Escape From Death Row (1973)

Rating: C

Dir: Michele Lupo
Star: Lee Van Cleef, Tony Lo Bianco, Jean Rochefort, Edwige Fenech
a.k.a. Mean Frank and Crazy Tony

Would it be churlish to point out no-one in this film is ever on death row? Such quibbles aside, this is crippled by one of the worst transfers and presentation ever [even as part of their “Dollar DVD” collection, Brentwood should be ashamed!], but if you can cope with the dreadful print quality, it’s a not-bad, tongue-in-cheek gangster movie. Van Cleef is hard-edged mob boss Frankie Diomedo, who gets out of prison in Italy with the help of low-grade thief Tony (Lo Bianco), to take revenge on those who betrayed him and his organization. The two are an odd couple, opposites in just about every way, and the alternate title sums it up; one silver-tongued rookie, the other a grizzled veteran of few words.

The atmosphere of the film is hard to pin down, swinging from comedy to action to violence without rhyme, reason or structure – at times, it seems a spoof, but when the bad guys break out the power tools to extract information, it’s suddenly not very funny any more. Individual elements work well (the car chase from the Italian/French border is surprisingly good, helped by Tony’s hysterical laughter throughout) and both leads fit their characters nicely. However, they should perhaps have inhabited separate films, and their relationship is never satisfactorily explained: sure, Tony idolizes Frankie, but why does he reciprocate? Some analysis would help the movie enormously. Instead, you’re left with something very shallow, albeit admittedly not unentertaining, even if discipline and security in Italian jails seems distinctly underwhelming!