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Better known as one of Andy Warhol’s muses and star of Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, cult American actor Joe Dellesandro cropped up in several European productions during the seventies. One of these was The Climber, a grubby Italian crime thriller of the poliziotteschi sub-genre. Taking the stylised crime blueprint of the American New Wave, these films would lower the production values and up the violence. They would also often entice journeyman actors like Dellesandro in to boost their selling power.
In a story that allegedly acted as part inspiration for Brian De Palma’s Scarface, Aldo (Dellesandro), a young criminal, is caught skimming money from his boss. Beaten and left for dead, he escapes Naples, assembles a ragtag counter-culture gang of bikers and low-lives, and returns to make his ascent up the Neapolitan crime ladder.
The Climber is a fairly generic crime thriller charting the rise-and-fall of a resourceful, yet immoral protagonist. However, to rise up above the conventions and mediocrity of its premise, there needs to be something sparkling in the mire to hook the audience in. Unfortunately that just isn’t here. Dellesandro is just fundamentally miscast. He has the sullen look of a pampered Premier League footballer rejecting a new contract rather than a rugged, ruthless crime lord. He hasn’t exactly been doused in charisma either before the camera was turned on him. To be fair, he’s saddled with one of those clunky overdubs that mar even the finest Italian cinema of the time, but Pacino he certainly ain’t.
Writer/ director Pasquale Squittieri shoots with a certain grimy flair and its graced with a supple, schizophrenic score by Franco Campanino. Encompassing soul, wah-wah-drenched funk, and some blistering proto-stoner rock, depending on whether Aldo is being a lover or a fighter at any given moment, it’s like the best soundtracks of the seventies hammered into one shimmering alloy. It’s just a pity that the action it highlights quickly becomes sluggish and lumbering.
The Climber Arrow Videoisn’t dreadful by any means. It’s just deeply uninspired. There isn’t a moment that is out of the ordinary, or is in any way unpredictable. Squitieri tries to utilise the model looks of his leading man, using lingering close-ups. However, it all just shows what a void Dellesandro is; and merely highlights the emptiness at the core of the film. It’s wholly laudable that go out of their way to present these obscure curios to a new generation of genre fans, but The Climber isn’t one that deserves the attention lavished upon it.