Film Reviews

Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976) – Blu-ray Review

While the Italian Giallo horror genre has managed to embed itself into popular film culture in the UK, in no small part due to labels like Arrow Video, that can’t yet be said of the poliziotteschi or “Eurocrime” pictures that reached their peak in popularity during the 1970s. These films were exciting, and like the gialli tended to be very violent, with thrilling scores by the likes of Ennio Morricone and Stelvio Cipriani, and often placed criminals as antiheroes. But some labels, like Fractured Visions, are starting to release these films over here in lavish packages that will ideally see them gain in popularity, allowing audiences to see these often great pictures that deserve the attention given to them.

Fractured Visions’ third release is 1976’s Free Hand for a Tough Cop aka Il trucido e lo sbirro, directed by Umberto Lenzi, who, while directing several films in different genres, was notorious for the jungle cannibal trilogy of Man from Deep River (1972), Eaten Alive! (1980), and Cannibal Ferox (1981). Free Hand for a Tough Cop stars the Cuban-born European genre icon Tomas Milian as Er Monnezza (Garbage Can in the dubbed version), a small-time crook who is broken out of prison by Sarti (Claudio Cassinelli), a hardline cop who had been transferred out of his department for his uncompromising efforts. Sarti is trying to rescue a little girl who has been kidnapped, and needs Monnezza’s help to track down the criminal hideout – the girl has a failing kidney and will die if she isn’t found soon and given medical attention.

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Sarti uses Monnezza’s underworld connections to build a gang of sorts, made up of previous criminal accomplices, who have no problem killing people almost for fun, especially when they’re a worse class of criminals. From this, Sarti and Monnezza develop a relationship of sorts, with the former the straight man, which allows Milian to use his talent in comedy as well as drama and action. If you thought the buddy cop genre began in ’80s action movies like Lethal Weapon, think again.

Free Hand for a Tough Cop is a thrilling ride typical of poliziotteschi, with the central performance of Milian acting as the backbone of the film. Milian is so good at pulling off both drama and comedy, from trading insults with Cassinelli’s Sarti to helping out the poor little girl with her medication, and it’s a great contrast with Cassinelli. He may be playing the straight man role, but he’s charismatic and has an agreeably hard edge, which helps you see why he got transferred but also understanding his need in finding the girl as quickly as possible.

Playing the villain is the great Henry Silva, who was the memorable lead in Johnny Cool (1963) but turned up in several spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi flicks. With Silva you know you’re going to get a reliable performance and he’s as dark and slimy as possible here, not really caring if the little girl lives or dies. Backing up Monnezza and Sarti as the criminal gang are Giuseppe Castellano, Robert Hundar, and Biagio Pelligra and they’re all great as a quite horrible but occasionally likeable trio, although the similarity of Hundar’s likeness to Bernard Bresslaw is a bit distracting at times.

Lenzi’s direction is fast and loose, understandable given that he apparently shot these movies in weeks. It works for the film and gives it a definably gritty edge, which is in tandem with the bright, almost documentary-style cinematography by Nino Celeste and Luigi Kuveiller. The score by Bruno Canfora is fantastic, with a super-cool main theme and tight groove pieces that fiercely propel the action along.

Fractured Visions have brought Free Hand for a Tough Cop to Blu-ray in a brand new transfer from a 2K scan of the original camera negative at the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It’s probably the best condition the film has been in since its 1976 release, and while the quality of the negative isn’t the best – mainly due to the B-movie status afforded to these kinds of films, which means they didn’t have access to the highest grade materials and technology – it still looks excellent. The contrast and colour grades are consistent throughout with no bleaching.

The sound is fantastic, with the choice of the original mono Italian language track, with English subtitles of course, and the English dub, which itself is pretty good, with good choices for Monnezza and Sarti. Sound effects are full-bodied, with lots of powerful gunshots and a particularly effective train heist sequence. And, thankfully, Canfora’s score comes through loud and clear, adding a further touch of class to proceedings.

Fractured Visions have chosen to include several interesting bonus features, including two audio commentaries: the first by Michael A. Martinez, producer of the 2012 poliziotteschi documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s, and the second by genre critics Troy Howarth and Nathanial Thompson. Both are interesting and supply a lot of information, although the latter pair do come across very fast at times.

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Then there are a number of featurettes, starting with ‘Cops and Robbers’, which interviews cinematographer Nino Celeste, who talks about his career and how his experience on the film was cut short due to a false accusation that he used inferior film stock for a sequence. Then there is ‘No Small Roles’, which looks at the work of actor Corrado Solari, including him talking about working with Rod Steiger in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), ‘Portrait of a Daughter’, which has an interview with Alessandro Lenzi speaking about her time growing up as the director’s daughter and spending time on film sets, and finally ‘Producing Mayhem’, where we hear from producer Ugo Tucci. There’s also English and Italian trailers and an alternate opening credit sequence using the English title.

The poliziotteschi genre still has a way to go before reaching the popularity of the Giallo over here, but with titles like Free Hand for a Tough Cop, it has a chance of making up ground. The film is a lot of fun, the transfer and audio are excellent, and the extras are plentiful and informative. It would be a (Euro)crime to let this one go.

Free Hand for a Tough Cop is out on Blu-ray on 29th November from Fractured Visions.

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