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“What are we coming to when they let common criminals join the police?” Ruggero Deodato will perhaps forever be inextricably linked to his notorious grand guignol video nasty Cannibal Holocaust, but the famous Italian director tried his hands at numerous genres. He dabbled in gialli with the likes of The Washing Machine, for instance, albeit in the 1990s long after the movement's heyday in the 1970s. Indeed, three genres ruled supreme at the Italian box office – the aforementioned gialli (bloody murder mysteries), sex comedies, and crime films (generally referred to as poliziotteschi), and it is in this latter category that Deodato produced one of his finest films. Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (what a fantastic title!) is an ultra-charged poliziottescho that knows no bounds of shame, as tough-as-nails coppers take on the dangerous world of crime...
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“We play to your masculine conceit, make you feel like supermen, then you invite us to a meal with a hundred courses and you're through after the appetiser.” 1970s Italy was hip with cutting edge style while the cinema of the time was breaking boundaries and taboos as rapaciously as it could manage, but there was also great divide in the country between the cities and countryside, the North and South of the nation, and of course, there was violent crime – sometimes for traditional motives, sometimes for political reasons. Perhaps most infamously of all, the Red Brigade dominated local headlines at a time when America was facing the Weather Underground and Britain was taking on the I.R.A., and that's without even mentioning the Red Army in Japan, the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany, and countless other instances of revolutionaries aggressively demanding change on a global scale – and all the while terrorism was spreading like a disease. Suffice it to say, it was a rough time, and Italy experienced its fair share of troubles as the criminal elements of its society filled newspapers and television reports with heists, kidnappings, and murder.
Eventually, enough was enough, and the Italian police force had to fight fire with fire and, naturally, far be it from the Italian film industry to ignore current trends to make some fast cash. While the police were generally portrayed in Italian cinema as being mistrusted by the youth, disinterested/inept in their work, or replaced entirely by an amateur sleuth (sometimes all three), the 'Euro crime' movement – heavily inspired by the mainstream success of American films like Dirty Harry and The French Connection – painted a very different picture. In the case of Deodato's Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man, the police were as nasty as the criminals they pursued.
“What a sport you are. One of us gets it first by my rules – I'm against threesomes.” Fred (Marc Porel, Don't Torture A Duckling) and Tony (Ray Lovelock, Oasis of Fear, The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue) are two criminally-minded rogues assigned to 'special squad', a clandestine group of undercover cops who roam the streets hunting for bad guys – and boy, do they pack a mean punch. Opening with a thrilling, bravura motorcycle chase through city streets – that begins brutally and climaxes in savage fashion – the modus operandi of the 'special squad' is clear. The gloves are off and they'll do whatever it takes to nail the villain of the day. Hell, when the thieves are minded to wear helmets but the police ride like hell with the wind in their hair, you know who should be scared of who – especially when Fred unceremoniously snaps the neck of one of the bike-riding purse snatchers! These men work hard and play harder to the point that the line between the two is practically transparent.
“You've caused me so many gray hairs that now they're white!” Pasquini (Renato Salvatori) is the big cheese that special squad is looking to snuff out, and after one of their own is gunned-down outside their HQ, the already discarded gloves and cremated for good measure. Put simply, Fred and Tony don't give a single solitary fuck and enjoy themselves while doing so. They hit up a high-end gambling den and torch all the rich folks' vehicles (an actual Rolls Royce included), and blow off a little steam by bringing a hostage crisis to an effective – if bloody – conclusion. Ultimately though, all roads lead to Pasquini, but how many people are going to have to eat lead before the crime boss folds once and for all?
“Under no circumstances imperil the safety of a citizen – regardless of age.” From the outset to the very end, Deodato and his screenwriter Fernando Di Leo (Cold Blooded Beast) rarely ease off the gas. Even the troughs, which compliment the peaks, come at you packed with brazen displays of rampant lust and boyish immaturity. Fred and Tony are like two boys who grew up without parental supervision and their 'criminal tactics to benefit the good guys' presents an intriguing hard line dichotomy that makes Dirty Harry look positively square. This is a teeth-gnashing kind of film, it's the serrated blade of a cold knife slashing wildly out of the dark at your face, a middle finger to every shred of bourgeois decency, and yet – perhaps surprisingly – it doesn't quite stray into out-and-out sadism. Pasquini punishes a man who crossed him, but looks away squeamishly from the results, while Fred and Tony would be giggling like school kids if they weren't trying to remain so stoic and cool as they hard-charge motorbikes through crowded streets. They may sometimes act like school bullies let loose on the adult world, and are certainly not above torturing suspects for information, nor coaxing a gangster's moll for their own pleasure, but their exceptionally laddish behaviour plays a little more complex than plain old testosterone-gone-wild.
