Picking up right where Borsalino (1970) left off, super suave French gangster Roch Siffredi (Alain Delon) lays his best friend Capella to rest and immediately goes looking for revenge. He discovers the man behind the hit on Capella is Giovanni Volpone (Riccardo Cucciolla), an ambitious Italian mafia don looking to muscle in on their turf. Roch retaliates by throwing Volpone's brother off a speeding train, but underestimates his opponent. Backed by powerful friends Volpone blows up Roch's theatre, disfigures his stable of prostitutes, enslaves his girlfriend Lola (Catherine Rouvel) as a common whore and murders almost all of his men. Before Roch can escape he is caught by Volpone's goons, imprisoned and tortured for months then eventually dumped in an insane asylum as a seemingly broken man. Ah, but Roch Siffredi is no pushover. He pulls off a daring escape. Some years later Roch returns to Marseilles where Volpone is more powerful than ever, with a corrupt police commissioner (André Falcon) in his back pocket and running every racket in town.
Most French critics in the Seventies found the mere concept of a sequel hopelessly crass. Especially a sequel to a film that grossed as obscene an amount of money as the original Borsalino. So no surprise many derided Borsalino & Co. as nothing more than a shallow and unnecessary ego trip for its producer and star Alain Delon. Not one to take any criticism lying down, Delon shot back that he always planned to follow Borsalino with a sequel claiming it was inevitable Roch Siffredi would avenge the death of his best friend. Nevertheless with original co-lead Jean-Paul Belmondo safely out of the picture, the notoriously far from shy and retiring French superstar got to monopolize the screen.
Returning director Jacques Deray tailors the sequel around Delon's steelier screen persona. Hence Borsalino & Co. has none of the charm nor playfulness of the original, adopting a more somber, autumnal colour. Even Claude Bolling's score takes on a mournful tone. In its better moments the film feels like it is haunted by the loss of Belmondo's Cappella. As though the good times died with him. No longer the stomping grounds of lovable larger than life Gallic rogues, Marseilles now belongs to cold-hearted, calculating foreign gangsters with money on their mind and no respect for la joie de vivre. The script, co-written by Deray with Pascal Jardin, draws a clear moral distinction between Roch's relatively harmless nightclub business and the drugs trade orchestrated by mafiosi like Volpone. Deray weaves in a little history and social commentary, lambasting the far right for allying itself with organized crime to crush the working class and thus birth the modern world, but skews the film heavily towards Delon's own fierce nationalism. In later years that soured into outright xenophobia as Delon himself grew increasingly taken with the far right. The film touches on some complex themes but in an overly simplistic fashion. Volpone, who boasts that laws are for the poor and aims to hook children on drugs as a means of controlling their parents, is the kind of ranting comic book villain that became commonplace in the Hollywood action films of the Eighties.
The original Borsalino was in part a byproduct of the retro-Thirties nostalgia wave that took hold of French fashion, music and pop culture as result of a national obsession with the Hollywood film Bonnie & Clyde (1967). Borsalino & Co. plays the nostalgia card once again, recreating vintage music hall shows and popular songs (French star Mireille Darc, then Alain Delon's girlfriend, lands a very brief cameo as a nightclub singer). These add a very faint glimmer of levity to an otherwise relentlessly dour film. Delon fans will derive some gratification watching him in grim avenger mode, murdering mafiosi by the score in increasingly gruesome ways: throats are slashed, a mobster gets crushed by a car and the finale serves up an especially nasty exit for one significant character. Deray's brisk, no-nonsense pacing and Delon's ice cool charisma leave the sequel watchable but it is far less endearing than the original.