Director: Tulio Demicheli
Dark Sky Films/MPI

The second son of legendary Hollywood tough guy Robert Mitchum, Christopher Mitchum launched his acting career in the 1960s, appearing in several John Wayne westerns and no-budget efforts like BIGFOOT (1970). Traveling to Europe to star in THE SUMMERTIME KILLER, a violent revenge flick, proved to be a great career move, and Mitchum landed consistent work in largely Spanish-produced exploitation programmers. His 1973 vehicle, RICCO (aka MEAN MACHINE) is actually a Spanish/Italian co-production mimicking the formula of recent U.S. action/crime flicks, namely DIRTY HARRY and THE GODFATHER.

Tall, blonde and youthful Ricco (Chris Mitchum) is released from prison after two years, only to learn that his father has been murdered by mob boss Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy). If that wasn’t bad enough, the Don has also coveted Ricco’s beautiful girlfriend Rosa (Malisa Longo), so naturally, he goes on a quest to find her whereabouts, punching out and karate chopping a number of thugs in the process. Ricco also befriends the red-haired lovely, Scilla (Barbara Bouchet), the niece of a counterfeiter. When Ricco and Scilla heist a bag of money belonging to the Don, it’s all-out revenge time by the head of the mafia and Ricco lashes back as a one-man mean machine.

A prime example of the Euro crime thriller, RICCO is also dissimilar then some of the others of its type, perhaps far less classy yet far for more sleazy. First off, it doesn’t spend time with police involvement, but rather just the interactions between killers, small time hoods and other assorted delinquents and the gorgeous dames that follow them around. Although the plot appears pedestrian as a whole and some scenes seem to drag on too long, RICCO is something of a Euro trash classic, a big bowl of grindhouse gumbo with all the succulent ingredients tossed in. It’s a piece of cinema that would coax Quentin Tarentino to corner someone at a party and defend its merits for an hour or so, and it probably influenced his own filmic visions at one point or another.

At the forefront is the gratuitous nature of the film, which comes in the form of scattered but plentiful scenes of ultra violence. During the opening, a character is shot point blank in the forehead, resulting in a gaping fracture which runs down to his gushing eyeball. A number of shootouts, head beatings and clumsy karate are in a cruelty catalogue topped off by some poor guy having his genitals sliced off and shoved in his mouth, after which he is thrown into a tank of acid and presumably turned into soap (this outrageous and infamous scene is completely intact in this uncut presentation).

Barbara Bouchet and Malisa Longo, both Euro starlets with numerous and more than impressive credits, make for the sweetest eye candy any film good ask for, and both display a fair amount of nudity. Proving that the film never takes itself too seriously, Bouchet is introduced walking down the busy Rome streets in tight bright pants and an open blouse, and the close-ups on these luscious areas proves it. Bouchet’s best scene though is when she strips down to a pair of panties on a dark, foggy road, exotically dancing on the hood of a car to distract the enemy.

The fair and very thin Mitchum sometimes looks awkward and disinterested at times, but somehow he is acceptable as Ricco, though hardly the “mean machine” that the advertising art made him out to be. If you thought Arthur Kennedy played a prick in LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, wait until you seem him here as the coldblooded Don Vito! Kennedy’s grey locks are dyed dark brown, and if that wasn’t enough to raise the camp level, his thick Irish accent is augmented with an unconvincing Italian inflection! RICCO also features a number of familiar character actors thrown into the mix, including Victor Israel (HORROR EXPRESS), Eduardo Fajardo (LISA AND THE DEVIL), Luis Induni (seen in a number of Paul Naschy Spanish horrors) and Antonio Mayans (aka Robert Foster), soon to be a lead actor for director Jess Franco. It’s worth mentioning that when Film Ventures re-released the film in the U.S. in 1979, the advertising featured a woman caked in fumes, with her face half toasted and a skull hand reaching up to her breast! This was a desperate attempt to pass it off as a horror film.

Dark Sky’s DVD of RICCO THE MEAN MACHINE looks quite good, in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. Colors look bright, and the overall picture is sharp with only a few minor soft spots. There is very little in terms of grain or print blemishes. The English mono sound is also adequate, with Nando De Luca’s lively score and the dialog playing through clearly. Optional English subtitles are also included.

The featurette “Mitchum the Mean Machine” is an excellent, enthusiastic 18-minute interview with Christopher Mitchum. The very likable Mitchum talks about his initial reluctance to enter the acting field, his first uneventful "extra" gig as dead guy, and that he made $500 a week starring in BIGFOOT (1970). He goes on to discuss working with John Wayne and Howard Hawks, and on to Spain where he stayed for some years, starring in action films like RICCO, which is addressed here to good length. Also included is an Italian language trailer (with English subtitles) for the film under the giallo-sounding title, “Some Guy with a Strange Face is Looking For You to Kill You.” Try saying that three times in a row. (George R. Reis)