Long before Italy flooded the Western video rental shelves with Romero influenced gut-munching in the early 80's, the Spaghetti B-Movie Industry unleashed a spate of Dirty Harry-style violent cop movies which revelled in their testosterone-fuelled strong-arm-of-the-law methods and ideals.
Tonight, we will be treated to two of the best, Ruggero Deodato's ingeniously titled Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man and Umberto Lenzi's outrageous Almost Human. Both directors, as I'm sure you're already aware, would later become renowned for directing cannibal 'classics' and both films tonight feature the dashingly handsome Ray Lovelock, whose original music features in Live Like a Cop.... Ready when you are, Mr. Lovelock.
Tonight's selection is brought to you by Zomblee in association with some nice red underpants.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Cop (1976)
Plot Two cops beat up a lot of bad people in Rome.
Zomblee "Now, this is how you start a film." Rawshark's right. If the first ten minutes of Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man doesn't leave you feeling just a tiny bit exhilarated, you may as well eject the disc and look for another way to pass 90 minutes. A spectacular, daring motorbike chase sequence on the streets of Rome (that has to be seen to be believed) is as good a way as any to introduce us to Fred (Marc Porel) and Tony (Ray Lovelock) - members of the police "special squad" ("Did they just say they're called 'The Special Squad'? That's brilliant!" - Jim) who target gang crime. These guys are a law onto themselves and behave more like the people they hunt down than policemen. In one particular scene they actually shoot down a band of bank robbers before they even commit a crime. That's what I call law enforcement.
We were all a little concerned about the intricacies of the "plot" during tonight's first cop movie - no one could really make complete sense out of what was going on and to be honest, Deodato darts and dives in all directions, sidestepping conventional narrative dynamics in order to incorporate as much craziness as possible. I have absolutely no problem with that.
"I wanna be a cop in Italy! You get a shag and breakfast!" shouts a stunned Rawshark as our handsome twosome take it in turns to shag the head gangster's little sister before being treated to his housekeeper's culinary hospitality. Then they probably went and busted a few heads, Ray Lovelock smoked another ten boxes of cigarettes before torturing some gamblers, then home to their shared room. Yes, they share a room. A bit weird, that. And when they get up in the morning, Lovelock sports bright red 70's underpants. Only Lovelock could get away with those underpants. Just think, if Al Cliver had agreed to be in this film, then maybe he would've got to wear the red pants and kick some serious ass. I know we're a bit obsessed with Al Cliver here at Zombie Club, but he really was asked to star in LLACDLAM and turned it down, then went off to act in a film that "didn't do very well."LLACDLAM, on the other hand, did very well and rightly so. Law enforcement at its 70's, politically incorrect best.
"What is it coming to when common criminals join the police?!"
Jim Oooh yeah, I love a bit of political incorrectness me, and after Delta Force last time, I was well up for a bit of un-PC Italian Cop action, especially if Ray Lovelock was in it. You might remember him from the classic The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue which was a Spanish production filmed in England starring a bearded Ray Lovelock who it turns out is Italian after all. Go figure.
Anyway, Live Like A Cop… opens with one of those bonkers motor bike chases that was obviously filmed in the rush hour with no permission - something that you could get away with in the early 70s, especially in Rome. It also sets the scene of the movie brilliantly as from the word go it’s obvious that these ‘heroes’ have questionable morals (breaking the bad guy’s neck for no reason at the end of the chase raised an eyebrow or two), and that the two actors involved are having loads of fun, especially Marc Porel who likes to put his head in front of Ray Lovelock’s and steal camera time wherever possible. Those guys…
But yeah, let’s talk about the Special Squad. From their slightly underground HQ they operate ( “Oooh, Bat Cave!” – Rawshark), striking fear into the hearts of criminals by setting fire to whole car parks full of cars, raiding illegal gambling boats in a ‘shoot first, ask later’ kind of way, and tag team shagging mob boss’s daughters. Why I couldn’t tell you, none of us could (“too clever for me those Italians, I swear” - Zomblee). Was it something to do with that guy from Contamination getting shot at the beginning? Oh I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters either. Live Like A Cop… is all about the action and the violence and in that respect it’s a riot.
From bizarre shooting practice sequences (“He hates those cans!” - Rawshark) to wildly violent punch-ups (“It’s like a Hong Kong movie all of a sudden.” - Rawshark) you can’t take your eyes off the screen, especially as there are “tits in no less than three scenes!” Cheers Zomblee, glad someone’s counting. And Rawshark had a good point about the use of frying pans in a fight: “A frying pan does hurt,” he observed, “but it always looks like The Three Stooges on film.” Hmmm, “or Bottom” added Zomblee, and he’s right too.
