La Polizia ha le mani legate

La Polizia ha le mani legate (Luciano Ercoli, 1975)

aka Killer Cop

Massimo Dallamano’s superlative cop thriller WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974) was the film that first made a star out of Claudio Cassinelli, one of the most recognizable and dependable Italian genre stars of the 1970s and 80s. Cassinelli’s next crime thriller was KILLER COP, which is regrettably a much less appreciated film. Cassinelli stars as Commissioner Matteo Rolandi, a narcotics cop who is tailing an Algerian drug runner as part of a routine surveillance job. Rolandi follows the man to a hotel, where a big international conference is currently being held. To his horror, Rolandi witnesses the hotel being bombed. Several of the important international diplomats who were present at the hotel are killed as a result of the bombing, which leads to some strong political pressure being applied to the case and finding the guilty party an urgent priority. The job of investigating judge is assigned to Armando Di Federico (Arthur Kennedy), a procurator who is widely known for his great honesty and sense of justice.

The only notable clue in the case is the amateurish, short-sighted bomber (Bruno Zanin) who managed to lose his glasses while struggling to escape after planting the bomb. Rolandi’s partner, Balsamo (Franco Fabrizi), happens across the nervous, myopic man but manages to let him escape. This makes Balsamo an important witness since he is the only one who knows what the bomber looks like. Unfortunately, he is murdered by a ruthless assassin (Giovanni Cianfriglia) shortly afterwards– as is everyone else with any kind of connection to the case. With a strong personal involvement, Rolandi starts doing some unauthorized investigating of his own and gradually closes in on a conspiracy that extends to the highest levels of politics. With everyone else dropping like flies, Rolandi’s only hope is to track down the increasingly paranoid bomber, but he must work quickly if he is to find him before the assassin does…

Throughout his rather short career, director Luciano Ercoli only made eight films, of which the best known are his three gialli FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972), all starring his sexy, Spanish actress wife, Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro). Ercoli’s next film, THE MAGNIFICENT DARE DEVIL (1973), marked his first brush with the then increasingly popular crime thriller genre (though Ercoli combined both giallo and crime movie elements) but, unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable film. KILLER COP was Ercoli’s second crime thriller, and a vast improvement on the director’s previous entry into the genre. Unfortunately, the KILLER COP title is highly inappropriate, alluding to a type of film that this is most certainly not. This is not a brutal Italo-cop thriller in the DIRTY HARRY vein, as it the action scenes are virtually non-existent; we only get the assassinations, an explosion and a climatic face-off with the assassin. Instead, this is a more character-driven political thriller; pitting a lowly cop against corrupt government forces à la Steno’s EXECUTION SQUAD (1972). The Italian title, LA POLIZA HA LE MANI LEGATE (which translates to ‘The police have their hands tied’), is far better at conveying the film’s themes.

If KILLER COP is more political and lower on action than your average Maurizio Merli flick, it still makes for a solid thriller and this is thanks largely to the two lead characters, both of whom are interesting, well-written and fleshed out. For example, Commissioner Rolandi is impressively developed, not only as a smart, dedicated cop but also as a human being. We get a relatively good look into his private life; including his peculiar wake-up routine, his friendship with his partner, not to mention his reading habits, which includes an almost obsessive fascination with ‘Moby Dick’. Clearly relishing the opportunity to play such a well-written character, Claudio Cassinelli gives everything here – delivering a terrific portrayal of the determined cop, thus making him an extremely likeable lead.

We are also treated to an excellent performance from Arthur Kennedy as the honest, mint-chewing procurator. A former A-list Hollywood actor with no less than five Oscar nominations behind him, Kennedy was just one of many faded Hollywood stars who went to Italy to find a steady flow of work in film. While some of these former stars would ham it up because they seemed to think Italian B movies were beneath them, Kennedy actually turned in some quality performances in his Italian films, and his enjoyable performance as the likable, quirky judge ranks among his finest European work – alongside his outstanding part as the diabolical police inspector in Jorge Grau’s excellent zombie film THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974).

