Odd Veteran Character Actor Henry Silva Takes the Murderous Lead in Depraved Mob Thriller.
DIRECTED BY ANDREA BIANCHI/1974
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: DECEMBER 8, 2020/CODE RED
Behold the strange case of Henry Silva, leading man. With a career going back to the studio system, Silva broke out as a supporting player in the Marlon Brando historical drama Viva Zapata!. There he went uncredited, but soon enough he’d be getting credit where credit is rightly due. Silva had the good fortune to kick around in some films that are avowed classics, including the original versions of The Manchurian Candidate and Oceans 11. So, how on Earth does he go from that esteemed career to playing a soulless assassin who takes off his belt to beat a half-naked prostitute in a filthy barn??
As guys like Silva arrived to the 1970s, several things were happening in the movie business. Among them: The floodgates of permissible content were flying open. Things were going international in a big way. The youth culture, the lifeblood of drive-ins, went all in for the shifting rise in sexual and violent content on screen. Still, there was a thinking in certain foreign sectors that in order to sell genre and exploitation films to U.S. distributors, the presence of familiar American faces was necessary. Aging Hollywood character actors found a new lease on life and, finally, top billing… as long as they didn’t mind getting a bit dirty.
Henry Silva, who was never not weird in terms of presence, ideally fit the bill. Silva had already played his share of oddballs, heavies, and oddball heavies. But in the interest of not turning down Italian movie money, coupled with the chance to headline the cast, Silva allowed his resume to get ridiculously dark and bloody throughout the “me decade” and beyond. Director Andrea Bianchi’s Cry of a Prostitute (Quelli che contano, which translates to the considerably less salacious “Those who Matter”) is just one such morality-challenged entry of his.
Silva plays a stone-cold professional killer. He dresses the part (more or less) in his light blue suit and tie, which he wears through the entire movie. In true 1970s grindhouse fashion (and make no mistake, we’re in the grindhouse here- complete with poorly post-synced English dialogue and a body count higher than most slasher movies), he, like all the men on screen, spends the movie noticeably clammy. Silva in fact routinely perspires through his yellow dress shirt, sporting huge sweat spots on his back, chest, and under his armpits. No one comments on it, of course- likely out of fear of getting shot. (Silva’s character’s heat of choice is a German Luger. Make of that what you will).
For the first thirty or so minutes of Cry of a Prostitute, one might wonder who this titular weeping woman of the night even is. The film is simply too busy establishing its Italian mob war plot; something far too knotty with far too many of undeveloped badasses strolling around looking tough and getting killed to make time for any women. Regarding said plot, an Amazon reviewer of the film leads by stating that if you like The Godfather, then you’ll like this. Um, no. A shared mafia war aspect does not a love connection make. Missing here is any semblance of Shakespearian sweep, tragic undercurrents, and Gordon Willis’s palpably dark atmosphere. Instead, we’ve got a half-baked forbidden Romeo & Juliet romance going on in the over-lit fringes with Silva eventually opting to help the young lovers. He does this even as he’s followed Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars model, having nudged both of their at-odds families into destroying each other. But unfortunately, this doesn’t work out nearly so well.
The prostitute of the title is one of the mob boss’s wife and a former American hooker, played with sleezy abandon by Barbara Bouchet. We learn, however, that the character hasn’t quite put aside her old ways. She shows up partway through the film to complicate matters with Silva, as for some reason she’s attracted to his wooden yet waxy demeanor. For her trouble, she not only gets wapped into a disfigured pulp by him (the brutal aforementioned belt beating… he even uses the buckle), but also violated as her face is shoved into the entrails of a disemboweled pig. Good lord. (Ms. Bouchet, I sincerely hope you were on the phone with your agent immediately following this day on set). The fact that her beaten face was the poster image for this movie says much about the kind of depravity this is mining.
For all its grit and grime, Cry of a Prostitute’s widescreen image actually looks awfully good on this recent Blu-ray edition from Code Red. That the label would put such effort into the likes of this speaks positive volumes about its work ethic and craftsmanship. The only bonus features are the film’s unrestored trailer and several others of its ilk, as well as a very brief American alternate opening titles sequence. There are no subtitles or alternate language tracks.
In the case of actors like Henry Silva (still alive and kicking at the time of this review, by the way) who found themselves in exploitation fare such as this, the question in such cases will forever be, is this a matter of selling out or of mere survival? Cry of a Prostitute is ultimately not a “fun” film. It’s notable that it’s guttural depravity doesn’t really kick in until women show up. A gross threshold of misogynistic violence isn’t crossed until then- but, that is when it is trounced several times. Up to that point, Cry of a Prostitute is in fact just another mafia potboiler, albeit one predicated on smuggling heroin inside the bodies of dead children. That is to say, for the first thirty minutes, it’s just another shoddily made low budget film with a poor-taste premise and amusing ineptitude here and there.
If the American title wasn’t enough of an indicator, let it be made clear is not a movie for everyone. One might even hope that it’s not a movie for anyone. Yet, here it is.