Those red pants did freak me out though, as did the fact that the cops shared an apartment, slept in the same room and that they didn’t shower in the morning. Oh well, that’s the 70s for you.
"Take a seat."
Rawshark There’s no denying that LLACDLAM does indeed have a great opening with a ten minute motorbike chase that, as Zomblee informed us, was apparently the first time wheelies on motorbikes had been put to film. Well, they sure put a lot of them up on the screen, as well as bikes riding down stairs, speeding round roundabouts and zipping up streets of congested Italian traffic. At one point they also run over a blind man’s dog, leaving the poor man in the middle of the road muttering to himself ”Without my dog, I’m helpless! Where’s my dog?” Oh, those Italian vigilante cops and their disregard for civilians.
Coming on like sex-obsessed versions of Bodie and Doyle from The Professionals, Fred and Tony are ”special squad” and you’d better believe it. They certainly do, especially our good old friend Mr Lovelock and his big red pants. Except for the opening chase and the hostage scene the plot is fairly straightforward, as our men are ultimately out to nab a gang boss / drug lord called Bibi, who has been a real pain in the special squad’s ass of late. Bibi eh? ”How does everyone else write that?” I asked towards the end of the film. ”Bee-bee” replied Zomblee, whilst Jim chipped in with ”Bee-bee… But then I got bored of writing e’s, so I just put BB”.
Anyway, Fred and Tony set about their task by first blowing up a whole car park of cars (including their own!) before moving on to interrogate (and shag) Bibi’s sister (”He’s slapped her tits out! ” – said Jim in amazement). Yet, it’s not all work, as they still find time here and there to practise their shooting ability in a disused quarry and buy lots of potted plants for their office secretary who wants a threesome with the pair of them.
With edge-of-your-seat direction from Deodato, LLACDLAM is a rip-roaring ride, with plenty scenes of excessive violence (eye-gouge!) and random displays of female flesh. So what if the Italian structure makes the plot somewhat muddled, if you like 70s cop action flicks with a gritty edge, then hunt this baby out – it’s perhaps not quite as good as Dirty Harry, but it’s better than Death Wish.
“The last time you saw him you had two eyes, now you have one”.
Director Ruggero Deodato
Cast Marc Porel
Runtime 100 mins
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Almost Human (1974)
Plot Bad guy kidnaps rich man's daughter and hold her for ransom. He's wearing Ray Lovelock's red underpants from the first film.
Rawshark Two years before Deodato tried his hand at violent 70s cop thrillers, Umberto Lenzi gave it a shot with Almost Human, or Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare for all you purists out there. This time the focus is not on the cop (even though it is Henry Silva), but on the criminal, in this case Thomas Milian as Giulio, a sort of psychotic Scarface character as imagined by Ian Brown.
Opening with a car chase and Giulio shooting a woman, Jim wondered if this film was ”about him being a cu*nt throughout the whole movie?”. ”Yes,” replied Zomblee as we cut to Giulio raping another woman, ”see, that’s him there being a cu*t!” Giulio then goes on to have several more early film scrapes, before he realises that all these ‘little’ crimes aren’t making him much money, so instead he hatches a plan with two others (inc Ray Lovelock) to kidnap Mary Lou, the daughter of a local rich man.
We then cut to Giulio and his two cohorts at night, peering through the bushes at Mary Lou and her boyfriend in a car. ”It looks like The Stone Roses are going to attack!” said Jim, and he was right. The boyfriend is quickly killed, and Mary Lou escapes to the next house, but Giulio and his chums aren’t far behind and they soon catch up with her. They also string up the other house members on chandeliers on shoot them too. That Giulio really is a cu*t.
Enter Henry Silva as cop and the formulaic chase is on, but you can forget about all that investigation malarkey, because this film is all Giulio’s. Like an evil Travis Bickle, he propels the action forward in what is one of the best-written amoral characters ever put to film. The ultimate nihilist, Giullio has nothing, he loves nobody (”For example, I killed my girlfriend yesterday”), but is intelligent and has a handy way of soliloquising his philosophies, informing us as an audience much more than we really want to know about him.
Almost Human most definitely ranks up there with the best of Lenzi’s work (Jim – ”It’s very well shot”; Zomblee - ”Yes, it’s very well Lenzi’d”), with a more-than convincing baddie and lots of quotable dialogue. Bizarrely, like LLACDLAM, there are also lots of roundabouts, motorbikes, minis, red underpants and a quarry, leading us to think that Italian cop movies in the 70s followed a similar formula. But if that formula provided two films as good as the ones we saw tonight, well, why not?
