Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Reviewed by Steve Fenton.

Translation of an Italian newspaper ad (from La Stampa, 9/73): “The boldest and Most Violent Film of the Last 10 Years… The Vigorous and Continuous Battle of the Police Against a Corrupt Society and the Merciless Violence of the Underworld.” U.S. tagline: “One Man Against the Syndicate – Within the Law or Without!

Insp. Viviani (Silvano Tranquilli): “There is one and only one way to break down violence: use it all the more!

Unidentified crook: “It’s painful to die and painless to be dead.”

Corruption is once again rotting the onion layers of law enforcement in yet another caustic ’70s Italian ‘hate the State’ scenario inspired by “Steno” / Stefano Vanzina’s prototypical polizia procedural drama EXECUTION SQUAD (1972) and a then-recent real-life case concerning the assassination of the Milanese chief of police. Director Sergio Martino (whose big brother Luciano functioned as producer hereon, as he did on all of Sergio’s crime actioners) is generally more widely regarded for his high-end giallo thrillers rather than for more straight-ahead  polizieschi such as this. As the present film so ably illustrates, however, he was certainly no slouch at that latter type of fare either; here aided and abetted in commission of the crime by some of the principal behind-camera talent often associated with Umberto Lenzi, which is by no means a bad thing. (Luciano Martino’s Dania Film imprint not only produced THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS, but also a number of Lenzi crimeslimers, including a pair of Tomas Milian vehicles, ALMOST HUMAN [1974] and THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST [1977]. Seasoned scripter Ernesto Gastaldi not only penned the screenplays to all three of those titles just cited, but those for many more prime Italo exploitation movies besides, of all the standard commercial genres. Also employed on all three was editor Eugenio Alabiso, whose skillful cutting helped add extra oomph to many a spaghetti action flick, perhaps some of his finest work falling within the urban crime genre, wherein the dynamics of fast-moving vehicles and human bodies were crucial components. Here, as in many of the genre’s other best offerings, the various stunt cars’ frenetic autobatics frequently steal top acting honors from the human stars.)

Convicted criminals are in the process of being transported to Luca federal prison via train. One of (quote) “three harmless punks” – including the seldom-harmless Luciano Rossi and Antonio “Nino” Casale (hereon billed under the alias “Anthony Vernon”), typecast genre scumbags both! – slaughter their guards. This pair of felons, Gerardi and Gastaldi (the latter’s name quite possibly a playful in-joke in regards to aforementioned screenwriter Ernesto), then escape from custody while their partner is killed. To gain possession of his car, the two surviving fugitives murder a slow-witted motorist (Francesco Narducci) and his seven-year-old daughter (Susanna Melandri), then go to ground in surrounding woodland. Quick to the scene of the manhunt is hotshot Homicide detective Lieutenant Giorgio Caneparo (Luc Merenda, dubbed into English by Mike Forest), who takes the law into his own hands and ‘executes’ the scum even as they are attempting to surrender. For this serious breach in conduct, as authorized by Questore Nicastro (Carlo Alighiero), loose cannon Lt. Caneparo (“You shot those men out of vengeance, not out of a sense of duty!”) is handed a temporary suspension from the force by Inspector Viviani (Silvano Tranquilli, who became a veritable fixture of the genre in such ‘disapproving superior officer’ parts, including in “Franco Martinelli”/Marino Girolami’s textbook example VIOLENT ROME [1975], co-starring Italocrime top gun Maurizio Merli).

When his beloved friend, mentor and all-too-frequent apologist Captain Gianni del Buono (Chris Avram) is gunned-down cold by a ‘random’ passerby in the street, the entire force is mobilized to apprehend his hit-and-run killer. Now working under-the-table and off-the-record, Caneparo insinuates his way into the confidence of pool shark / mob boss Padullo, alias “Mr. Billiards” (the ever-cool-and-suave Richard Conte, an Italo-American actor who appeared in about as many [usually upscale] Italian crime flicks as he did Hollywood film noir classics). After his latest failed bank-job ends in an auto wreck, Padullo hires Caneparo to be his new wheelman (“I hear you’re pretty good with a car?”). The courageous ex-cop proceeds to delve ever deeper into the criminal underworld, ultimately unearthing a fanatical anarchist group – connected to a certain publishing magnate, name of Mr. Salluzzolia – which hopes to precipitate social disorder so it can then usurp control in the chaos and “rebuild” society in its own image atop the rubble of the old status quo (hmmm, now where have we heard that one before?!).