“We women have more in us than you think. I'm prepared to go all night.” There is a wealthy seam of homoerotic subtext bubbling under the surface of Fred and Tony's partnership. They sleep in the same bedroom, both practically nude, and are first seen cosied up together on a motorcycle as they roam the city looking for criminals to take down. As the bike weaves around, they move counter to each other as if in a dance with their bodies close (as each actor makes sure the camera is getting a good look at their face!). Even the characters' interaction with women is more complex than the unrepentant chauvinism on the surface. Norma (Silvia Dionisio), the secretary at the 'special squad', is hounded by the horny pair who seek to claim her as a conquest (evidently the phrase “sexual harassment in the workplace” is not in their lexicon). They steal a plant from the foyer and try to pass it off as a gift for her – but she's no sucker and swats them away with ease, chewing up their rampant masculinity by demolishing the usually brisk nature of male performance, and stands up to their immature leering by coming off as far more ravenous than the pair of them. Indeed, Fred balks at the suggestion of a three-way, jokingly dismissing the whole concept as against his own personal philosophy – and yet, in a later scene, the traded winks and smirks between the pair when they come on to Pasquini's girl is clearly more about the pair looking to nail her together rather than the woman herself. Would it be going too far to read more academic ideas into the pair of them pressing an explosive plunger together?
“Only if we love someone do we ever get cheated – then we don't mind how much he fails in bed.” As if it wasn't already clear, Deodato's film delivers on all fronts. The action sequences cut pretty fast as bullets fly and engines roar, and the guerilla nature of Italian genre film making of the time injects an added frisson to proceedings. The opening set piece? Simply strap a camera to the front of the chase motorcycle and charge full blast through the streets as real vehicles and actual pedestrians rush to get out of the way. Indeed, a heist later in the film is shot in such a way that many unwitting citizens genuinely flee at the sight of an actor's prop gun just before he's 'snuffed out' in the middle of the road. Some are wise to the event, but far from all are in on the gag. The theme of the piece, evidently, is to hell with it and damn the consequences. From full throttle action to unleashed sexuality, Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man is much like one of Spinal Tap's amplifiers – dialled up to eleven, perhaps even with the knob broken off. The visit to Pasquni's sister Lina (Sofia Dionisio, as Flavia Fabiani), for instance, turns into a sordid farce once she opts to indulge in a double dose of afternoon delight with both Fred and Tony – popping their macho bubble by proving how easily they can be distracted – as the moans of ecstasy go completely unnoticed in the next room by her mother, who is too busy rustling up something to eat for these rapscallions with a badge!
“You should lay off it – alcoholics die!” Coked-up to the eyeballs on sex, violence, and crazed behaviour, Deodato's film (story credits to Fernando Di Leo, Alberto Marras, and Vincenzo Salviani) wears its influences on its bloodied sleeve. What else is the character played by Adolfo Celi (Thunderball) than a photocopy of all those blustering police captains made weary by their barely controllable men in the field? Naturally, it's not as slick as its American counterparts, but the film still embodies that gritty 1970s aesthetic, perhaps even more so than the likes of Popeye Doyle and 'Dirty' Harry Callahan. Swaggering onto the screen in uncompromising fashion, it is one of Deodato's most assured films in his notorious career (for more infamy, see The House On The Edge Of The Park – another video nasty that fell foul of the British censors), and as such is one that all fans of Italian genre cinema should check out.
“You take a woman to bed and what do you give her?” 88 Films' have made this movie available in the UK on both DVD and Blu-Ray formats (separately), and present an impressive visual experience. Uncut and in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the transfer is clear, crisp, and free of damage while maintaining the grainy feel of its origins. The mono audio track (in your choice of English or Italian language – subtitles optional), meanwhile, is generally good albeit with a few clicks and pops that are inherent to the source materials. When it comes to extra features, though, it's slim pickings. A stills gallery (posters and lobby cards) and a trailer is all you get. For other crime-fuelled Italian classics of the 1970s, see Massimo Dallamano's giallo-tinged What Have They Done To Your Daughters?, Umberto Lenzi's frenetic Almost Human (or, indeed, The Cynic, The Rat, and The Fist), as well as Mario Bava's superb Rabid Dogs.
N.B. Screenshots are captured from the DVD version of the release. A high definition Blu-Ray is also available at all good stockists and from 88 Films' own website.