One year previous, Maurizio Merli had starred in “Franco Martinelli”/Marino Girolami’s highly-profitable Italocrime meller VIOLENT ROME (1975), but despite his immediate popularity with audiences in such films, his initial casting was solely based on his similar-looking appearance to Franco Nero from Enzo G. Castellari’s (Marino Girolami’s son Enzo) HIGH CRIME (1973), one of the trailblazers of the entire Italocrime genre. In their review of the present film from April 1976, Variety reported: “The market in Italy is being partially glutted with crimeland action pix where either a tough but honest police commissioner takes justice into his own hands or the private citizen does.” While Umberto Lenzi had already explored gritty urban settings with a quartet of modern-day, film-noir-inspired films—GANG WAR IN MILAN (1973), ALMOST HUMAN ( featuring a truly scene-stealing role for its star, Tomas Milian), MANHUNT IN THE CITY (1975) and SYNDICATE SADISTS (1975)—it was the director’s THE TOUGH ONES (released in Italy under the memorably defiant title ROMA A MANO ARMATA / trans: “Rome Armed to the Teeth” ) that really solidified his reputation as a master of the genre. Following their initial press announcement from what seems like a decade ago, Grindhouse Releasing at long last released this Italocrime classic earlier this year in a staggering 3-disc Deluxe Edition, which was obviously well worth the wait.
In the wake of his career-defining role as Inspector Betti in Girolami’s aforementioned VIOLENT ROME, Merli this time stars as Inspector Leonardo “Leo” Tanzi, a virtually interchangeable hot-headed, no-nonsense cop, who is once again frustrated by the current sorry state of affairs within the criminal justice system (“If we stick to the book, we’ve had it!”). Tanzi, who is part of the Anti-Gang Squad, is obsessed with capturing Ferender, an exceptionally elusive French criminal mastermind, who controls most of the Eternal City’s underworld, and with the help of Sgt. Pogliana (Aldo Barberito) and his trusted, far-more-composed partner, Caputo (Giampiero Albertini), they attempt to arrest—in the process even going so far as to break the law themselves!—some heavyweight associates of his, including Savelli (Biagio Pelligra), who’s been involved in a number of violent bank robberies, and Vincenzo “The Hunchback” Moretto (Tomas Milian), a belligerent, smart-assed gangster (unforgettably dubbed in the English version by veteran voice-actor, Frank von Kuegelgen), who, after numerous highly-colourful interrogations, vows revenge (“He’s gonna crap in his long-johns before I kill him!”) as he precipitously rises among the criminal ranks.
As with most of Lenzi’s successive Italocrimers, the crux of the film is offset with a number of intermittent, almost cursory set-pieces involving a tight-knit group of bank robbers; an illegal gambling-den; purse-snatching teenagers; a rather disturbing gang-rape (“Hey boys, how ‘bout a big wooden dildo?!”); and a protracted scene involving Tony Parenzo (Ivan Rassimov), a heartless drug pusher who injects his girlfriend (Gabriella Lepori) with a lethal overdose of heroin; all of which illustrate the far-reaching span of the underworld’s Octopus-like tentacles. Swiftly-paced and culminating with an extensive, elaborately-choreographed car chase involving a stolen ambulance, Lenzi’s film rarely lets up, and whenever it does, Tanzi is seen (and heard!) angrily voicing his opposition to the impossible odds he is facing (“They make us sweat to bring ’em in, but before the ink’s dry, some idiot says they can go!”), anger which is mostly directed at his CO, Police Commissioner Ruini (Arthur Kennedy), who merely reaffirms that “The Law is the Law!”
While Merli is his usual laconic best in a typecast role he continued to play virtually verbatim for the better part of his career, it’s Tomas Milian as the hunchbacked Moretto – known as il Gobbo on Italian prints – who steals every scene in which he appears. Beyond his frequent appearances as Nico Giraldi in a number of latter-day – and increasingly comedic – polizieschi, the ‘hunchback’ is one of Milian’s most eccentric, over-the-top characters to ever grace an Italocrime film. So much so that Lenzi and Milian both returned for BROTHERS TILL WE DIE (1977), an unrelated follow-up, which featured a dual role for the actor where he also played Monnezza (trans: “Trash”), yet another recurring (and incredibly popular) character. First seen gutting a large steer at a slaughterhouse, Moretto’s smart-ass rhetoric is quickly silenced when he’s unfairly kicked in the balls courtesy of the impatient Tanzi (“It ain’t enough I’m a hunchback, you ruin my eggs as well!”), who, adding insult to injury, plants some smack in his shiny lime-green Porsche. It’s here, back at police headquarters, that Moretto’s true psychosis manifests itself (“Miserable sons-of-bitches! I piss on you! I piss on you! Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!!!You sons-of-whores!”) as he angrily slashes his own wrist to avoid further interrogation. Looking for payback, Moretto has a couple of his ‘men’ (stuntman extraordinaire Riccardo Petrazzi and veteran character actor Luciano Pigozzi) abduct and scare the hell out of his girlfriend Anna (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), a government social worker who is the film’s sole politically left-leaning character and who becomes the constant victim of Tanzi’s sociopathic scorn.
Perhaps even surpassing the established sounds of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ energetic scores for both HIGH CRIME and VIOLENT ROME, Franco Micalizzi’s tremendous score here is surely one of the film’s many highlights: a dynamic, brass-infused work of dazzling intensity, which not only underscores the fast-paced, turbulent mean streets of Rome, but became – as did most of Micalizzi’s subsequent polizieschi scores – synonymous with Italocrime in general.