While infiltrating the shadowy world of malavita, Merenda (I’ll cut ya up so bad you’ll wish that mirrors weren’t invented!”) poses as a hustler, a protection racketeer, a pimp and a car thief (who hot-wires a vintage Rolls Royce), and his smirkily self-assured role here seems rather like an early, less-broadly-comic run-through for his ‘master of disguises’ conman in Fernando Di Leo’s NICK THE STING (1976), a comedic crime caper which, as per its title, attempted to cash-in on you-know-what. In THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS, Merenda’s such a superstud he convinves a hooker to pay him. Further romantic interest is provided by dollishly pretty French actress Martine Brochard as a free-spirited (i.e., junked-up) hippy “ex-student, ex-model”, enigmatically named Maria X (“If you would like to screw me, this is where I’m screwed!”). Mandatory balls-to-the-wall pool-hall brawl (“You know where we shove a cue up guys like you?!”) erupts at Conte’s dive. After Merenda tactically misuses his stick over a bad guy’s skull, Conte advises, “That’s no way ta treat a billiard cue!” Conte’s part here is a substantial one. Not only does he get plentiful lines, which he dubs himself (e.g., “I’m just a small cog in a very big wheel”), but Conte – or rather, his highly-dissimilar slimmer and younger stunt double – engages in no less than two spirited fistfights with Merenda (“Don’t crap-out, ya rat!”). Merenda and Conte interact onscreen with great chemistry here, and they subsequently co-starred in another exemplary poliziottesco, Di Leo’s balls-out SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1974). In TVP, after Merenda as Caneparo’s unofficial deep-cover trolling-’n’-moling results in some substantial busts being made, the formerly disgraced cop is duly reinstated onto the force by Tranquilli as Insp. Viviani; the event is cheerfully celebrated by the pair over glasses of scotch whiskey…J&B brand, natch!

Fotobusta courtesy of The Fentonian Institute.
Typecast genre lowlife Bruno Corazzari (“…I’ll take this Sten and turn ya head into a hole!”) plays Carl, a big-talking, trigger-happy terrorist whose indiscriminate machinegun targets include an expectant mother (“She was pregnant, YA BASTARD!!!”). Some of the excellently-staged auto stunt footage – including an incidental car crashing through a handily-placed heap of burning cardboard boxes – subsequently turned-up in other films (e.g., certain Lenzi / Milian entries). Elsewhere, beginning with a pair of parked Polizia Giulias getting blowed-up real good by robbers’ lobbed hand grenades, a bankjob-gone-awry leads into the high-speed chase of the baddies’ Citroën sedan by a couple more cop cars. This ends with the, um, ‘getaway’ car – complete with an innocent female passerby who was snatched as a hostage – flipping every which way multiple times before sliding on its side (in stylish slo-mo) to a sudden halt against a tree-trunk. Thanks to the at-times-exaggerated dubbing track, the modestly-hung Merenda’s 9mm Walther P-38 semi-automatic sounds like a scud missile going off when it discharges! Brimming with the casually-dropped names of contemporaneous political and pop-cultural figures, the dubbing track at times sounds like some sort of surreal word-association game being played by a bunch of semi-conscious people on Quaaludes, and this is one of the film’s greatest liabilities, even if it does at times provide us with unintentional (?) laughs; watching an original Italian print with subs would be a preferable option. When our hunky hero (albeit in a different language and in another man’s voice) mouthed the immortal line “Think I’ll cut out. Seems I’m in the wrong dream,” it strangely reminded me of a rock lyric from the psychedelic era, like he was quoting from an actual song; indeed, a goodly part of the Anglicized dialogue seems better-suited to the 1960s than the 1970s. Though, being as this film was a product of the early ’70s (a mere half-decade-or-so on from the so-called “Summer of Love”), some sociocultural ‘spillover’ is to be expected, I suppose.

The U.K.’s Monthly Film Bulletin (Verina Glaessner, 2/75) wrote: “THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS seems to confirm the existence of a recent burst of overly rightist filmmaking in Italy. An obvious derivation of Don Siegel’s DIRTY HARRY, it lacks both the stylistic coherence and the obsessiveness of its model… What saves all this from absolute grimness is the casting of Luc Merenda in the Eastwood role – an actor of such comic-strip woodenness that the script cannot refrain from dubbing him Prince Valiant and Captain Marvel…” Leonard Maltin’s Movie andVideo Guide off-handedly described the film as a “Mezza-mezza Italian action flick… Violent indeed.”

