A fine criminal drama about Italian jewel thief Luciano Lutring

Against her better judgment, a beautiful nightclub singer falls for a jewel thief who won’t stop his criminal ways after they get married. Carlo Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill (1966) is a superb Italian crime film of its time, presaging the genre’s more popular emergence in the 1970s. Italian actress Lisa Gastoni gives an incredibly heartfelt, moving performance as the singer married to Luciano Lutring, a real-life Italian criminal that became a folk hero. The Italian criminal became famously known as “the submachine gun soloist” because he kept his weapon in a violin case.

Luciano Lutring’s exploits as a criminal had become infamous in Italy and his tale would spawn several different Italian movies in the 1960s and 1970s. Sensationalized by newspaper accounts, he became a mythic folk hero of sorts for his crimes akin to Jesse James in his native Italy and France. Carlo Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill (also known as Wake Up and Die) is a portrait of a simple smash-and-grab thief working as an outsider in the criminal underworld, manipulated into a life on the run by a police department hunting bigger fish. Trusting no one, Luciano’s life falls apart despite a wife that loves him.

Lizzani carefully draws us into Lutring’s world through the eyes of sexy club singer Yvonne (Lisa Gastoni). Having dated gangsters before, she’s looking for something more lasting than another criminal. She meets the handsome Luciano (Robert Hoffman), a jewel thief that charmingly won’t use guns in his robberies. Luciano steals expensive jewelry from storefronts by smashing their window with an axe and running away on foot. He’s probably not cut out for this line of work but seems addicted to the thrills it provides. Yvonne falls for Luciano before realizing what he does for a living.

While the crime film has a number of excellent set pieces in dramatic robberies and conflicts with the police, the heart of it is the loving but ultimately doomed relationship between Luciano and Yvonne. Despite a turbulent courtship between them when Yvonne realizes he’s an unrepentant thief, she marries him. She believes her love can change him for the better.

The fine balance of agony and hope for Luciano’s fate are central to Wake Up and Kill.

Believing Luciano’s empty promises about leaving his criminal life behind after they marry, Yvonne’s life quickly deteriorates as the police hound them. Everything Yvonne fears comes true and she fears Luciano will wind up dead if he doesn’t turn himself in to the police after being framed for a series of high-profile bank robberies.

The taut script is filled with tension as the police close in on Luciano’s whereabouts with information from an unexpected source. Yvonne truly loves Luciano but decides that the only way to keep him alive is putting him behind bars. Lisa Gastoni won the Italian equivalent of Best Actress for her authentic, moving performance on this emotional roller coaster. The fine balance of agony and hope for Luciano’s fate are central to Wake Up and Kill. Yvonne is such an interesting female character for an Italian film, she is brought to life in this wonderfully complex performance.

The name of Luciano Lutring probably doesn’t ring any bells unless you lived in Italy during the 1960s but Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill is a carefully crafted police drama with a deep human element to it. Ennio Morricone provides another fine score, just one of many in his long and hallowed career. This is a moving drama with nice action set pieces and engaging character development.

On a side note, I strongly recommend enjoying the much longer Italian version of Wake Up and Kill before seeing the English version. The abbreviated English cut features a great example of dubbing gone wrong with its sloppy sync problems. The English dub soundtrack also loses the emotional nuances of Lisa Gastoni’s own Italian dubbing, robbing her performance as Yvonne of much of its strength and power.

Movie ★★★★☆

Wake Up and Kill Blu-ray screen shot 9

Arrow Video includes both the longer Italian version (123:51 minutes) and shorter English version (97:38 minutes) of Wake Up and Die on a single BD-50. Featuring a new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, this is a decently film-like presentation of mildly erratic source material. Both versions are encoded in strong AVC encodes shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

This is a gritty presentation of Eastmancolor film stock that has its moments but likely won’t wow anyone. Expect a dense grain structure with lapses in focus and sharpness. The crime film was shot with fairly natural colors. Limited shadow delineation and adequate black levels mark this film’s simple cinematography. The negative occasionally goes soft and its condition is serviceable. Some small specks and negative debris remain in the restoration, including a few shots with running, vertical gate scratches.

Befitting a newer Arrow Video transfer overseen by their excellent staff, the transfer shows no immediate signs of significant filtering or sharpening. A slight magenta push is likely a result of fading stock that was probably better left alone. Contrast could have possibly been tweaked a bit more but for the most part this is a decent presentation of adequate elements from a low-budget Italian movie.

Video ★★★☆☆

Both the English and Italian soundtracks are presented in mono 2.0 PCM quality. This is one case where the English dub for an Italian movie is far, far inferior in quality to the Italian soundtrack. The sync problems are real on the English dub, while the Italian dub sounds perfectly natural for the Italian cast. Neither soundtrack has notable audio problems with fidelity. A blaring police siren and the occasional burst of gunfire are about the biggest sonic events in the limited sound design. Dialogue is completely intelligible in the perfectly adequate sounding audio options.

Newly translated, optional English subtitles are included for the Italian version. Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are provided for the English dub. They display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Arrow Video skimps on the special features for this disc. This is a combo set with a companion DVD. A reversible sleeve features original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist. An illustrated booklet done in Arrow’s standard style includes new writing on the film and its genre by Roberto Curti.

Trailer (01:18 in upscaled HD) – The English trailer for Wake Up and Die.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.