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The Cop Investigates in the Shadows

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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Il Cinico, l’Infame, il Violento (The Cynic, the Rat, & the Fist) (1977) R ****

Maurizio Merli: Ex-Commissario Leonardo Tanzi

Tomas Milian: Luigi “Il Cinese” Maietto

John Saxon: Frank Di Maggio

Renzo Palmer: Commissario Astalli

Gabriella Lepori: Nadia

Claudio Undari: Dario, Di Maggio Thug (as Robert Hundar)

Bruno Corazzari: Ettore, “Cinese” Thug

Marco Guglielmi: Marchetti

Gabriella Giorgelli: Uncle Tanzi

Gianni Musy: Nicola Proietti

Gianfilippo Carcano: Il Professore

Claudio Nicastro: Fazi

Witten by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Dardano Sachetti, & Umberto Lenzi, from a story by Sauro Scavolini

Directed by: Umberto Lenzi

Synopsis: After he’s legally declared dead when notorious criminal Luigi “The Chinaman” Maietto puts a hit contract on him, retired police detective Leonardo Tanzi decides to take him down under this ruse. Learning Maietto was recently paroled and entering a partnership with American expate gang boss Frank Di Maggio, Tanzi begins to incite suspicion and paranoia between the two.

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In 1977, the Euro Crime sub-genre still had pep in it but a lack of new ideas was slowly creeping up upon the writers. Many of the problems that plagued the country of Italy at the time still existed, but the determination of the police force and government officials seemed to put criminal and terrorist activity into a standstill, so the public hadn’t the same fears of only a few years earlier. Umberto Lenzi, along with screenwriting stalwarts Ernesto Gastaldi and Dardano Sachetti fashioned a really interesting and different script based on an early treatment by Sauro Scavolini. Unlike its predecessors, this film is a more straightforward fare with little surprises or subtext, but how Lenzi and his cowriters intertwine exciting action with good story make up for this lack of genre classics. With the protagonist cop allowing the gangster who ordered his murder to believe he succeeded so he can bring him to justice without alerting him or his cohorts, Lenzi puts a unique spin on the age-old cop and gangster film. The cop’s use of his being legally dead to turn the man who wanted him dead against his American partner and vice-versa to prevent the biggest criminal cartel Rome’s ever seen makes for an equally cool subplot to co-inside with the main story.

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An interesting note that most viewers won’t notice until seeing interviews with Umberto Lenzi and Euro Crime expert Mike Malloy is that Maurizio Merli has no physical interaction whatsoever with costars Tomas Milian and John Saxon. Merli and Milian had previously worked together with Lenzi on the genre classic Roma a Mano Armata (Rome Armed to the Teeth), but the two men’s constant clashes on set eventually led to a very physical altercation (which will be discussed more in depth with that’s film’s review later this year). As such, Merli refused to even be on the same set or location with Milian and their scenes were shot separately, very cleaver editing making it look as if the two men were in the same scenes. Saxon, who had worked with Merli on the 2nd and 3rd entries in the Commissario Betti Trilogy, recalled years later that Merli was something of a prima donna and always flaunting his status as Italy’s newest action star, but because Saxon’s Italian film work was strictly to supplement what he lost in taxes, the actor’s memory of why he and Merli didn’t share scenes is hazy.

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Maurizio Merli, in one of his last really good roles of the genre, does his usual tough guy flare as Leonardo Tanzi. After earning a well-deserved retirement, Tanzi appears to be enjoying a life ease in the newspaper business, though he still gets ask to give his opinion on certain cases. When his old enemy The Chinaman tries to have him rubbed out for putting away a few years earlier, Tanzi decides he’s in a perfect position to take down the notorious criminal for good. While his former superior insists he leave the police work to the active police, Tanzi has a score to settle and won’t be satisfied until it’s finished. Tanzi spends the majority of his time checking out leads and asking of any particular goings on into any unusual activity among the underworld. He does agree to take some side cases, including saving an old friend’s daughter from porn racketeers, which results in a very interesting fight scene between Tanzi and the sleazebags, and foiling a heist. When he discovers a plot to take over the local crime regime by the Chinaman and an expatriated American gangster, Tanzi decides to play the duo against each other, and have them take each other out.

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Tomas Milian, also in one of his last great roles before he slid into bawdy comedy roles in Italy, does a good intimidating job as Luigi Maietto aka the Chinaman. Little is said of Maietto’s exploits and reputation, but it’s made clear from other characters, including Tanzi himself, that he’s one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. He manages to cause a stir among colleagues and new blood on the streets when it’s believed his ordered contract from prison to permanently eliminate Tanzi has succeeded, Maietto is offered a partnership with exiled American crime boss Frank Di Maggio. Usually a loner in his own right, Maietto agrees to a deal: Maietto will be the muscle when hesitant clients don’t feel the need to pay Di Maggio, and Di Maggio will give Maietto a nice chunk of the profits. When members of Maietto’s crew begin to believe a cop may have gone rogue to avenge Tanzi’s murder, Maietto starts to wonder if Di Maggio and an unknown third party are setting him up so he won’t become a force to be reckoned with in the various crime syndicates. Milian’s usual Method Style acting isn’t on display as much as is his usual foray, but he’s still able to put his talents to well use in the character’s mannerisms.

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John Saxon, an Italian-American character actor, gives one of his many overseas performances as Frank Di Maggio. An expatriate (unknown if he’s escaping or was thrown out) from America who went on to build a small, but successful, criminal empire, Di Maggio is constantly looking to expand and make himself one of the most feared men in Italy. Upon learning of the Chinaman’s release from prison and his apparent successful elimination of Leonardo Tanzi, Di Maggio decides to form a partnership with the Chinaman and make the two of them the most feared criminal masterminds in the city. Unbeknownst to either man, Tanzi successfully thwarted the Chinaman’s hit, and begins to bring the two men down by ruining several of Di Maggio’s planned criminal activities and making the expate gangster believe he’s being double crossed by his new partner. Having never met Tanzi or had personal dealings with the man, Di Maggio has absolutely no clue that Tanzi is behind all of his problems.

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While average by many standards of the genre, the film still has enough of the classical elements to make it an enjoyable ride for enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Umberto Lenzi thought the only thing wrong with the film was the title. Apparently, the original trailer had the film under the title Insieme per una Grande Rapina (which literally means Together for a Great Robbery), but the producers wanted a title that sounded like Sergio Leone’s Il Bouno, il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the recent delinquent youth crime film Liberi, Armati, Pericolosi (Young, Violent, Dangerous), and so changed the title to what it’s now known by. The title really has no connection whatsoever to the film and really was just a cash in on the current fad of the times. Lenzi, up until his death, always maintained his stance that the film would’ve found more success when originally released had the working title been made permanent. The acting is quite good, the story is well paced, and the music is the usual fare fans expect from Euro Crime. Not the best made or the most influential, the film is still entertaining and loads of fun to watch.

(Like always I do highly recommend this one as fun little gem to rediscover and enjoy. The action set pieces are nicely done and offer a nice mix of suspense and action. The performances, especially from Tomas Milian, are what to expect from a police action film, but are always very well done and believable. The Blu Ray from the UK company 88 Films and their Italian Collection line offers up a fine quality audio and visual transfer that are crisp and and balanced. The only slight negative is that the translated subtitles of the Italian audio seem to run on together towards the end of sentences. Other than that, the Blu Ray is highly recommended.)

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Buying options

The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist (Blu-ray) – The Italian Collection 17



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

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