“I’m going to wash my hotdog in champagne every single morning”.
Jim Yeah. I don't know what it was - a potent combination of wine, smokes, good company, Ian Brown hairdos, parkers and beenie hats probably - but when Giulio's gang are camped out in those bushes looking like those swaggering Mancunians from the height of the Madchester scene, I couldn't help but laugh. And that was it; from then onwards I intermittently struggled to take Almost Human seriously.
And that's a shame, because it really is a good film. Well shot ("the 70s did always look good on film though, you know?" - Rawshark) and with decent performances by all the principal cast (including Ray "straight out of the last film" Lovelock - thanks Zomblee). Almost Human does what it sets out to do, even if that's only to effectively portray a nihilistic and nasty piece of work's ascent up his own asshole.
Good evil speeches abound (I had to look up 'soliloquising' in a dictionary too), it's quite easy to get sucked into Thomas Milian's portrayal of the much troubled Giulio, and the self-imploding ending with the kidnapper's plans going pear-shaped is satisfying if a little predictable ("yeah, it's blabbing a bit this one, I reckon..." - Rawshark). Henry Silva is good value for money as Guilio's under-used cop nemesis (he was in Buck Rogers, you know) and it's great to see those red pants again, the quarry, the minis, the bikes and the roundabouts too, as Rawshark's already pointed out. In fact I have to admit I really enjoyed Almost Human, although as usual on the second movie of the night some of the more subtle elements of the plot eluded me, in particular who that bald guy was in the pool hall. He looked important, but I failed to take in his relevance, probably because he didn't have a moppy hairdo, a parker or a beanie hat. I'm sure he was important though...
"I've come here as your executioner and you God damned know well why!"
Zomblee "He's going to shoot him isn't he?" asks Jim when Thomas Milian procures some serious hardware from 'Papa', a seemingly nice old guy who helps them out. And before you can say "red pants", this cold-blooded law-unto-himself blasts the poor old guy down. Then he guns down his wife. There is very little hope for most of the cast in Almost Human; Milian's Giulio is a man without consequence, fear, or much else. He just is, and is the type of guy that could only exist inside the vacuum of the 70's Italian crime movie. Not only that, but he's got a really cool haircut. Hell, he even looks good standing next to Ray Lovelock and that's no easy feat.
Here's, Lovelock's character seems more virtuous as a criminal than he did as an upholder of the law in Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, and that alone says quite a lot about this strange little genre. He disapproves of Guilio's brutal savagery all the way, so much so that Giulio at one stage gives him some acid to calm him down before they kidnap the rich man's daughter. Then, as Jim put it, The Stone Roses attack. What a crazy little flick.
Guilio may be a vicious son-of-a-bitch but he's not altogether stupid. He foils Henry Silva's police investigation - when he's already a suspect - by presenting at the station in a state of distress about his girlfriend's disappearance. It is only later that Silva, having borrowed one of John Saxon's 70's roll-neck sweaters, makes a connection linking Giulio to this whole nasty affair. Guilio may get away Scot free but Silva, the crippled avenger, confronts him once again in the finale to put him exactly where he belongs - in the trash ("That's a rubbish ending!").
Tomas Milian does an unforgettable turn as Giulio in Umberto Lenzi's archaic crime movie. He really is as nasty and amoral as they come (the "c" word being used a lot to describe him), but his sheer charisma and incisiveness make this ghastly affair so watchable. Oh, and he wears the same red underpants as Ray Lovelock in the last film. Weird.
"Come on Mary Lou, do what he tells you or he'll beat the piss out of you."
Director Umberto Lenzi
Cast Tomas Milian
Runtime 90 mins
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How do you beat the piss out of someone? Let Umberto Lenzi and Tomas Milian show you. Part of what makes the polizio (or indeed the giallo) special is that they're a body of films the like of which we will never see again. Made when you could get away with such a brazen disregard for feminist values and when it was possible to close off Rome's streets to shoot a crazy motorcycle chase without due procedure, these movies have the kind of twisted backbone and sheer outrageousness that you just don't see anymore. They even make directors like Umberto Lenzi a lot more interesting and, dare I say it, adept; it is in this arena that he apparently made his best work.
There are so many more polizios out there somewhere and I remain convinced that many of the best (or at least entertaining) have not yet made it onto DVD and may only be available on VHS, in some cases only in Italian. Starring Ray Lovelock. With red pants.
Tune in next time for Asian zombie action, courtesy of that boy Rawshark. And his Asian zombies.