Posts Tagged With: Maurizio Merli

You Betti? You Bet! A SPECIAL COP IN ACTION Reviewed.

 

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A Special Cop In Action aka Italia A Mano Armata  (Italy, 1976). Directed by “Franco Martino” (= Marino Girolami).

Even by the generally bleak standards of Italy’s “Years Of Lead”, Turin is having a particularly bad day when this one kicks off. It’s not enough that bank robbers get away scot free after killing a security guard, but adding insult to injury, a schoolbus load of kids is taken hostage by a bunch of low-lives that fashion forgot. “It’s as though the criminal classes are trying to set a new record!” But hey, do you honestly think for one minute that Inspector Betti (Maurizio Merli) is going to let this kind of shit go unchallenged? “I’m bad tempered all right…” admits the meanest maverick moustache in the Italian police force: “… with a certain type of criminal, I lose my self control!”

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Nobody does “righteously pissed off” like Maurizio Merli… just watch how his bobbing adam’s apple belies his steely, inscrutable eyes as Luisa ( the lovely Mirella D’Angelo in only her second screen appearance) agonises over her kidnapped kid brother. Having attempted to reassure the schoolkids’ nearest and dearest, Betti dons a Saturday Night Fever type white suit, gathers his men and follows the kidnapping case to Milan, teaming up with old colleague Arpino (Raymond Pellegrin), who’s looking forward to his imminent retirement so that he can spend more time fishing, playing with his grandkids, etc (immediately shortening his odds on making it to the end of the picture).

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The kids are hidden in a disused mill but lead kidnapper Mancuso (Sergio Fiorentini) has a strange idea of laying low, i.e. going out and attempting to rape a passing cyclist. When she points the cops in his direction they manage to rescue the kids… most of them, anyway. Luisa’s kid brother does not survive the ordeal so she has a bit of a hissy fit at Betti then agrees to go out with him. As she would. They spend a bit of quality time together and Betti tells her that he hates criminals because one of them killed his dad, also a cop. Yeah, that would do it…

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As the investigation of the bank robbery plods on, things get a bit episodic. There are a few fair-to-average car chases (“I think you should take up motor racing…” “I get enough kicks as it is!”) and Betti demonstrates his disregard for the rule book by slapping some crims around. Eventually undercover agent Fabbri (Massimo Vanni) clues Betti in that the current crime wave is attributable to Albertelli (John Saxon), a mobster upon whom no charge can be made to stick but who still resides, in Bettie’s articulate formulation, “at the top of my shit list”. For his trouble, Fabbri’s night out disco dancing is rudely interrupted when he gets lashed to the bumper of a car and driven around till he’s dead.

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Everybody’s talking about Albertelli but Saxon spends a minimal amount of time actually on screen, no doubt saving the production a fistful of Lire. When he does turn up though, he’s wearing an impressive pair of swinging loon pants. He contrives to frame Merli for an extrajudicial killing and our man is soon banged up in a slammer full of dodgy geezers just itching to settle some old scores against him. Needless to say, anyone foolish enough to try anything gets their criminal ass conclusively kicked. Then the judges arbitrarily agree to quash Betti’s sentence and the action relocates again to Genoa for the climactic confrontation. Albertelli gets his, Betti gets Luisa but a Get Cartereque shock ending ensures that this is the final entry in the Inspector Betti trilogy (begun by Girolami’s Violent Rome, 1975 and continued in Umberto Lenzi’s Violent Naples, 1976)… Merli would  be back as identikit irascible Inspectors Tanzi, Murri et al. In some markets those guys were rechristened “Belli” to cash in on the popularity of Betti’s “shoot first, worry about the ethics of it later” credo. Really, there was no belli end to the bloody things…

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Marino Girolami (best known for directing Zombi Holocaust and being Enzo Castellari’s Dad) kicked in a  few contributions to the Poliziotteschi genre (as to so many others). In the same year as this one he made Rome: The Other Side Of Violence , produced with the involvement of 20th Century Fox. He’s not in the same league as Lenzi, Massi, Damiano or indeed his own son when it comes to this stuff but A Special Cop In Action is mid-cycle, run-of-the-mill, reasonably entertaining Crime Slime that will occupy an hour and a half of your Covid quarantine pleasantly enough and with Franco Micalizzi composing /  Alexander Blonksteiner conducting the OST, you know your ears are going to be in for a treat while you check out Merli’s handsome mug running the gamut of emotional expressions from angry A to brusque B.

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China In Your Hands… Umberto Lenzi’s THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST Reviewed

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DVD. Alfa Digital. Region Free. Unrated.