Those even slightly entertained by the genre will have a hard time containing their excitement with Grindhouse Releasing’s exhaustive Blu-ray set, which is as much a celebration of Umberto Lenzi’s four-decades-long career as it is of the present film. Spread out over two Blu-rays, disc one includes a stunning 4K scan of the film itself, an incredible bit of restoration that is sure to leave you gobsmacked after suffering through International Video Entertainment (IVE)’s long out-of-print Betamax/VHS videocassette (released under the auspices of Sybil Danning’s popular ‘Adventure Video’ series), which was edited, grainy and heavily-cropped. Retaining its original – and absolutely integral – 2-perf scope compositions, Grindhouse’s flawless transfer is well-defined and surprisingly vibrant. Of course, as with the immaculate visuals, the DTS-HD mono audio also sounds right-on-target in both the English and Italian versions, and while it’s no surprise that the Italian version is a more accurate representation of the vernacular (which once again features Tomas Milian’s Italian voice actor of choice, Ferruccio Amendola), the English version is, as demonstrated by the quotations above, likewise undeniably entertaining.
The comprehensive extras begin with a feature-length audio commentary from Mike Malloy, director of the essential doc, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILM THAT RULED THE ’70s, who commends the (quote) “Eurocrime triumvirate” of Lenzi, Merli and Micalizzi, and for the uninitiated, he gives a brief overview of the genre’s history; how Merli (quote) “pounded his fist on a lot of desks” during his career; and just how many of these films were directly or indirectly interconnected through their various characters, follow-ups and sequels, which he believes could even use a handy (quote) “flow-chart”. After listening to his enthusiastic, well-informed commentary, you’ll want to check-out or even revisit a number of the genre’s key titles. The other significant extra on disc one is Calum Waddell’s All Eyes on Lenzi – The Life and Times of the Italian Exploitation Titan (84m04s), which covers the late director’s career from the late-’Sixties onwards via archival interviews with Lenzi himself, as well as a number of new interviews with contemporary film critics and historians (who pay special attention to many of his giallo and horror titles), but the doc also includes some choice bits about this (quote) “cinematic chameleon’s” Italocrime career too. In Murder for Mayhem (33m12s), an on-camera interview recorded on July 26th, 2010, Lenzi and Micalizzi reminiscence about their extensive collaborations, which is, as expected, a wonderful listen. In the archival Full-Frontal City: The Urban Geography of Rome Armed to the Teeth (22m01s), many of the film’s locations are revisited for the purposes of ‘then-and-now’ comparison. An extensive collection of trailers for all of Grindhouse Releasing’s current and upcoming product finishes-off disc one’s extras.
Packed-to-the-hilt with even more substantial extras, disc two begins with Freak-O-Rama’s Umberto (55m31s), yet another overview of Lenzi’s wide-ranging career, which compliments the doc from disc one rather nicely, as it focuses a lot on Lenzi’s early beginnings. In the exhaustive Tomas Milian: The Rebel Within (88m50s), Milian discusses his entire career, including his early, complicated life in Cuba before immigrating to the U.S., getting his start at the famed The Actor’s Studio, and eventually making his way to Italy, where he remained for the better part of his career before returning back to the U.S. and (quote) “starting all over again”. Inspirational and funny, yet at times quite melancholic, this is an utterly fascinating, must-see interview. In the archival doc The Merli Connection (44m39s), his son and a number of actors and directors who knew and worked with him talk about Maurizio Merli’s career and huge influence on the genre; in the short Back Story (5m54s), Milian once again discusses his outrageous Gobbo / Hunchback character. For the remaining interviews, Federico Caddeo and his production company Freak-O-Rama Productions truly outdo themselves with a number of terrific interview segments, including: Beauty and the Beasts (29m31s), in which Maria Rosaria Omaggio talks about both her start in the business and Lenzi’s (quote) “sweet Tuscan toughness”; in the lengthy Corrado Armed to the Teeth (45m17s), character actor Corrado Solari talks about his impromptu audition for Lenzi’s aforementioned MANHUNT IN THE CITY, as well as his excellent working relationship with Milian and how Lenzi was (quote) “distrustful, cautious and careful”; the once-popular Maria Rosaria Riuzzi turns up in Brutal City (14m12s) to discuss her career, with a particular emphasis on Dino Risi’s PROFUMO DI DONNA (1974); in The Rebel and the Bourgeois (19m05s), costume designer and sometime actor Sandra Cardini talks about her time working on the film; and then prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti gets his turn in front of the camera in Vodka, Cigarettes and Burroughs (39m31s), and also discusses his collaboration with Lenzi; plus, in The Godfather of Rhythm (36m14s), famed composer Franco Micalizzi also goes into details about his lengthy career. Of course, the disc also comes with a few Easter Eggs, which are well searching out.
In addition to packaging this impressive BD set in an eye-catching slipcover, Grindhouse have also seen fit to include a wonderful 12-page booklet (whose cover reproduces the film’s U.S. one-sheet poster, retitled BRUTAL JUSTICE [which screams, “Inspector Tanzi makes Dirty Harry look like Mr. Clean!”]), containing a superb, nicely-illustrated, in-depth essay from genre expert Roberto Curti. As an added bonus, the package also includes the film’s entire soundtrack CD, and for those still lucky enough to locate a copy, the first 2500 copies even come with a collectible ‘bullet-pen’! An absolutely incredible release, Grindhouse Releasing’s extraordinarily thorough Blu-ray is not only a perfect introduction to the addictive pleasures of the Italocrime genre, but is, hands-down, absolutely one of the finest releases of the year. Order it from DiabolikDVD.