Three high-ranking military men, including General Stocchi, are found dead in suspicious circumstances within the space of a couple of months, prompting an inquiry by the army and considerable media and public interest.
Precise statements of time and place help to convey a sense of authenticity...
... of a story ripped directly from the headlines
The police, in the shape of Inspector Giorgio Solmi (Luc Merenda) and his men have other cases to investigate, however, such as the murder of electronics expert Carotti, found bludgeoned to death in his expensive villa.
The staging of a suicide; the black gloved figure is immediately given a face in a non-giallo move
The evidence points to his murderer being the call girl who visited him that night, with her attempted suicide and the tens of thousands of lira found in her apartment convincing public prosecutor Mannino (Mel Ferrer) of her guilt, “as good as a confession.”
A respectable noblewoman is soon revealed as the madam of a brothel, indicating both the deceptiveness of appearances and the pervasiveness of corruption
Solmi, however, is not convinced, refusing to “stop at first appearances” and strongly doubting that La Tunisiana had the strength to cave in Carotti's skull with three or four blows from a poker. Accordingly he assigns his men to stake out Carotti's place lest the killer – or someone else – return to the scene of the crime. This leads to the apprehension of Remo Ortolani and the discovery of a tape indicate that Carotti, who financed his lavish lifestyle through blackmail, had uncovered a conspiracy involving General Stocchi and another man, Renzi.
With the army again declining to share information and Ortolani revealing that he himself is working for one of the secret services whilst indicating that he knows nothing else, there is unfortunately no indication as to who Renzi might be.
Milian in pensive mood
The familiar sight of the tape reels
Ortolani's claim prompts Solmi to go see his superior, Captain Sperli (Tomas Milian) who denies that Ortolani – or whoever he might really be – is one of his men and casts doubt on his claims. Even more worryingly for Sperli the tape of the conversation proves to have been wiped, raising his suspicions that Mannino or someone else knows more than they are willing to let on. Still worse follows as Ortolani is assassinated by a gunman posing as a traffic cop, indicating that Solmi's investigation is a threat and that Renzi or whoever else it could expose are powerful and utterly ruthless....
Another cog in the machine; the fake policeman assassinates Alighieri
Happily, however, another lead in the case emerges around this time, as La Tunisiana confesses to Solmi that she saw Carotti's murderer. Unfortunately the same man then abducts her from the hospital, sub-machinegunning some guards in the process. While La Tunisiana manages to escape and to contact Solmi, to give a name to the face – Massu (Antonio Casale) – he soon catches and disposes of her...
Poison was the cure – two killers pose as medical orderlies but soon reveal their true colours
Solmi puts out an all-point bulletin on Massu and soon manages to apprehend him. An initial interrogation fails to provide much new information, while Massu is then himself murdered in a prison riot clearly engineered by Renzi or his co-conspirators, further establishing the pattern implied by the Italian title: the police accuse, the secret service kills...
This densely-plotted 1975 poliziotto from Sergio Martino fits very much into the same mould as its predecessor, Milano trema - la polizia vuole giustizia /The Violent Professionals, on account of the presence of Luc Merenda in the lead and the same exposure of a wide-reaching conspiracy in which identities, boundaries and issues of guilt and innocence become ever more muddled.
Another otherwise giallo moment rendered poliziotto style
Assassinate the assassin, the trope of the footage or shots of the crime and of the fall of man...
... and the forbidden photographs of a citizen above suspicion...
A car bomb takes out one of Solmi's underlings, but was clearly meant for him
If the filmmaker’s popular / vernacular approach and lack of an obvious left- or right-wing stance prevents them from offering much in the way of analysis, insight or thought-provoking conclusions in the manner of more political counterparts like Francesco Rosi’s Exquisite Cadavers and The Mattei Affair, the overriding state of confusion that reigns throughout the piece can also be argued for as a genuine reflection of the political situation in Italy at the time.
Similarly, if the full scale pitched battle between Solmi’s men and the private army that leads to the identification and apprehension of the mysterious Renzi strains credibility, the reality of CIA sponsored “stay behind” armies in Italy and elsewhere indicates that something similar certainly could have existed, albeit perhaps in a more clandestine, less spectacular fashion.
Despite appearances these are not images from a war movie
Unfortunately the battle sequence and the sundry chases and shoot outs in between plot points come across as competent rather than genuinely inspired when compared to, for example, Castellari’s work.
While Martino earlier proved himself more comfortable at the giallo than Castellari, comparable criticisms might also be levelled at the more investigative and suspense scenes, with a second-hand quality to the identification of Massu via a distinctive piece of jewellery (as previously seen in The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) or the locked room suicide scenario (as found in The Strange Vice of Signorah Wardh).
The mise-en-scene likewise has that predictability to it, where Martino will endeavour to turn on the style from time to time, in going to the handling camera for instance, but otherwise seems content to just go through the motions; the issue then being that the selfsame obviousness of the dramatic moment is as much undercut as emphasised.
Much the same can be said of Luciano Michelini’s score, which has the right ingredients, but never seems to bring them together into something particularly memorable; in this regard it’s telling that of Michelini’s dozen credits as composer the majority have been for films either directed by Sergio Martino or produced by his brother Luciano.
On the plus side, lead actor Merenda and special guest star Milian are better balanced than they were in Destruction Force, with the latter’s restrained performance sitting better with the former’s typically relaxed, easy-going style.
The ending – complete with dramatic slow-motion to add gravitas – is also surprisingly bold, although one is nevertheless confident that more politically committed naysayers will nevertheless interpret it negatively, as encouraging an attitude of despair about the prospects for changing the system more than as confirmation that the paradigm of the individual hero able to resolve all society's contradictions is now outmoded.