Repeat offender Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography is fittingly melancholy and saturated with police-blues and prison-greys, a classical palette which further dates and authenticates this prime Italocrime potboiler as one of the genre’s finest offerings. Adding further interest, the supporting cast includes a whole horde of players that were familiar from the then-still-ongoing-if-starting-to-flounder Spaghetti Western cycle and the only-just-beginning mid-to-late ’70s Italocrime craze (these include carrot-topped curly-surly-burly Claudio Ruffini [who plays one of Conte’s gormless goons], Luciano Bartoli, Lia Tanzi, Steffen Zacharias, Bruno Boschetti, Sergio Serafini, Luciano Rossi, Carla Mancini, Ezio Sancrotti, Tom Felleghy and Riccardo Petrazzi). Merenda returned to star as different characters – if essentially much the same character under different names – in Sergio and Luciano Martino’s next two top-tier crime flicks: GAMBLING CITY (1974), co-starring Enrico Maria Salerno and the super-sultry Dayle Haddon (retitled THE CHEATERS, said film was released on domestic North American Beta/VHS tape back in 1986 by Prism Entertainment); as well as SILENT ACTION (1975), co-starring Tomas Milian, with Mel Ferrer this time appearing in the ‘name brand’ American guest star slot. The productive Martino Bros.’ fourth and final collaborative genre outing – the ‘hybrid’ giallo-poliziesco THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR (a.k.a. TOO YOUNG TO DIE, 1975) – also featured Ferrer, this time with the ill-fated / short-lived Claudio Cassinelli as the justice-driven cop protagonist rather than Merenda.

Locandina courtesy of Peter Jilmstad and Steve Fenton.
As for the present film under review, THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS was released theatrically in the U.S. via Scotia-American in 1975, going on to become one of the numerous Italocrime films that were inconspicuously put out on home video across the globe in the early-to-mid-1980s, although it was one of the only relatively few to secure a domestic North American tape release. The Las Vegas-based label Paragon Video actually released this particular title twice onto VHS in both ’85 and ’86 in, respectively, a regular slipcase and a ‘big box’ edition. The latter version featured some real cheap – and highly misleading! – cover art, which made it look like some sort of innocuous thriller or cheap horror film. Of course, Ferrando’s spaciously-framed scope compositions were completely ruined on these full-frame / pan-and-scan VHS dupes, resulting in an inordinate amount of not-always intentional ‘close-ups’ caused by severe cropping of the image. During the digital versatile disc era, the first release to hit the streets was Wild East Productions’ 2002 DVD, that reinstated the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen image, which unfortunately wasn’t 16x9-enhanced, but for the time was a substantial upgrade in every respect. A couple of years later, Italy’s Alan Young Pictures released a quite handsome 2-disc set that also included Umberto Lenzi’s notorious Tomas Milian star vehicle ALMOST HUMAN (1974), in a far better version which featured a solid 16x9 transfer of the film and included both Italian and English language options. Alas, THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS was subsequently rereleased stateside a number of times in cheap multipacks (often in widescreen editions, at least), which were no doubt crappy bootlegs of the initial Wild East release. 

Peeling-out and laying rubber hot on the tracks of their outstanding recent Blu of ALMOST HUMAN, Code Red (CR) have now also given Martino’s film some well-deserved respect via their new Blu-ray. Officially licensed from Italy’s Variety Communications, their new HD scan features a far more stable and well-defined picture than anything else released before it, and although it does comprise a far more colourful palette, the gritty Milanese surroundings still look appropriately authentic, with lots of urban browns and greys. The DTS-HD MA mono audio track is also nicely balanced, which not only highlights all the screeching tires and gunshots, but Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ absolutely incredible score as well. CR have also chosen to include both the English and Italian language tracks, and even though English subtitles are included, these were merely transcribed verbatim directly from the English-dubbed audio track. Still, most viewers will undoubtedly choose the first audio option, which features much of the customary Italo exploitation cinema voice talent of the time.

The sparse extras includes a U.S. trailer for the film (“For those that would defy the law, there is no escape! The only way out is DEATH!”), as well as trailers for both ALMOST HUMAN  (under its alternate U.S. title, THE DEATH DEALER) and Anthony M. Dawson’s Philippines-posing-as-Vietnam combat actioner THE LAST HUNTER (1980), which is also currently distributed on disc by Code Red. Order THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS Blu-ray via Amazon, DiabolikDVD or Suspect Video.