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Big Time Crime in Naples: Betti Gets a Big Fish

by Tony Nash

( A Part of Poliziotto e Criminale: The Poliziotteschi of the 1970’s)

(Mild Spoilers)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Napoli Violenta (Violent Naples/Violent Protection) (1976) R ****1/2

Maurizio Merli: Commissario Betti

John Saxon: Francesco Capuano

Barry Sullivan: “O” Generale

Elio Zamuto: Franco Casagrande

Carlo Gaddi: Brigadiere Silvestri

Giovanni Cianfriglia: Maffei, the Bodyguard

Guido Alberti: Il Questore

Silvano Tranquilli: Paolo Gervasi

Attilio Duse: Antinori

Luciano Rossi: Quasimodo

Maria Grazia Spina: Signora Gervasi

Written by Vincenzo Mannino

Directed by: Umberto Lenzi

Synopsis: Commissioner Betti is sent to Naples following a hearing into his vigilante antics in Rome. Once there, he learns of a plot by the old school gangster the General to make Naples a major crime hub as the city deals with an economic crisis and the sudden disbandment of the local government. With the local police overworked, Betti’s brand of justice is needed.

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The success of Roma Violenta (Violent Rome) prompted the producers to ask for a sequel, and while original screenwriter Vincenzo Mannino had a new script in hand, original director Mario Girolami was unable to return due to other commitments. With the story a little more centered on action and realism, the producers asked Umberto Lenzi, who two years earlier garnered acclaim with the popular and violent Milano Odia: La Polizia non puo Sparare (Almost Human) starring Tomas Milian to helm the vehicle. The result is a suspense and action filled crime drama that paints a fairly clear picture of what life was like for the people of Naples in the wake of the Commora’s (the Neapolitan Mafia) taking over the country as the government fled the city. Much like with its predecessor, Napoli Violenta tells its tale in vignette form, but this go around all of the little stories connect to a major central story of a fleeing mob boss looking to make the slowly maddening city into a new crime metropolis. Knowing the boss is too smart to leave loose ends, the police and Commissario Betti are forced to get really cleaver in convincing the rough necks helping to cement the man’s takeover to give evidence, all the while risking the public crying out the police abuse their authority.

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A really cleaver sequence in the film has Betti and company investigating the home invasion of a prominent businessman and the rape of the man’s wife by two punks. When the man and his wife positively ID the thugs, Betti puts a plan into motion. Using a fellow officer and his girlfriend as bait, Betti lets the thugs think they’ve scored another easy target, but find themselves set up as the cop and his girlfriend quickly disarm them, but the thugs panic and try to flee, leading to a chase that ends grimly for one of the brutes.

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Maurizio Merli returns as Betti, just as driven to clean up the streets as before. Sent to Naples as “punishment” for making his own brand of justice in Rome, Betti finds Naples as bad, if not worse, than Rome ever was. Finding the streets littered with hoodlums who rob in broad daylight with little to no regard for public decency and safety, Betti convinces his superiors and colleagues to come down as hard on the criminals as they legally can. When he “bumps” into the known and feared crime boss known as The General, he realizes something big will eventually go down. When local businesses begin to be vandalized and the owners threatened with harm and “accidents” if they don’t cooperate, Betti begins to suspect the General is looking to create a new empire of crime in Naples, and must stop him. If that wasn’t enough, Betti also fears an officer he had a shaky relationship with in the past may have gone bad, and must contend with public outrage at all the terrible things going on, and convince them the police need freer reign to deal with the scum that abuse the system to get off the hook for their actions.

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John Saxon, an Italian American character actor with numerous film credits in both the US and Italy, makes his first appearance in the Euro Crime genre as Francesco Capuano. A seemingly legit Neapolitan businessman, Capuano looks to be suffering the same as other entrepreneurs as the General makes his foothold in the city. In reality he’s in cahoots with the mob kingpin, but as the smaller hoods take offense to being ordered around, his paranoia becomes more acute. Betti gets an initial dislike of Capuano when a rape victim is found in the vicinity of his business establishment and the man shows very minimal concern or worry about how all of it went down. Saxon plays Capuano as cool and relaxed, even when paranoid, and holds up well when Betti and The Chief of Police question him on what he knows about all the recent vandalism and attacks on store owners and their businesses, claiming he doesn’t know a thing and have no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Barry Sullivan, a popular Classic Hollywood leading man turned supporting player, oozes slime and charisma as O Generale. An old school Mafioso who believes the old ways are the most effective, the General has his lackies, and even the paid local riff raff make sure that everyone knows he’s in charge. Having to get away from the people who want him out of the way, and the authorities who’d like to get the hard evidence to put him away, the General chooses Naples as his new kingdom with the high abundance of petty thieves keeping the police occupied so he can focus his energies on extorting frightened business owners. While an older gentleman, the General isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and is willing to show anyone and everyone the price they’ll have to pay for trying to double cross him.

(Author’s Note: In looking through Barry Sullivan’s filmography on the IMDb, Napoli Violenta was his only foray into the Italian film industry, making him one of the few American actors of the Classic Hollywood period who didn’t have to go to Europe to rejuvenate his career. While he did appear in Take a Hard Ride, that was more of an American production with Italian and Spanish backing.)

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Taking a more vivid and true to life approach to the real goings on in the city of Naples, Napoli Violenta is a very interestingly done film with anecdotal moments that all tie in together to form a very intriguing finale. The action is quick, but brutal, and the characters are flawed, but also have some sense of personal honor and ethics, even if the ethics go against society and the law. More intricate than its predecessor, Napoli Violenta is a B entertainment film that also showcases a period in history where a city was slowly succumbing to the criminal element that would eventually rule the city without resistance, a period necessary to remember.

(I highly recommend this 2nd entry into the Commissario Betti Trilogy as it has plenty of action, and also mixes a nice amount of pathos and drama. That it remains relevant to the state of Naples today, and even in some parts of the US who never heard of the goings on of the times, makes it all the more interesting and tragic. The Italian DVD from Federale Video is of really solid quality, much better than the transfer of Roma Violenta though traces of age can still be detected here and there, the audio quality is equally excellent.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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