Furthermore, Cassinelli and Kennedy also interact very well with each other, and it is intriguing to see that even the characters they play are good men trying to solve the case, circumstances have them working against each other instead of together. With well-developed characters that project an emotive quality to which the audience can relate, KILLER COP quickly becomes an engaging and very exciting little thriller with a compelling storyline and several good plot twists. That said, the plot–like many Italian political thrillers of the time—is more convoluted and complicated than it needs to be, and somewhat hampering the film in doing so.

Technical credits are top-notch, however, with excellent production values, good locations and stylish cinematography by Marcello Gatti. Another great asset is the musical score by Stelvio Cipriani, even though he is, for all intents and purposes, recycling cues from WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? with some slight alterations here and there. But there are more musical treats than just the main theme. Most notably, Commissioner Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya, has her own theme – an upbeat, jazzy tune simply called ‘Papaya’, which is an excellent, catchy piece. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming this tune to yourself for days afterwards.

Much credit for the film’s success must also be attributed to the first-rate supporting cast which is made up of numerous dependable Italian actors. Franco Fabrizi (a regular face in 1970s cop thrillers) is both likeable and charming as Cassinelli’s partner; a man more fond of using his brain than his gun; ubiquitous stuntman/actor Giovanni Cianfriglia is chillingly effective as the brutal, stone-faced assassin; and Bruno Zanin really holds his own as the rather pathetic, short-sighted bomber. Mention must also go to lovable supporting players such as the bespectacled, nerdy-looking Francesco D’Adda, here enjoying a bigger role than usual as Kennedy’s assistant; Franco Moraldi as the chief of police; and Elio Jotta–best remembered for his sinister turn as Barbara Steele’s husband in Riccardo Freda’s THE GHOST (1963)–as a shady minister.

The only substantial female role is that of Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya; played by the attractive Sara Sperati. Sperati started her career in 1973 as the July playmate in Italian men’s magazine Playmen, before graduating to film roles, following KILLER COP with MARK THE NARC (1975) and roles in some Nazisploitation flicks. She ought to have gone on to a long, fruitful career in Italian genre cinema but, unfortunately, Sperati completely dropped out of sight in 1976 after only seven film appearances, which is a great shame considering what an appealing and characteristic screen presence she had. In this film, Sperati is particularly charming and sexy – her short hair giving her a look that is different from that of her subsequent films.

The English fandub uses the Italian Cecchi Gori DVD (which was without English options) as the image source; combining it with an English audio track from a Swedish VHS release. The final result is highly satisfying; with the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer from the Italian disc looking splendid. Picture is sharp and clear with solid colours. Some very mild grain and a couple of scratches and dirt show up on occasion but on the whole the transfer looks very good. The English audio has been synced up perfectly with the image and sounds very clear and nice and is without any hiss or background noise. The English dub track also has the advantage of featuring Arthur Kennedy’s own voice, which is a great plus, and the dubbing of the Italian actors is quite more than adequate. My only gripe with the fandub stems from the fact that the print is taken from an Italian source and there are no translations given for the native text that appears during the film. This includes some newspaper headlines, a message the bomber scribes to the police, some notes exchanged between two characters in a bugged room, and the coda at the end of the film, all highly annoying as these examples are important to the plot.

While not in the Top Ten Euro crime films, KILLER COP is an excellent and engaging thriller that benefits tremendously from its excellent cast and well-developed characters. It’s too bad that Luciano Ercoli never made another cop thriller because this is one of the finest films he made in a career that was all too short. The wonderful English fandub is a joy to behold and without doubt the best way to appreciate this underrated gem. Very highly recommended.

(Johan Melle)

Roma a mano armata

Roma a mano armata (Umberto Lenzi, 1976)

aka Rome Armed To The Teeth / The Tough Ones / Assault With a Deadly Weapon / Die Viper

Downtown Rome in the mid 1970s was a tough place for the local Police. Purse snatchers prowl the local parks, gangs of armed men turn over betting shops and spoiled rich kids get their kicks from raping young girls. Luckily, for anyone on the right side of the law, Inspector Leonardo Tanzi (Maurizio Merli) is on the local beat, cruising the streets in his Alfetta, ready and willing to run down injustice in a heartbeat. Unfortunately Tanzi’s superior, Vice questore Ruini (Arthur Kennedy), prefers justice to be served up in the time honoured manner – by the book and following the codes of conduct.

