Friday, August 5, 2011

LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN (Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore, 1976)

Fernando Di Leo regarded the trilogy of films for which he's best known as a director -- the "milieu" trilogy of Milano Calibro 9, Manhunt and The Boss -- as films noirs, continuing the American tradition's humane portrayal of criminals as tragic or sometimes sympathetic personalities. Those films stand out in stark contrast to the more popular Italian genre of polizieschi movies, in which criminals are usually portrayed as subhuman scum. But wherever Di Leo's heart lay, he still had to pay the bills. So after collaborating with two other writers on the story, he wrote the script for a tough-cop movie that would be directed by Ruggero Deodato, the jungle-terror specialist who would go on to make Cannibal Holocaust. You can tell that neither Di Leo nor Deodato has his heart in the project. That is, they don't seem to share the sincere conviction that drives the best of Italy's cop films. Instead of making a straight story of righteousness combating crime, they tried for black comedy, the joke being that the cops are barely better than criminals.

In fact, we learn that a computer profile of our heroes, Fred (Marc Porel) and Tony (Ray Lovelock) identified them as classic criminal types. It remains a mystery to their boss (Adolfo Celi) why they ever became cops. The answer, as revealed to us by implication, is that being cops empowers Fred and Tony to be thugs and bullies by siccing them on other criminals. You don't hear the sort of righteous indignation from these guys that you'd hear from Maurizio Merli, the mustachioed polizieschi icon, in films by Umberto Lenzi and others. They seem to fight crime just for kicks.

Di Leo and Deodato do what they can to stack the deck early, starting things off with a brutal and fatal mugging by two purse-snatching motorcyclists. These goons drag a bag's desperate owner until she brains herself against a streetlamp. After this atrocity, Fred and Tony ride into action. We're supposed to be angry enough at the muggers to stay interested in what proves an interminable motorcycle chase -- but when I describe the first action scene in a movie as interminable, you know we're in trouble. Fortunately, it ends with a wake-up call for the audience. The chase proper ends when the muggers ride their bike into the back of a truck, one of them dying on the spot, the other thrown out into the street. He's badly injured, but might have survived had not Fred or Tony -- to be honest, I don't remember which is which -- snaps his neck.

Our heroes are basically police terrorists. Their tactics range from thwarting a robbery by assassinating the perpetrators before the fact to annoying the local crime boss, "Bibi" Pasquini (an unenthusiastic Renato Salvatori or Rocco and His Brothers fame), by torching the luxury cars parked outside his high-stakes gambling den. They have two overriding mandates, to bring down Pasquini and get laid. They spend their office time harassing an openly contemptuous female officer, while intercourse proves an essential element of their interrogation technique -- at least when they interrogate attractive young women.

The big joke that develops toward the end is that their two objectives threaten to cancel each other out -- cancel them out, I should say. The climax sets them up in a deathtrap, from which they're too interested in their own climaxes to escape. Which will come first: la petit mort or the Big One?...

Basically, we're dealing with Starsky and Hutch with a license to kill. If that makes Uomini si nasce any funnier, more power to you. To me, it looks like writer and director didn't really have their heart in the comedy, either. The problem is that Porel and Lovelock aren't that funny. The whole joke of the film is that they're violent idiots, but comedy is neither Di Leo nor Deodato's strong suit. They come up with an absurd target-practice sequence in which Fred and Tony leap and roll through a series of ditches, repeatedly firing at cans located dangerously close to each other (the cops, not the cans). Like the motorcycle chase, this goes on too long before it turns into a proper action scene, and the creators clearly have no idea of how they might keep it funny. They get a little closer to the effect they want at the climax. Audiences will inevitably ask if our heroes can really be this stupidly horny as they scene drags on -- but whether it all pays off depends on how you want it to pay off, and I suspect a large part of the audience is bound to be disappointed.

And he strikes! Thunnn-derr-balll!

