Henry Silva is one of the ultimate screen tough guys. While he never achieved the international fame of an Eastwood or a Bronson, he worked steadily in films and television from the mid-’50s through the end of the ’90s in both America and Europe. Italy was the place where he became a leading man via a string of tough cop and mob movies in the ’70s, knocking out a string of films where he was able to apply his cold-blooded charisma to suitably hard-hitting material.
Cry Of A Prostitute is a memorable example of his Italian work. It’s the American release title for Quelli Che Contano, a 1974 mob flick from Andrea Bianchi, a director better known for sleazeball favorites like Burial Ground and Strip Nude For Your Killer. True to form, Bianchi’s film attacks the genre with its own twisted personality while offering Silva a memorable opportunity to strut his stuff.
Silva plays Tony Aniante, an enforcer hired to deal to end a war between rival mob families in rural Sicily squabbling over drugs and causing embarrassment for the mafia hierarchy. The plot riffs on A Fistful Of Dollars as Tony takes advantage of weaknesses within the families and takes dangerous risks to get them at each others throats. Plentiful tough talk, punch-ups and shootouts follow. Tony also gets involved in a weird sadomasochistic affair with the ex-prostitute moll (Barbara Bouchet) of one boss. Before the end, we also discover he has his own unique personal reasons for getting involved.
Cry Of A Prostitute starts off a little rough-hewn, with some bumpy camerawork and hastily staged action that hint at a quick, cheap production style. However, what it lacks in budget and steadiness it quickly makes up for with attitude and a twisted sense of personality.
The film throws its cards on the table in the first sequence, which features a pair of drug mules getting in a car accident that leads to a decapitation and the reveal that the child in the car was actually a corpse whose chest cavity was being used to carry heroin! The rest of the film is littered with similar odd touches, particularly in scenes dealing with the Bouchet/Silva tryst: when she propositions him with a threat, he slams her into a cut-open pig carcass to do the deed (!) and later on her capo hubby is revealed to be turned on by her affair, asking for details as pillow talk to their own coupling(!!).
The film’s confidence in its own eccentricities increases with each reel. Piero Regnoli’s script plays up its inherent Spaghetti Western concept, using rural locales to evoke the Sicilian version of a sagebrush look and even giving Tony a gradually revealed flashback a la Once Upon A Time In The West to reveal his true motivations. Bianchi gives the film an intense, sweaty vibe – everybody sweats onscreen in this film – and adds some fun little flourishes, like the use of fisheye lenses for Tony’s flashbacks and some brief bits of Peckinpah-esque slow-motion in one big mob vs. mob shootout. The tight budget and frayed edges become virtues as the film moves along, giving it a grindhouse sheen that fits the story’s mean, two-fisted approach.
Best of all, you’ve got a towering performance from Silva to anchor it all. He shows no qualms in depicting his character’s gift for violence, particularly in his scenes with Bouchet, but he also imparts a sense of the character having his own moral code that allows him to navigate the treacherous, double cross-happy territory he’s in. He’s also able to shift from low-key to operatic on dime: the best example of this comes when he tells a mob thug hassling him to clean his shoes in a delightfully profane manner before beating the hell out of him and his buddies.
Silva gets nice support from Bouchet, who does fearless work in a role that most modern actresses would turn down, and Fausto Tozzi is fun to watch as her kinky mobster hubby (their pillow talk offers some uniquely un-p.c. highlights). Fans of European sleaze fare should note that Tozzi’s mob rival is played by erstwhile director Mario Landi, who directed the infamous Giallo A Venizia and Patrick Lives Again near the end of his career.
In short, Cry Of A Prostitute is both suitably tough Italian action fare and a killer vehicle for Silva’s sinister charisma. If you’re into either of these attributes, it offers cheap thrills of a distinctively warped variety.
Blu-Ray Notes: This was recently released in the U.S. by Code Red. It presents the longer Italian version of the film, mostly uncut with the exception of a few truncated shots (one line of dialogue vanishes as does a shot of a severed head). However, this does include an English language dub for all scenes: this is a first because prior DVD bootlegs had to add subtitles for some scenes that were missing the full dub. It looks very good and is well worth the time for genre fans.