his house for what cash and goods he has on him as well as his IOUs. Reconnecting with boxing buddy Gianni (Giovanni Cianfriglia, VIOLENT NAPLES), he builds up a crew to collect on the money owed to Corrado for his loans and stable of male prostitutes. When he expand operations, he recruits a group of mechanics/daredevil cyclists - along with a Frenchman (Tony Askin, 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK) who kills not for profit but out of a hatred for humanity - and moves back to Naples to seize power from Don Enrico.

The title THE CLIMBER may not make much sense in English, but the more literal translation THE AMBITIOUS hits upon Aldo's major character flaw: the ambition that blinds him to the effect it has on his personal relationships and has him focusing on climbing up the ladder without regard to the dangers of those further up the rung from his current target; indeed, Aldo's downfall comes when he finally vanquishes one of the enemies he has so enjoyed lording over simply because "it was fun for a while" but he has grown tired. The finale finds him increasingly reckless and seemingly expecting that he will be killed. Aldo is a rather hard character to root for even before he is wronged and even if we do hope that the wiser but smugly superior Don Enrico gets his comeuppance (fittingly, it is not particularly satisfying when it does happen). The middle of the film feels rather shapeless and meandering, but the film always delivers in action and violence when the Blaxploitationn-esque score of Franco Campanino (TO BE TWENTY) gives way to an uncredited soulful vocal with the requisite Italian crime movie slow-motion squib bullet hits. Although beginning like other Italian filmmakers of the late sixties and seventies as a jobbing director with the spaghetti westerns DJANGO DEFIES SARTANA and VENGEANCE TRAIL, director Pasquale Squitieri favored films about the mafia, helming GANG WAR IN NAPLES before and CORLEONE after this. THE CLIMBER was the second of Dalessandro's Italian movies following the two Andy Warhol productions FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA, it paved the way for a handful of crime movies that were more "youth gone bad" than poliziotteschi including Aldo Lado's BORN WINNER, Marcello Andrei's A SEASON FOR ASSASSINS, and Vittorio Salerno's superior THE SAVAGE THREE.

Long unavailable in English apart from a Greek-subtitled tape, THE CLIMBER comes to Blu-ray in a 4K restoration of the original camera negative, sporting naturalistic colors in the muddy exteriors and some bolder colors in the wardrobe and set decoration. The image looks at its gritty best in close-ups while sharpness varies in wider shots because of director Squitieri's rough shooting style which seemingly extended to the guide track for the dialogue given the loose sync of the Italian track. The English and Italian tracks – both here in LPCM 1.0 – differ in content, sometimes wildly so with lines not present on the Italian track in favor of music and other lines occurring sooner or later on the English track. Although past Arrow releases have indicated the option on the main menu's playback options, the English or Italian opening and credit sequences will play based on the language track selection (although you can also toggle between the two tracks and the two sets of subtitles via your remote).

The sole video extra is "Little Joe's Adventures in Europe" (28:39), a 2016 interview with Dalessandro in which he discusses how Paul Morrissey advised him that he could get his mainstream start in Italy, and he actually met Squitieri on the set of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN. Squitieri wanted to be the first director to use Dalessandro on a non-Warhol film and reportedly bought out Franco Nero who had already been cast in THE CLIMBER, although Dalessandro would end up making his first Italian film for Sergio Bazzini with ONE WOMAN'S LOVER. Dalessandro brought Casini – who left Bernardo Bertolucci for him – onto the film with him from BLOOD FOR DRACULA. Being pressured to do more art films (and more nudity), he decided he would do shoot-em-ups in Italy and art films in France: among them Louis Malle's BLACK MOON and Walerian Borowczyk's THE STREETWALKER with Sylvia Kristel, although he notes that Serge Gainsbourg never intended JE T'AIME MOI NON PLUS to be an art film. As his Italian period wound down – having been deceived into believing he was taking a small role in the African-shot SAFARI RALLY for a small paycheck only to learn he was the lead and had his passport withheld until he finished the film – he began drinking, and did not get the help he needed staying with his separated parents on either side of the country. He does not touch upon his later credits, although he notes that it was harder to find work in the states, he now works as an apartment building super and looks back fondly on the family atmosphere of the Italian productions. Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon or the first-pressing-only booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, author of ITALIAN CRIME FILMOGRAPHY, 1968-1980. (Eric Cotenas)