The perfect poliziotteschi?
In truth I doubt that such a thing exists, in that there will be as many perfect examples as they are variations in the form, in that Lenzi vs Damiano or Merli vs Milian way.
But for a film with a fine balance between action, character-driven drama and socio-political commentary on Italy during the years of lead - a combination also featured in director Stelvio Massi's highly recommended Marc the Narc trilogy - Cross Shot may be difficult to beat.
John Saxon plays Commissioner Javocella, a no-nonsense cop frustrated by the shackles procedure places on his men, the thanklessness of their task, and the way in which the bad guys act with impunity and then go free on the rare occasions when they are brought to trial.
Lee J Cobb plays Dante Ragusa, a blind old-school mafia boss who has used a combination of threats and pay-offs to secure the right to redevelop the city, Bari, his way.
Lino Capolicchio plays Antonio Blasi, a young punk who joins a group of career criminals in a raid on an armoured car and soon finds himself way out of his depth after killing a cop and inadvertently hijacking a car belonging to one of Ragusa's men, containing as it does a briefcase full of incriminating documents detailing pay-offs to the city's government.
Then there is Renzo Palmer's Maselli, a left-liberal journalist concerned by Javocella's emphasis on order at the expense of law, takes every opportunity he can to sell extra copies by critiquing the police and their methods and who positions himself in-between Blasi and his pursuers in search of a scoop.
Finally, there are a whole host of well-drawn supporting characters - Blasi's well-meaning girlfriend, who only realises too late what he and now she have gotten themselves into; Javocella and Maselli's underlings, providing a chorus and commentary on their actions; and the Ragusa's lieutenants and son, the latter a disappointment who owes his position to family ties rather than his own abilities.
While the villains of the piece, in the form of the representatives of organised crime and those within the establishment who co-operate with them - here note the unseen governor's refusal to support Javocella - are are clear everything else is suitably indistinct. Maselli and Javocella are presented closer to one another than they might like to think, being likened at one point they are likened to two dogs fighting for a scrap of a bone
Likewise, although Massi pulls no punches, as illustrated by Javocella's penchant for beating on suspects a la Merli; his instruction not to cover the body of his murdered colleague, apparently a 23-year-old whose wife had just given birth to their first child, for added impact; or the way in which the other robbers throw a woman out of her hijacked car into the path of the incoming police car, he also makes Blasi almost sympathetic, a 1970s update of your classic noir era victim of circumstance. (Perhaps because of the two young lovers on the run set-up, I was reminded here of Farley Granger's character in They Live By Night.)
The expression on Capolicchio's face as he pulls the trigger on the machine gun he's only just been given - and here credit must go to the actor, one of those to straddled the divide between filone and auteur cinemas - tells us everything we need to know: I wasn't prepared for this! What have I just done?
Likewise, it seems plausible that his plight is worsened not only by Javocella's approach but also Maselli's not entirely neutral representation of the same.
Besides drawing out the best from his cast and handling the action scenes well, Massi also makes good use of the Bari locations - themselves welcome as an alternative to the more usual Naples, Rome or Turin - and provides some fascinating actuality footage of the newspaper typesetters and presses which, in conjunction with the other technology on display, further helps make the film into a real document of its time.
Definitely well worth a look, even in this panned and scanned Greek subtitled, English dubbed version.