The Climber: Arrow Video digs up a Joe Dallesandro Eurotrash gem
Horror fans will primarily remember actor Joe Dallesandro for his heroic, horny and straight-faced work in Paul Morrissey’s Italian-shot horror/trash romps Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula and rightfully so. Morrissey ingeniously transplanted the handsome New York-based Underground actor into a richly-detailed Gothic landscape and bounced his rugged, uncouth energy off that of the spastic German actor Udo Kier. The results were nothing short of magical, really and the films are cited as two-of-a-kind classics.
But as many people know, the pictures were released in America under the titles Andy Warhol‘s Frankenstein and Dracula, even though the celebrated pop artist had nothing to do with them. The connection stemmed from both Morrissey and Dallesandro’s time spent with Warhol in his famous “factory” and the incredible films that stemmed from those wild days and, partially because of Warhol lending his name to the movies domestically, Frankenstein and Dracula were huge hits in the US and Europe. And the Europeans loved Dallesandro, especially the Italians. Thinking he couldn’t get far in America as an actor based on his work in these “underground” movies, the actor stayed in Europe and became a superstar leading man in a series of lush genre works. Among them is Pasquale Squitieri’s violent 1975 pulp/crime drama The Climber (L’ambizioso) a groovy, sexy genre flick that positively fetishizes Dallesandro’s swagger and might be the movie that sees Joe at his most iconic.
The film sees Joe channeling a role that he was used to with Morrissey and that echoed his own young life to date. He’s a hustler named Aldo, who comes from NYC to Naples to make a name for himself, doing odd jobs for nickel and dime criminals and hoods and staying one step ahead of the law. When he gets a gig working at the hideout of a big time gangster, Aldo’s ambition and cunning collude with opportunity and soon the sexy thug is — as the title suggests — climbing the ladder of the underworld, getting more vicious and lethal as he goes. But as anyone whose seen any American gangster film knows, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Some have suggested that The Climber is the inspiration for Brian De Palma‘s Scarface and while it’s possible De Palma saw this otherwise fairly obscure Eurosploitation epic, it’s unlikely. Scarface was simply based on the same Shakespeare-influenced crime dramas pumped out of Hollywood’s Golden period ad nauseum that The Climber was, including the original Scarface. What makes The Climber special is the authentic, grimy urban Italian locations, Squitieri’s brisk directing and moments of emotional heft, the absolutely stunning jazz/funk/rock-based score by Franco Campapino (Monte Hellman’s Iguana) and the cast. Joe is a marvel, an actor who rarely actually “acted” and was more simply a presence who owned every frame he was in. Here, with his tight T-shirts, purple-tinted aviator sunglasses, stringy-hair and square jaw, he’s mesmerizing. Suspiria star Stefania Casini is also lovely as the love interest and she and Dallesandro were real life lovers off-screen, having previously appeared in Dracula together.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release offers a beautiful 2K scan of the negative and both the Italian and English dubs. Sadly, Joe didn’t dub his own voice here, which he discusses in the amazing half hour interview directed by Elijah Drenner on the back-end of the disc. Though he lived a great life gas a gigging actor in Europe, he was frequently taken advantage of contractual deals where he was meant to get a piece of the release, were hard to honor when producers sneakily dubbed his voice with other actors and quietly released the movie under different names. The older but still way cool Dallesandro also discusses his passionate affair with Casini, his life in New York, the making of the Morrissey films and so much more. It’s an incredibly candid and moving interview from a man who had to get old fast and lived a great but often difficult career.
Fans of European exploitation need to pick The Climber up. It might be the ultimate Joe Dallesandro experience.