Arguably one of his most mordant films, We Still Kill the Old Way (1967) marked a deliberate turn for Elio Petri from the dazzling, super-stylised pop-art adventure he had just embarked upon in The 10th Victim (1965). Written by Petri and Ugo Pirro (a collaboration that lasted until 1973), this austere murder mystery is set in a small village in Mafia-ruled Sicily, a location that allowed Petri to fully realise his aspiration for greater political involvement.
Based on the novel To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia, the story is apt for this purpose: a young, naïve professor (Gian Maria Volonté) gets himself tangled in a web of lies and deceit as he attempts to reveal the truth behind some dubious death threats and the subsequent killing of two men during a hunt. While the police mistakenly believes it to be a crime of passion, Laurana suspects a political conspiracy, but his judgment is obscured by his seething desire for his friend’s widow, played by a wonderfully aloof Irene Papas.
As the plot thickens Laurana’s passion leads to his doom, and Luis Bacalov’s score, based on a distinctive 60s calypso-style rhythm mixed with melancholic piano chords and threatening drums, perfectly matches the increasingly darker, more enigmatic mood. With vivid cinematography, We Still Kill the Old Way is compelling and acrid in equal measure, if not as driven and fierce as some of Petri’s later triumphs such as the Oscar-winning Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion. But although here as in his other films narrative stringency is not his forte, Petri excels once more at creating an infectious atmosphere that draws you right in, is impossible to resist and hard to shake off even long after you step out of his unsettling, expressive world.