Call me old fashioned, but folks just don't seem to care much about personal appearance anymore. Back in the day, when a man got up to go to work, he was expected to shave and put on a nice suit and tie. And the ladies, before toddling off to the supermarket, where a stroll down the produce aisle might help suppress the numbness of their frigid lives, were expected to sport a nice pair of nylons, some uncomfortable high heels, and enough makeup to make them presentable as whores or church aisle attendants. Worse, they had to maintain that appearance, even on sweltering summer days, because come dinner time, their schmucky job slave husbands would stride through the door, with just a little bit less of whatever imagination or creativity they might have had when they walked to the car that morning.
Pick any film noir pot boiler from the 40s or 50s, and most likely you'll see guys who looked good in a suit, and who knew how to wear a tie. Hats looked better, too. None of this crap with guys in baseball caps and sandals. Check out Sterling Hayden in The Killing, Robert Mitchum in The Big Steal, or Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. These were suave sons of bitches who knew how to bedeck. Or need I mention Cary Grant, Nat King Cole, or Dean Martin? Fucking suave. Not like today, when the celebrosphere is polluted with smarmy little pricks like David Spade and Dennis Miller, with their ratty hair, perpetual facial stubble, and the collective wit of a two month old infant, banging on a metal high chair tray with a saliva coated spoon.
Take ties, for instance. Hardly anyone wears them any more, and even if they do, they generally look like dorks. Their parents didn't teach them the basics, like how to tie a half windsor knot, probably because their parents were growing up at around the time movies like Mad Dog were being made, i.e. the decade of polyester, gold chains, and watch bands made from the skins of whole slaughtered barn animals. Maybe it was recreational drugs, or maybe it was the piercing squeals of Leo Sayer, but somewhere along the way, everyone forgot how to put on a tie. Mad Dog presents two instances of the problem, both exhibiting the most sophomoric of errors when one does not execute a proper half windsor knot.
There are certain tasks which involve a sequence of steps, and which are doomed if the initial steps are performed poorly. Examples include constructing a backyard deck, creating an effective PowerPoint presentation, or engaging in anal sex. Another would be tying a half windsor. One must fold the wide end of the tie over the narrow end, and in doing so, one must provide adequate length to the wide end to compensate for the fact that, during the remainder of the process, that end will be wrapped and looped, and the narrow end will be pulled snug. If you fuck this up, you will end up with a tie that hangs above your belt by three or four inches, and you will look like an asshole. In extreme cases, the narrow end of the tie may actually extend below the wide end. At that point, you might as well wear white pants, crap your drawers, and hang a sign around your neck saying "I voted for Bush both times."
In Mad Dog the half windsor faux pas is committed by a principle character, and by a secondary character. The principle character is Richard Harrison, with whom you may be familiar from his countless appearances in mediocre Ninja themed films, and 70s Italian/Euro schlock. Harrison is cast as a cop assigned the task of capturing a sadistic escaped convict, Nanni Vitali, played with enthusiasm by Helmut Berger, who resembles John Gruden, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the sequence in question, Harrison also displays some astounding underarm stains, which frame the ugly, wide, dayglow blue tie that dangles above his belt by a good four or five inches.
The secondary character is Vittorio Duse, who as the father of Euro sexploitation queen Marisa Mell, also overcompensates by allowing too much slack on the narrow end. To her credit, Marisa steps in and offers to make the necessary adjustments, which is magnanimous, since she's just been brutally raped and humiliated by Nanni Vitali, prior to watching him torture and kill her squeeze. While the premise is that her man is being killed for having fingered Nanni to send him up the river, one has to wonder whether the additional brutality dealt his way is in part due to his unbelievably tasteless light blue suit.
While he's certainly no Robert Mitchum, Helmut Berger at least has the good sense to forgo a tie, perhaps sensing that it's best not to try than to fail. This mitigates the negative sentiment an audience might have, after he senselessly beats a gas station attendant, attempts to murder Marisa Mell by shooting a chunk out of her leg through a hotel window, or slices up the breasts of Harrison's sister with a straight razor.
Perhaps director Sergio Grieco intended to use this dichotomy to convey the ambiguity so common in post-war Italian cinema. A brutal, deranged psychopath who rapes women while their companions are senselessly butchered, pursued by an ethical and morally upright police officer, who seeks no more and no less than justice. Yet, as we painfully learn during the course of the film, the maniacal villain still has a great deal more fashion sense. What more can we do but throw up our hands and conclude that morality is a mere human fabrication, there is no such thing as right and wrong, and large sunglasses rarely work with bushy sideburns?
This complex ethical braintwister is complemented by a gloriously cheesy Italian B-movie soundtrack, numerous plot contrivances pulled from Grieco's rectum which require you to conclude that Harrison has thirty fewer IQ points than Barney Fife, and an extended shot of Helmut Berger's hideous white ass during one of several opportunties he's afforded for mounting Marisa Mell.
It's not perfect, but maybe it wasn't intended to be. Maybe those botched half windsors are a metaphor for something much deeper, and Sergio Grieco is holding a mirror toward us and asking us to deal with our inner nerds. Maybe he's asking us to have the courage to embrace the difference between right and wrong, and to acknowledge man's moral imperative and inherent worth in the cosmos. Or maybe I just wasted away an hour and a half that could have been spent vacuuming carpet lint or washing the crust from my cat's butt.