Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The best proof of the success of Piedone lo sbirro (1973) is the making of an official sequel two years later. It reunited star Bud Spencer and director "Steno" and a few of the cast members from the first film. Inspector Rizzo's landlady and her son, our hero's surrogate family, aren't back, but Enzo Cannavale returns as his comedy-relief assistant, Inspector Caputo, while the three American sailors who helped "Flatfoot" out in the first picture make a surprise appearance in the Crown Colony in mid-sequel.

By now Rizzo has become the captain of the Naples Narcotics Squad. Despite his triumph over the Marseilles mob in the first movie he's had a hard time stemming the drug tide. Naples is just a stop in a global network, the scope of which brings an American law-enforcement official (Robert Webber) to town to advise the local authorities. Already burdened by the usual idiot police bureaucracy, Rizzo resents the American's interference. The sequel maintains the original's reactionary, almost anti-imperialist tone regarding the U.S. presence, as our hero complains that the Americans treat Naples "like a colony." At the same time, an even more menacing American arrives: Frank Barella, a deported mobster who seems intent on muscling in on the drug network that extends all the way to Asia. He looks like the prime suspect in the death of the current boss. That man was beaten to death, and we've already seen that Barella is nearly as good with his fists as Rizzo is. Of course, the manner of death makes Rizzo himself an object of suspicion in the eyes of his stupid superiors. One thing everyone knows is that the dead gangster had an informant inside law enforcement, known only to him and his contacts in Asia. To get to the bottom of the corruption on his own side, Rizzo must race Barella to Bangkok, and from there to Hong Kong, to get the info that will help one break the network, while possibly making the other its master....

Captain Rizzo (Bud Spencer) pumps the locals for information in Bangkok (above) and fulfills his title obligation by being in Hong Kong (below)

Steno has two really bright ideas this time. One is to send Bud Spencer to Asia so that super-pugilist Rizzo can test his might against Muy Thai masters, Chinese boxers and sumo wrestlers. After seeing the first Piedone movie I suggested that the series might serve as Italian counterparts to Asian martial arts movies, and the sequel makes the comparison explicit. Asian martial arts fans will probably object to the ease with which Rizzo bludgeons Orientals into submission with his mighty fists, but let's all lighten up. These films are comedies; even though their crime plots are played straight and sometimes turn deadly serious, the fact that Rizzo never uses lethal weapons licenses Steno to milk his brawls for laughs. Just like the first film, this one enjoys an enthusiastic stunt crew who know how to sell Spencer's brawling style, and the original Italian cohort is supplemented by an equally adept Asian stunt crew. If you enjoy pure kinetic knockabout action and can stand some slapstick humor thrown in, Piedone a Hong Kong is great fun to watch.

One thing Rizzo has going for him is an ability to soak up damage. This comes in handy often during Flatfoot in Hong Kong.

The other bright idea was to cast a Seventies icon, Al Lettieri, as Frank Barella. I don't know what was going on with his career that sent him to Italy in the last year of his life after a tremendous run of Hollywood work (The Godfather, The Getaway, Mr. Majestyk etc.) but this film is staged on such a global scale that it doesn't look like he was slumming. As a mighty lummox in his own right he's a perfect foil for Bud Spencer, and he brings enough two-fisted charisma to the part that you buy him as a worthy antagonist for Rizzo. The only disappointment you might feel is that a plot twist late in the story makes what looked like an inevitable fist-to-fist showdown between the two stars impossible.

Al Lettieri in Flatfoot in Hong Kong. Below, Rizzo pretends that he's the mobster while Barella's a cop. So what's the truth?...

Sometimes the comedy here is too crude (as when Caputo has to dress in drag for a sting operation), and there's an ominous turn toward childish sentimentality with the introduction of an orphaned Japanese boy -- notice that this brat, who doesn't even appear until about two-thirds through the picture, makes it onto the poster -- but Bud Spencer as a solo act is easier to take than when he's saddled with Terence Hill as his partner. I like Spencer's low-key, sardonic manner as Rizzo when he's not brawling, and his style still sets the tone for the movie as a whole. The first two Flatfoot films have been pretty entertaining, and I recommend them to anyone interested in trying poliziottesci lite on the Italian Seventies menu. Steno's direction remains efficiently dynamic while the de Angelis brothers work fresh variations on the Piedone theme into a score rich with familiar cop-movie music. The Asian angle and Al Lettieri in one of his last movies incline me to recommend the sequel even more than the original. Neither is anything close to a masterpiece but they're good, dumb fun that don't make you feel stupid watching them.

The English-language trailer (under the alternater title Flatfoot Goes East) also plays up "the little Japanese boy" a lot more than the picture justifies. It was posted to YouTube by Spencerhilltrailer:

And for the sake of comparison, here's a German trailer that makes no distinction between "Buddy" Spencer and the character he plays. This one was uploaded by Rialtofilm:

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