Sunday, 14 October 2007

Italia a mano armata / A Special Cop in Action

This, the third and last in the Commissioner Betti series, following on from Marino Girolami's Roma violenta and Umberto Lenzi's Napoli violenta, sees Maurizio Merli's dedicated, no-nonsense lawman presented with gangs of armed robbers and kidnappers.

Let's go to work

Appearances can be deceptive....

While the former are quickly dealt with thanks to a tip-off from an informer, with Betti recognising a purported hostage as another member of the gang and calling their bluff – “Shoot him then! Go ahead and do it! Pull the trigger! Shoot him I said, and we'll get rid of another criminal!” – the latter proves a tougher nut to crack.

But Betti is not fooled forlong

Though Betti soon tracks the kidnappers down and rescues the children – excepting the obligatory sick one, whose death provides yet another reason for him to hate criminals, over and above his own father's death at the hands of a 16-year-old gunman many years before; this being about as all the characterisation we get or require – he doubts that they were operating on their own, suspecting that his slippery old enemy, Albertelli (John Saxon) is the brains behind the syndicate...

One of the kidnappers also tries for a spot of rape, allowing for some gratuitous, if unpleasant nudity that the married to the job nature of the Betti character would otherwise deny the film.

Though on one level the bank robber plot is superfluous, an extra action sequence or two in a film that doesn't really need it, the way in which Betti encourages one gangster to shoot the other / the hostage is a crucial demonstration of his absolute lack of doubt, as also evinced by encounters with Albertelli; his high-speed pursuit of a couple of the kidnappers in a commandeered car, or his confidence that the truth will out when, two-thirds of the way through, he is set up and sent to jail...

The pieta in Italian cinema, ancora

One can well imagine another film, actor, character and scenario in which this hold up incident proves pivotal, as a wrong decision leads to the death of an innocent man dies and a more introspective, questioning narrative in which there is the possibility that Albertelli is in fact innocent or where the politics of law and order in the politiziotto in general are actually presented as a matter for debate rather than largely taken for granted. (One here notes that the figure of the police informer, a necessary evil as far as advancing the narrative goes, never really seems to work in these films, precisely because it represents something of a challenge to their essentially manichean moral dualism, of good cops and bad criminals.)

Would you trust this man?

In this regard, it's worth noting that, if Merli transcended his initial positioning as poor man's Franco Nero, having gained his big break on account of being something of a look-alike, he always remained a more limited performer in terms of his range. Try for instance to place Merli in Castellari's Street Law, as the ordinary citizen who feels compelled to turn vigilante and ultimately realises the problems with this attractive-seeming course of action: it's difficult, perhaps even impossible.

As ever, however, such issues matter little when all involved deliver the goods, Merli's belief in his character is self-evident, the implications either a touch frightening or heartening, depending on whether you agree with the character and the film's implicit right-wing politics; Saxon suitably sleazy even as he likely just went through the motions to collect the paycheque; and director Franco Martinelli serving up plenty of car and other chases, shoot outs, stunts, fights and beatings, all accompanied by a propulsive Franco Micalizzi score, to give the film's target audience almost exactly what they wanted.

[spoiler follows]

... and Action!!

I say almost because of that ending, in which Betti is unceremoniously gunned down as he approaches his potential new love interest, Luisa (Mirella D'Angelo), the sister of the dead kidnapped child from earlier.

On the one hand, it's the logical apotheosis of a mythic character; one who fundamentally could not be permitted to change into a real-world figure. On the other, it put paid to the prospect of further entries in the franchise and, through this, perhaps tolled the first peals of the death knell for Merli's own career and the filone with which his fame and fortune were so closely intertwined.


Jonny said...

Excellent review Keith! That TV broadcast looks lovely, here's hoping for a DVD release.

K H Brown said...

Thanks Jonny - hope I wasn't too hard on Destruction Force; I watched them back-to-back and felt that A Special Cop in Action had that overall sense of coherence which Destruction Force, for all that I enjoyed Milian's antics, didn't.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point about the uncertain status of informers in terms of the moral sides in the movie.

Betti makes the comment when they find that informer's body in the quarry that "cops shouldn't have to do this sort of work." The script has an awareness of the problem, but doesn't necessarily resolve it.

The-Iron-Inspector said...

Great review once again Keith. We can never get enough Merli..cheers tracker 3!

Lets hope Mr Merli gets a few more dvd releases..hes gone unsung for far too long!