Kidnap Syndicate (1975, aka La città sconvolta: caccia spietata ai rapitori), often gets compared to Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963) because of its subject matter, and the other day when I saw the movie mentioned yet again, this time on one of Rupert Pupkin Speaks’ discoveries lists, I had to take a look. I started going deeper into Eurocrime movies in the last couple years, and really enjoyed director Fernando di Leo’s Milano Calibro 9 (1972) , La Mala Ordina/The Italian Connection and Il Boss. Kidnap Syndicate is the story of a rich man, Filippini (James Mason) whose son is kidnapped in broad daylight along with his school friend, the son of a poor man, widower and motocross-bike mechanic Colella (Luc Merenda). Filippini can afford to pay the ransom demanded, but he stubbornly spends days trying to get the kidnappers to knock down the amount. To prove they’re serious the thugs kill the poor man’s son.
It’s not filmmaking on Kurosawa’s level but it’s a good thriller, and having recently seen another movie on this subject it was interesting to compare Filippini with Gondo (Toshiro Mifune in High and Low) and Dave Stannard (Glenn Ford in Ransom!, 1956). Gondo is a good man misunderstood when, with good reason, he hesitates to risk his fortune for his servant’s child. Stannard is told his boy might be doomed even if he does pay the ransom, so he announces a bounty instead. Mason’s Filippini plays a similar game to defy the thugs, and like Gondo and Stannard, faces pleading from his wife (Valentina Cortese) to pay up and end the ordeal, but the big difference here is the kidnappers have two boys. The one “worth nothing,” as the colourful Police Commissioner (Vittorio Caprioli) so bluntly puts it, is at best an extra bargaining chip and at worst a disposable spare. Filippini can claim he loves the Colella’s boy as his own, but he takes an awful risk with his life, and makes Colella wait helplessly as he does it.
When little Fabrizio Colella is killed and the fathers are called to identify the body, Mason makes the most of a morgue scene, showing the expected grief and sympathy, relieved it’s not his boy, and most of all shocked that he so misjudged both the kidnappers and Colella’s rage. Merenda makes a nice contrast to the cold and elegant Mason, as a younger, doting father who’s already been touched by tragedy. He’s tortured and paces like a caged animal until his morgue hysterics kick off the exciting and satisfying hard-boiled vigilante portion of the movie where he follows the money to the kidnappers.
It’s based on a real case and it’s two movies in one, a tense and serious waiting game commenting on class and wealth, followed by great action. The mix works well and looks good, with a chiseled leading man, sunny Italian scenery and thrilling car-motorbike chase up and down impossibly tight village alleyways and stone steps. Something else I noticed here and in other Italian Giallo and Poliziotteschi pictures is the constant appearance of J&B Whisky, with bottles prominently featured and labels turned to the camera. A little searching reveals there was no official product placement deal, so I assume it was the cool drink of the era or kept popping up thanks to some “unofficial agreement.”