The Climber is from the period Joe Dallesandro spent in Europe during the 1970s making movies after the Dracula and Frankenstein films he did with Warhol and Paul Morrissey. It’s an Italian crime drama written and directed by Pasquale Squitieri that tells of the rise and inevitable fall of Aldo, a low-level hustler with a hunger to be more. When we first meet Aldo he’s delivering smuggled cigarettes to various vendors in Naples. Impatient, Aldo runs a dangerous game and attempts to skim from his bosses by upping the price. When they’re not too happy about this, Aldo is forced to flee to Rome. Here by chance he meets Luciana (Stefania Casini), an unhappy young woman yearning for adventure who thinks she can find it in Aldo.
Aldo can’t stay away from the criminal life and when an opportunity to make some real money comes his way, he determines to ruthlessly pursue it. It also offers Aldo the chance to take his revenge on everyone he thinks has wronged him and so begins that inexorable spiral down so beloved of innumerable gangster films. If you’re thinking this sounds like many a cautionary tale that went before and followed after you’d be right. The plot doesn’t provide anything in the way of surprises, but fortunately the film has enough to recommend outside of this to make it worthwhile, starting with the two main performances. Dallesandro has a strange character to play. Aldo even as written is selfish, unpleasant and unattractive. But here Dallesandro makes him such a tightly-wound mix of desperation, ambition and unravelling neurosis that even though he’s unlikeable, it’s fascinating. Casini meanwhile is the film’s heart, as Luciana’s dream folds as she realises whatever lost soul she hoped was in Aldo isn’t there and never was.
The other reason to recommend it comes from Squitieri who is also, oddly, one of the difficulties the film has too. The film’s languid pace is a problem, as scenes drag on too long and demonstrate there’s a fine line between trying to present realism and simply not knowing when to cut a scene, so his ambitions to be epic get in the way. But in the middle of all the drawn-out unnecessary noodling will come a remarkable moment of cinematic visual poetry that almost makes you forgive him the dangerously sagging middle portion of this film. The restoration here is great for a mid-70s low budget film. Extras-wise it’s mainly just an interview with Joe (which is well worth your time) and for early pressings a booklet with writing by Roberto Curti. Not essential, but fans of Dallesandro, Italian films or genre cinema will still find much to enjoy.
THE CLIMBER (1975) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PASQUALE SQUITIERI / STARRING: JOE DALLESANDRO, STEFAN CASINI, RAYMOND PELLEGRIN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW