Jeff Heston (Charles Bronson) is taking a holiday in the Virgin Islands with his glamorous girlfriend Vanessa Sheldon (Jill Ireland), passing their time on the sea off the coast, but when they get onto dry land and are driving through the narrow streets, Jeff notices they are being followed by another car. Considering that he makes his living as a hitman, he works out that he could be in danger for a past misdemeanour, and a chase occurs, with Jeff putting his skills to the test as they other car closes in. Eventually, he thinks he has shaken it and lets Vanessa out, but then a different car pulls out in front of him: someone he knows. Someone with a gun...
Charles Bronson was more popular in Europe than North America, at least until Death Wish happened to his career, and he capitalised on this fame abroad with a run of films made there which were guaranteed to pack them in on the Continent, but found cult status elsewhere. So it was with Violent City, which was actually filmed in America although it was an Italian film, and it has since been rediscovered by addicts of tough thrillers of the seventies. This certainly fits the bill, starting with a dialogue and music-free car chase which harkened back to the then-recent Bullitt, although director Sergio Sollima rejected the comparison.
However, the rest of the film doesn't quite live up to the this tense opening, perhaps because Sollima takes too long to tell a simple story of revenge which should have been a lot tighter. It's a familiar tale at that, with Jeff betrayed by Vanessa, who runs off with the racing driver friend who shot him and left him for dead, but of course, this is Charles Bronson we're dealing with, so a gunshot wound to the chest is not going to slow him down, although it does land him in prison when in self-defence he picks off a few goons who have come to finish him off.
As ever, Bronson is a man of few words and those he does use he chooses carefully, but we can tell he has vengeance on his mind even as he tells some gangsters he has renounced his old ways and plans to follow the straight and narrow. So he next visits a racetrack and shoots out the front tyre of his would-be assassin during a competition, landing him exploding and smashing through a wall, so we can surmise he's probably dead. Next up is Vanessa, but Jeff still harbours feelings for her, and she talks a good line in excuses, so he spares her life with the goal of retrieving a set of negatives taken of him committing his killing at the race.
While the film is well cast overall, there's the problem of Ireland as she does not convince as a devious femme fatale who is wrapping all these men around her little finger; she doesn't seem the type. Ireland was Bronson's wife, and often appeared in his films during their marriage, which was touching but quite often her roles would have benefitted from a more skilled actress as there was something blankly beautiful about her looks that did not lend itself to the grit of a lot of the films she was appearing in. To compensate, talentwise if not lookswise, Telly Savalas makes for a typically charismatic mob boss late on in the film, trying to persuade Jeff to join his organisation, but the real star of Violent City is a superb theme by Ennio Morricone. If you're a connoisseur of this era's best soundtracks then you owe it to yourself to investigate this one.
Italian director who turned in some of the best Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, as well as notable work in other genres. Made his debut in 1962 with a segment for the bawdy anthology Sex Can Be Difficult, but it was 1966's The Big Gundown that marked Sollima a director of intelligent, morally complex westerns. Face to Face and Run, Man, Run followed in the same vein, while Violent City and Revolver were tough, exciting thrillers. Largely worked in TV in the 80s and 90s.