Following hot on the heels of the Blu-ray release of Requiescant (1967) comes director Carlo Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill (1966), based on the true story of infamous jewel thief Luciano Lutring. Dripping in late-1960s Italian cool, Wake Up and Kill prefigures the grimy American crime cinema of the 1970s, feeling like a grubbier, less self-satisfied Á Bout de Soufflé (1960). With a flawed anti-hero aspiring to criminal infamy, Lizanni’s film was surely an influence for a young Martin Scorsese.
Wake Up and Kill (also curiously known as Wake Up and Die) opens with a group of men attacking a woman in a town square. People look on in horror, but when we cut to our antihero, a smirk draws itself across his face, a sign both of his seduction into the power of crime and more disturbingly, of the violence Luciano later commits against his wife. As he does in Requiescant, Lizzani shows up the fraudulent glamour of violence in Wake Up and Kill; in a key scene, Luciano steals a car to maintain the charade he has spun.
Later, he beats Yvonne in the car after she realises he is a thief, made all the more disturbing by the fact that in Luciano she saw once an escape from her criminal ex-boyfriend. Invariably, Yvonne sticks by Luciano until the bitter, desperate end, looking out for him even in the moment of her betrayal. The problematic politics of Wake Up and Kill are a common feature of this era of crime cinema and Lizzani refuses here to provide easy answers or proselytise on the morality of crime; Luciano is repellent in his acts, his treatment of Yvonne and his revelling in his own media legend, yet he is an undeniably charismatic figure. Why else would we be compelled to keep watching (even if the film’s pacing does drag in its mid-section), willing Luciano to evade capture, thrilling every time he grabs a fistful of jewels? This is perhaps Wake Up and Kill’s triumph: in recalling the classic American gangster pictures of the 1930s that publicly condemned their anti-heroes while revelling in their audacities, Lizzani dares us to look away, to pay more than lip service to our abjuration of Luciano’s acts. Yet we remain fixed to the screen even in the final frames where, like an anti-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Luciano remains brutally defiant.