A closer translation of the first film's title would be "Bigfoot the Cop," but you can imagine the confusion that'd create in the U.S., however sasquatch-like Spencer may seem at times. "Flatfoot," meanwhile, is good old American slang for a cop and signals the somewhat comical nature of this series. All four Piedone films are directed by the mononymous "Steno" (Stefano Vanzina), who directed many films for the popular comedian Toto. He launches the series with a dynamic action scene that sets the tone for the first episode.
A black American sailor has gone crazy in the middle of Naples. He's made his way to the top of a tall building and has started taking potshots at the crowds below while raving about hating white people and being free. Steno films this on a massive scale with extras fleeing the sailor's gunshots as snipers move into position atop nearby buildings. He films from below, with the sailor a speck high above, and from the roof as the gunman commands a vast expanse of cityscape. Nobody wants to shoot the sailor, but there's no reasoning with him, and an American officer leaves his fate to the police. At that moment, as a cop on street level raises his rifle, a big foot comes down on top of it, and from a low angle we see the full bulk of Bud Spencer as he finishes a cigarette. Who's this guy? the American officer asks. "That would take a long time to explain," a cop replies.
Rizzo thinks he can crack down on the drug trade by getting tough on the Baron -- he may have a code against killing but he's not above using his ham fists to torture folks -- but he's held back by a by-the-book new police commissioner who frowns on our hero's unorthodox tactics and his semi-cordial relations with the Mafia. Rizzo gets suspended after the commissioner catches him in the middle of an unauthorized beatdown of the Baron, but he carries on the fight with still more help from the Mafia and some crucial assistance from his new friend Jho, the cleaned-up American sailor, and some of his fellow gobs. Things get further complicated when one of his favorite informants and the Baron are killed, leaving Rizzo to wonder who the real villain is. Could it be one of his quasi-allies in the Mafia? Could it be the commissioner who seems to do everything possible to impede the investigation? It all gets very confusing, and as Rizzo tells the commissioner, "You know what Flatfoot does when he's confused." If you don't, he punches people, and if he punches enough of them, he may find out the truth in time....
Tough love from Flatfoot. "So, I'm not your father, eh!" Actually, he's not, but he feels entitled to slap anyone, anyway. I'd say, "Bad cop; no donut," except I don't think he eats donuts. Can you imagine if he did???
Flatfoot seems designed as a family-friendly poliziotteschi movie, free from extreme gun violence, nudity and other distinguishing traits of the adult version of the genre. At the same time, its emphasis on choreographed unarmed combat makes it look like an attempted Italian answer to Asian martial-arts films. In this respect, the film is pretty good. Spencer is a convincing brawler and he's supported by a game stable of stuntmen who sell well for him. Steno keeps the different fight scenes lively, particularly one in which Rizzo routs an entire motorcycle gang with just a borrowed chain for a weapon.
Steno can pull off the kind of car and cycle chases you expect from the Italian cop genre, but Flatfoot's unarmed combats are its highlights.
The regrettable exception is the major comic set piece, a melee set on a fishing boat pitting Rizzo and the three Americans against drug smugglers. The problem isn't that the scene is shot for laughs, but that it goes on too long after it runs out of invention. It's amusing to see Spencer swatting people with fish, but Steno clearly runs out of ideas at some point. Worse, one of the Americans is an acrobat. Does it strike any of you that Italians have some odd obsession with acrobats? They seem to like to see guys turning backflips and somersaults without appreciating that stunts like that only make their fight scenes look more fake. I can't suspend disbelief with some idiot tumbling all over the place, but for an Italian audience all that matters is that it looks funny. But that aside, I found Flatfoot fairly amusing just for its peculiar approach to material I'm used to seeing handled in a far more brutal fashion. I'd recommend it to any fan of Italian police movies just for the sake of variety.
Inspector Rizzo becomes a globe-trotter in the three later films, which take him to Hong Kong, South Africa and Egypt. I assume that someone in Europe released the Piedone series on DVD, since Videoasia probably wouldn't have them otherwise. Piedone lo sbirro looks a little battered in spots but comes, as do all the sequels, in nicely letterboxed format. The new collection, deceptively titled Trinity:Hands Up! Eyes Down! Pockets Out! teams Spencer with Terence Hill in two Africa-set adventures, All the Way Boys and I'm For the Hippopotamus, while Hill stars in the two westerns as well as Renegade (which first appeared in Grindhouse Experience Vol. 2) and Virtual Weapon. I'm looking forward to the other Flatfoots and to the two spaghettis, so expect to read more about them in the near future.
Here's an English-language trailer for Flatfoot aimed at the American market, uploaded to YouTube by spencherhilltrailer.