Friday, March 25, 2016

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976)

Celebrated Italian schlockmeister Ruggero Deodato's only entry in the Italian 'polizioteschi' genre (violent crime movies), Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man effectively takes this type of 'unconventional cop' movie to its logical conclusion, presenting its heroes as a pair of psychopaths.  Highly charismatic psychopaths, to be sure, psychopaths with badges ostensibly fighting the forces of crime and chaos - but psychopaths all the same. Deodata establishes the essential nature of his two protagonists, Fred and Tony, (or Alfredo and Antonio if you watch it in Italian) - played by Marc Porel and the great Ray Lovelock - in a spectacular opening sequence, in which they pursue two thugs on a motorcycle who have just mugged and seriously injured a woman on the streets of Rome.  Much in the manner of the Dirty Harry movies which undoubtedly inspired many 'polizioteschi' movies, Fred and Tony just happen to be the area, tooling around on Fred's motorcycle, when they witness the attack.  A protracted chase through the suburbs of Rome (apparently filmed without official permission) ensues, with Tony requisitioning a parked motorcycle to join Fred in weaving through, around and over the Rome traffic, before the thugs finally crash.  But these are cops who make no arrests: Fred coolly snaps the neck one injured thug, whilst Tony 'takes care' of the other.  This, combined with their total lack of concern for the original victim, (they never ask the uniformed cops about her, although after being dragged behind a motorcycle and smashing her head against the kerb, it's safe to assume she's dead), firmly establishes the pair's credentials as psychopaths.

The theme of their psychopathic nature is continually developed throughout the film which, like the Dirty Harry movies, contains several diversions from the main plot, in which Fred and Tony are required to resolve violent situation beyond the capabilities of the regular (non-psychopathic) cops.  It is these vignettes - a hostage situation where they show no regard for the safety of the victim and the foiling of an armed robbery by mowing down the robbers with silenced pistols in a crowded street, before they can even reach the bank -  which underline their true nature.  Toward the end of the film even their own boss notes that psychological tests have shown that they have 'criminal' personalities, and ponders why they became cops.  To which the answer should be obvious: so that they can kill people, employ extreme violence, treat women abominably and destroy property legally.  Their badges make their activities socially acceptable as their victims are only 'bad' people.  In which respect, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is far more honest than US equivalents like Dirty Harry, Cobra or even the John Wayne vehicle McQ, all of which present their protagonists as somehow misunderstood good guys, who only violate citizens' rights in the name of justice.  Deodato, by contrast, makes clear that Fred and Tony enjoy what they do - that's their main motivation for being cops.

The main plot of the film, for what it's worth, involves them in trying to get the lowdown on the gangster Bibi, who is just as ruthless as they are, having cops gunned down and gouging out the eyes of underlings who have welched on debts, and has vanished from sight.  Tracking Bibi down gives the boys plenty of excuses for destroying his property, (they set fire to the expensive cars in the car park of one of his gambling clubs), beating information out of his underlings and 'interrogating' his younger sister, (who is presented as some kind of nymphomaniac who has sex with both of them - but only after Tony has slapped her so hard that her clothes fall off - no, really).  All of which probably makes it sound as if Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is a terrible movie, glorifying violence and misogyny.  Which it isn't.  It is actually a hugely entertaining film, (certainly much more fun than the third Dirty Harry movie released the same year, the overly message-laden The Enforcer).  It certainly doesn't seem to take itself too seriously and, as I've indicated, it has a subtext which appears to question the conventions of such violent 'rogue buddy cop' movies.  On a technical level, Deodato delivers a stylish, yet still somewhat gritty, movie, with lots of sequences shot in run down and less than glamourous locations in and around Rome.  It all moves at a fast pace, not allowing you too much time to ponder the logicalities of various plot developments, building up to a somewhat surprising climax.

Finally, if you are wondering, whilst many Italian actors adopted Anglicised versions of their names for their appearances in exploitation movies, Ray Lovelock is Ray Lovelock.  His father was a British soldier who settled in Italy after the war.  Lovelock also performs the song over the opening titles.  I told you he was great.



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