Following a lead Tanzi brings in Vincenzo Moretto (Tomas Milian) a hunchbacked slaughterhouse worker who has more than few crooked business sidelines. Sitting him in a darkened room, with only a lamp on his face, Tanzi takes the official interrogation procedures and throws them in the bin, resulting in Morreto being hospitalised and Tanzi up before his boss. Taking a dressing down and being told that Morreto will be released without charge incenses Tanzi. Adding insult to injury Ruini also demotes him to an office job. Officially off the streets Tanzi uses his spare time to carry on his investigations into Morreto and the links he may have to Tony (Ivan Rassimov), a drug dealer who’s keeping a missing girl strung out on smack up in his apartment…

Director Umberto Lenzi delivers a fast paced rollercoaster ride of a movie, expertly filmed by cinematographer Federico Zanni – a veteran of over 50 movies for a diverse range of Directors such as Lenzi, Sergio Martino, Stelvio Massi and Marino Girolami – and featuring one of the classic Polizieschi scores by Maestro Franco Micalizzi. As soon as the opening credits start with the POV shot from inside the car as it drives down through Rome’s city centre, that oh-so-familiar music kicks in and you just know you’re in for a treat. With no real major plot to focus on Lenzi instead whisks the viewer from one mini adventure to the next and when all else fails stages a random crime so that Tanzi can show up at just the right moment, slap the perpetrator around a bit before handing him over to the uniformed police who arrive out of nowhere in the olive green Alfas. It defies logic but it does so in a good way, you have after all just seen a man take four or five huge open handed slaps across the face as punishment for stealing a ladies handbag. It no longer matters if the scenario is logical, what matters is that justice has been served and the guilty have been punished!

This would be the first of two outings for Tomas Milian in the role of ‘Il Gobbo’–the second being Lenzi’s LA BANDA DEL GOBBO (1978)–a character created by screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti in reference to Giuseppe Albano the original ‘Il Gobbo del Quarticciolo’; a real life character who lived in Rome during the Nazi occupation in the 1940’s.  A member of the resistance during the occupation he went on to become a local ‘Robin Hood’ character after the Nazi’s were overthrown. Albano’s story was made into a feature film ‘Il Gobbo’ directed by Carlo Lizzani in 1960, and starring French born actor Gérard Blain in the title role.

Milian is just superb in the role and displays a range of emotions that see him at turns being fragile and pathetic—he truly gains the viewers sympathy when he’s being beaten by the police–the next he’s cold and calculating, ruthless and utterly insane; a marvellous performance and surely one of his most memorable roles.

Maurizio Merli also plays a character–that of tough, takes no bullshit, cop Leonardo Tanzi–who would be seen again in Lenzi’s 1977 film, IL CINICO, L’INFAME, IL VIOLENTO (THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST) though albeit in a more calm and composed frame of mind than he is in this film. At times looking like he’s going to literally explode with rage, Merli pulls out all the stops in bringing to life a cop who’s just run completely out of patience. With a justice system that is constantly letting the honest man on the street down he takes it upon himself to “get back to the old ways” and fight fire with fire. A clichéd plot device for sure, but it keeps the film barrelling along and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

This latest DVD from New Entertainment World is an upgrade of their previous release which had no English options. Happily for us fans, this limited edition re-release features English, German and Italian audio plus optional English and German subtitles. The transfer is truly a thing of beauty, identical to the NoShame Italy DVD released a few years ago, and perfectly framed in its 2.35:1 ratio, with 16:9 enhancement. It’s doubtful that this film could look any better than it does on this DVD. The English audio doesn’t fare so well as it’s obviously sourced from VHS which in turn sounds like it was sourced from a well used theatrical print. It’s serviceable though and is better than not having an English audio option at all. The Italian audio is pretty much pristine barring a handful of instances where the audio wows for a second or two–think what it sounds like when you momentarily touch a vinyl record while it’s playing on a turntable and your more or less there–these same audio flaws are present on the NoShame release so must be a problem with the master used and not something to blame on NEW. The English subtitles follow the Italian audio track and are not simply copied from the English dub verbatim, a very welcome addition and viewing the film in Italian with subtitles is absolutely the only way to watch this film. Extra features consist of the Italian language theatrical trailer, a trailer show for other titles in the NEW catalogue, an essay about the film in German and PC accessible Tiff files of German poster art and lobby cards for the German theatrical release under the title ‘DIE VIPER’.

