Sunday, February 17, 2019


One of Maurizio Merli’s very few Italocrime films that was never given any sort of English release, Stelvio Massi’s rather economical poliziesco THE IRON COMMISSIONER (1978) has finally made its way to Blu-ray—in a showy Mediabook, no less!—for its first ever English-friendly release, ironically enough courtesy of the German label Cinestrange Extreme.

Merli stars as Maurizio “Mauro” Mariani, an overconfident (“I always luck out!”) police detective who, at the start of the film, thwarts a group of kidnappers and rescues a rich industrialist’s daughter at the behest of his superior Crivelli (Chris Avram). Urged by his colleagues to go visit his son Claudio (Walter Di Santo) on his birthday, Mauro also meets up with his estranged wife Vera (Janet Agren), who still resents him for putting his job before she and their son. Meanwhile, back at the station, Sergio Conforti (Massimo Mirani), an unstable young man who blames Mauro for killing his father, takes a group of his colleagues hostage, but when Vera and Claudio accidentally stumble into the precinct, Claudio is snatched for added security, and Mauro will stop at nothing to get him back…

Locandina courtesy of The Fentonian Institute.
Having already collaborated with highly-efficient actioner director Stelvio Massi on the stunt-laden car crash spectacular HIGHWAY RACER (1977)—starring Merli in a rare appearance sans his trademark ’70s-style ’stache—THE IRON COMMISSIONER is far more restrained than your usual Merli headliner. However, as the title suggests, Mauro never wavers in his fight to uphold the law… even when he himself is breaking it! Mauro’s almost habitual dissention is, for the most part, reluctantly accepted (“…you gamble with your life as if you were playing cards!”), but when Mauro’s son is kidnapped, even his CO Crivelli doesn’t hesitate to stop him (“I want my son!”). As with many of the subsequent Massi / Merli collaborations, THE IRON COMMISSIONER is at times actually quite introspective, not only waxing philosophical on the futility of the thankless job of law enforcement (a typical observation of most Italocrime films), but also the sheer loneliness of it; which, in this case, is further exacerbated by the possibility of Mauro losing everything (i.e., his son). This situation not only pushes him right to the very brink, but just about breaks his ‘iron-clad’ persona in the process.

Scripted by Roberto Gianviti, a prolific writer who worked alongside Lucio Fulci on a number of noteworthy projects (including A LIZARD IN AWOMAN’S SKIN [1971] and DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING [1972]), THE IRON COMMISSIONER was most likely far more ambitious in its conception than what actually transpires on screen. A subplot involving a kidnapping ring run by the “Moroccan” (amusingly played by Italian trash regular / typecast ‘lowlife’ performer Franco Garofalo) and his main squeeze Rita (Mariangela Giordano) accounts for much of the film’s compulsory action scenes (including a stylishly-realized shootout at a bottling factory). That said, a sizeable portion of the ‘action’ unfolds within the dreary confines of a police precinct, a fact which only further substantiates the film’s quickie status. However, usual bit-player Massimo Mirani is quite impressive as the tormented kidnapper, who seems to be trapped in a cycle of unending violence, and he invests all the necessary fear, confusion and desperation into his role. 

Italian newspaper ad - La Stampa, Jan, 1979
Announced in advance trade press notices as both THE IRON INSPECTOR and COP OF IRON, the latter possibly English-dubbed variant has yet to surface, but over the decades since the film’s original domestic theatrical release, the Italian version has been released numerous times on Italian VHS videocassette by the likes of Avo Film, Cine International and Video 7. Upon making its DVD debut in 2004 courtesy of Avo Film, it featured a solid 16x9 transfer which retained the film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but, as expected, the only audio option given was a Dolby Digital Italian track, while the extras were limited to a brief photo gallery. In 2018, Cinestrange Extreme debuted this long-dormant Italocrime film on Blu-ray in its very first English-friendly edition under the German title KOMMISSAR MARIANI – ZUM TODE VERURTEILT (trans: “Commissioner Mariani – Sentenced to Death”). Numbered 02 in their ‘Violenza All’ Italiana’ collection, this Limited Edition Blu-ray / DVD Mediabook boasts an excellent HD transfer, which does its best to restore a little lustre to Sergio Rubini’s at times appealing photography. Both German and Italian audio options are offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, with a choice of either German or English subtitles, and even though many of the subs include a fair amount of grammatical errors, they’re intelligible enough and are greatly appreciated indeed during the film’s talkier stretches. 

The brief extras include a short 23-image photo gallery (still shots taken from the film) and a newly-created trailer, but as an added bonus, Cinestrange have also seen fit to include Lallo Gori’s uncharacteristic electronic score in its entirety (13 tracks / 33m02s), which was originally issued by Beat Records on CD alongside Gori’s score for Giuseppe Vari’s GANGSTERS (1977). A pair of other CE acquisitions are also highlighted with two trailers for Sergio Martino’s completely insane AMERICAN RICKSHAW (a.k.a. AMERICAN TIGER, 1990) plus three trailers for Karim Hussein’s experimental shocker, SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY (2000). Also housed within the Mediabook is a nicely-illustrated 12-page booklet with an essay by Leonhard Elias Lemke entitled “The Iron Detective and the Years of Lead”, but unfortunately, the article’s text is in German only. As with most of these Mediabooks, Cinestrange also offer two separate covers (Limited to 777 each), which are available on Amazon Germany here and here, while DiabolikDVD stocks Cover A.  

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