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is newly available as a Netflix streaming video, along with an impressive number of Italian genre titles. This one is most likely not the highlight of the group, but Italian action fans who have a clear idea of what kind of film this is might still find it entertaining on an undemanding level. Even I got a little kick from seeing Adolfo Celi get to play a badass policeman, but whether that justifies 93 minutes of your time is not for me to say.


venoms5 said...

I began to wonder if I was alone in not being crazy about this picture. It was hyped to high heaven then when I purchased the Italian Raro DVD I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. There's a great subbed documentary on the making of the film on the disc especially of interest is the eyeball squashing scene that apparently no longer exists. The film caused Deodato problems with the censor and this scene was removed and seemingly lost to time. As it stands, it was merely average to me even though it seems to have a huge fanbase among fans of the genre. Great write up, too, Sam.

Samuel Wilson said...

venom, I heard a lot of that hype, which had to be based on the talent team-up. Maybe all those people like it exactly for the heroes' attitude -- whether they recognize the filmmakers' attitude as mockery or not.

Samuel Wilson said...

To show what we're talking about, here's a more positive review that's just turned up.

venoms5 said...

Yes, I see what you mean. These movies have never been all that popular here. They were around well before the mid 90s, though. They played theaters here and turned up on VHS tape in compromised versions, but the cult for them outside of Europe hasn't seemed to have grown much. NoShame US released a slew of them and ultimately went out of business rather quickly, which I'm sure you're already aware.

It's still funny to read reviews for these movies where they are frequently referred to as rip offs of American movies. I don't doubt that US box office receipts played a minor role in the films being made as prolifically as they were in the 70s, but so many of these films take their cue from Italy's own headlines and not some American movie not to mention similar crime pictures were already being made prior to DIRTY HARRY and THE GODFATHER. Case in point, the Violent Cop pictures draw their ruthless lawman from the assassinated Luigi Calabresi, a real life Dirty Harry if there ever was one. HIGH CRIME was the first of those and it's a shame that one hasn't been released legit here. I think BU was going to and didn't at the last minute, or something. I don't suppose Italian cinema of old will ever fully escape the stigma of being predominantly a bandwagon market, lol.

I will surely need to see this one again as I didn't see it as a parody, just a fairly average film among a few hundred other similar pictures. If not for your review, Sam, I likely wouldn't have garnered interest in seeing it again as it bored me most of the time when the sex and violence wasn't onscreen. I just didn't feel it was among the best of the genre and the ending was a big let down for me, too.

Anonymous said...

A certain blogger seems to be obsessed with Luigi Calabresi whenever he talks about Crime films out of Italia.Funny thing is Calabresi wasn't even that much of a bad guy as is being made out by this blogger if you read the 2 or 3 good biographies about his life.

venoms5 said...

I take it that the Anonymous comment (great name, by the way) is directed at me. I don't think I've ever referred to Calabresi as a bad guy. Whether he gave shelter to wayward animals or helped old ladies across the street is irrelevant in the context in which his role as a policeman is represented in those movies. And yes, it's very similar to Eastwood's depiction of Harry Callahan in DIRTY HARRY -- a character who most definitely isn't a bad guy, either.

Samuel Wilson said...

venom, I'm guessing that Anonymous drew his conclusion from the implication that "ruthless" was a common quality of Calbresi, Dirty Harry and Italian cinematic tough cops. But the point of all the films in question is that a certain ruthlessness is necessary in the face of escalating crime. Whether Luigi Calabresi can be deemed ruthless I'm not qualified to say.

venoms5 said...

I have no idea either, as I wasn't around, nor in Italy when he was alive; only by what I've read and heard about him from Italian friends. Relative to today's political climate, radical leftists of the time painted him as something of a villain after he was labeled a murderer for the death of an anarchist (during interrogation) allegedly responsible for a Piazza Fontana bank bombing in 1969.

WALKING TALL (1973) is another true to life film that's a perfect example of this required excessive force, too, though it has a rural setting.