ROMA A MANO ARMATA is almost the quintessential ‘Polizieschi’ movie, it has all the ingredients necessary – Alfa Romeo cars, stereotypical bad guys, angry ‘beat the system’ cops and lashings of over the top violence. All packaged together on what is so far the definitive DVD release of this film for the English speaking fan of ‘Poliziesco all’Italiana’. You can’t really ask for much more.

(Jonny Redman)

Ricco The Mean Machine

Ricco The Mean Machine (Tulio Demicheli, 1973)

 aka ‘Un tipo con una faccia strana ti cerca per ucciderti’

Recently released from prison, a year early for good behaviour, Ricco (Chris Mitchum) makes his way home to the family owned petrol Station only to find it closed for business. Customers pull up on the forecourt only to drive off when they realise there is no one around to serve them. His Mother and sister are both at home, trouble is that his sister is too busy having wild sex with her husband and his Mother is sitting in her wheelchair chugging down a bottle of J&B. Where’s the Father? He had his head ventilated just before the film’s title sequence…

It turns out Ricco’s spell in prison was due to him trying to attack a certain Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy), a notorious gangster who may have had something to do with Ricco’s Father’s murder. Naturally now he’s out of prison his mother is keen for Ricco to exact revenge, offering him his Father’s pistol so he can meet out family justice. Ricco refuses declaring that he’ll get Don Vito by his own methods. Scouring the streets for clues Ricco soon meets up with sassy scam artist Scilla (Barbara Bouchet) and between them the pair come up with a plan to infiltrate Don Vito’s mansion and get even with crime lord.

Not known for his great acting range Chris Mitchum started out in the film business as a gofer on his father’s films, progressing to acting alongside the likes of John Wayne and other old school Hollywood Western stalwarts and it’s easy to see where he got the idea of playing straight faced emotionless hard men from. All criticisms aside he does fare pretty well in this film especially taking into consideration his particularly wooden turn in Antonio Isasi-Isasimendi’s ‘The Summertime Killer’ the previous year.

With his hair slicked back and dyed dark brown, along with his eyebrows and moustache, the wonderful Arthur Kennedy rules the roost as the dreaded Don Vito and pretty much steals the scene every time he’s on screen.

Director Demicheli takes full advantage of Barbara Bouchet’s beauty with gratuitous close ups of her cleavage and backside and the foggy moonlit strip tease is pure exploitation heaven. Despite the bad acting and poorly choreographed fight scenes it’s the show stopping violence that makes Ricco an unforgettable film. Women get bitch slapped, men get bitch slapped and poor unforunates are reduced to sludge in vats of acid… Thoroughly remorseless in attitude and damned dirty with its aggro, Ricco is as morally wrong as it is wild.

Fans of the film have been denied for years the chance to see the fully uncut version, only an extremely rare Venezuelen VHS release contained the fully uncut version and copies of that were of such terrible quality that it rendered the film unwatchable. Dark Sky have now remedied this situation with a great looking 16:9 enhanced widescreen DVD that is fully uncut. Rounding out the package is an Italian language trailer and a featurette featuring an interview with Ricco himself Chris Mitchum, who turns out to be a great guy with a very lucid memory for the films he made so long ago.

A well overdue release but very welcome indeed and surely should be in the collection of every European Cult movie aficionado.

(Jonny Redman)

Note: Portions of this review were first published in the Midnight Media publication ‘Blazing Magnums vol. 1’ obtainable by visiting the link below.

Midnight Media