Umberto Lenzi’s comments re The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) in our last posting (on Lenzi’s Eaten Alive!) prompted me to prise this one off the shelf and give it another go. Enhanced by appropriate beverages and a selection of salty snacks, an agreeably chucklesome 90 minutes or so duly ensued…

Everybody’s favourite Italian answer to Dirty Harry, Maurizio Merli’s ex-Inspector Leonardi Tanzi (he must have pissed off his shilly-shallying, “by the rule book” superiors one too many times) is scraping a living in Milan, sub-editing detective novels. Suffice to say, his hard-ass cop days are behind him. Try telling that to Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto (Tomas Milian), though. Recently sprung from the jail where Tanzi’s sterling hard-assed detective work had landed him, the vengeful “China” sends Tanzi one of his trademark greeting cards, announcing the date of our hero’s death. Sure as shit, he’s promptly confronted by gun-totin’ goons but despite talking a good fight (“Hey motherfucker, I’ve got a real quick nickle-plated lead message from the Chinaman for you”), their work is so shoddy that he only sustains a shoulder injury before the assassins are disturbed in their work and scarper. The papers having reported his death, Tanzi is advised by his old boss Commissioner Astalli (Renzo Palmer) to go lie low in Switzerland, advice to which he gives characteristically short shrift, relocating to Rome before getting back on the case… Tanzi’s no pansy! He hits back at China by sewing suspicion between him and Frank DiMaggio (John Saxon), the American gangster whom China is aiming to team up with and ultimately supplant, setting the scene for a climactic kick-ass confrontation between this unholy trinity of Crime Slime titans…

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… well, that was the general idea but TC,TR&TF ultimately emerges as a slow burn that never quite ignites and lumbering it with a title that evokes one of Sergio Leone’s finest hours was always leaving it with a lot to live up to. It’s generally agreed that Tanzi = “The Fist” in the eponymous equation, but opinions differ as to whether China or DiMaggio should be taken as The Cynic or The Rat. There are also those who wonder why Maietto is known as “Chinaman” but I’m pretty confident that this is a reference to his “inscrutable” demeanour. He’s also referred to by one of the cops as “the Clockwork Orange kid” so you can take it as read that beneath said inscrutable facade, there lurks the squirming brain of a stone psycho. He’s particularly dead pan while supervising the breaking of an offending dude’s legs. Meanwhile DiMaggio, who cultivates a similarly urbane persona, bounces golf balls off the head of a lieutenant who’s pissed him off, before turning his dogs on the guy.

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Mistreating women is thirsty work in TCTR&TF… better keep that J&B bottle handy!

Being one of those morally ambiguous cops, Tanzi’s behaviour is scarcely more PC at times… although he advises one hood who’s been roughing up a woman to “pick on somebody your own sex” before beating the crap out of him, he’s not averse to slapping the ladies round himself (though, to be fair, unlike his opponents, he draws the line at repeatedly addressing them as “twot” and throwing acid in their faces). Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti keeps the fruity dialogue coming thick and fast, e.g. “That blond faggot… I should have known that bastard was a Pig!” and “Why are you with that cop? Has he got loads of money? Or a big wang?” (we’ve already established that Tanzi’s living in reduced circumstance, but he’s got a hairy chest and a fuck off gold medallion… so yeah, on the balance of probability, I’d imagine he’s got a pretty sizeable wang). There are plenty of pleasingly outrageous ’70s fashion mis-steps on display and Lenzi keeps things chugging along with his customary efficiency if not, perhaps, quite the flair evidenced in most of his other Crime Slime outings.

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“How d’you like your coffee?”

There’s a sub-plot about Tanzi avenging his antique-dealer uncle (Guido Alberti) which although far-fetched (learning that the kid who beat and robbed Unc is nicknamed “Cappuccino”, Tanzi hangs around bars and pool halls till he spots somebody drinking cappuccino and kicks the shit out of him… lucky he got the right guy, eh?) is well-integrated into the wider narrative, but I could have done without the interminable “caper” sequence in which Tanzi burgles DiMaggio’s apartment… Merli should leave the “wriggling through laser sensors” stuff to Catherine Zeta Jones and stick to what he does best, i.e. shouting abuse at / pistol-whipping / punching / kicking / shooting people who irritate him (i.e. just about everybody he encounters) and asking questions later. That sequence could usefully have been replaced with a car-chase, of which TC,TR&TF is woefully bereft. What does it matter that Lenzi’s budget wouldn’t stretch to staging one? Producer Luciano Martino could have just lifted the one from his brother Sergio’s The Violent Professionals (1973), as he did in so many other ’70s Italian cop epics. While I’m moaning, Franco Micalizzi’s “OST” is a tepid warm over of his thrilling contribution to Lenzi’s superior Violent Naples from the previous year.

My principle gripe though, as mentioned already, is the way that the climactic dust-up between Tanzi, China and DiMaggio, a consummation devoutly to be wished, ends up being phoned in by all concerned…

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… I mean, Merli and Milian don’t even appear in the same shot during their alleged settling of accounts, something which I’m inclined to attribute to scheduling problems on a low-budget picture. Sure, Lenzi perpetuates the notion that there was a feud between the two actors but I suspect that this was just a publicity stunt. Then again, I am a bit of an old cynic…

Often rated a classic by the Crime Slime cognoscenti, The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist strikes me as more of a missed opportunity. Poliziotteschi, nevertheless, are very much like pizzas… even when they’re not great, they’re pretty good, so waste no time grabbing yourself a slice of the action, presumably via 88’s recent DVD or Blu-ray releases. The OK-looking edition under review here came courtesy of the mysterious Alfa Digital label, an allegedly Portuguese outfit that put out some interesting titles at the dawn of the DVD era and promptly disappeared.

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Ex-Inspector Tanzi… has he got loads of money? Or just a big wang?

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