The Tough Ones is one of the best known Italian “Poliziotteschi” thrillers and for good reason. Prepare yourself for a gushy blast of love from a fan.
Opening on the troubled streets of Rome in the mid 70’s Roma a Mano Armata (original Italian title) introduces us to Maurizio Merli playing Tanzi partnered with Giampiero Albertini, as a couple of tough, no nonsense cops with little fear and in Tanzi’s case, something of a death wish. Tanzi has no qualms about knocking around miscreants as he zips around town in a super sleek Alfa Romeo Alfetta that will have you checking the classics listings hoping to find one for sale. Tanzi is the ruthless leader of an anti-gang squad and is determined to take down a gangster operating in Rome. Albertini adds a more rational voice to defusing Tanzi’s hot headed approach. On the trial they meet Moretto “The Hunchback” played by Tomas Milian who they ultimately arrest. Seeking revenge after release, Moretto has Tanzi’s squeeze Anna kidnapped.
Tanzi is in a relationship (somehow!) with Anna, a psychologist who manages to find reasons to have the crooks Tanzi has incarcerated released by listening to their plea and taking into account the backgrounds. As such this creates a problem between Tanzi and Anna, not to mention the core function of his department. Tanzi also has issues with the captain who, whilst not fully against Tanzi’s methods to clean the streets, does care about the image of the department. This movie is so tough the captain starts looking for flowers to give his wife close to midnight on the day of their anniversary. That’s hard boiled!
One other reason to sink your teeth into this is that it is a strange predecessor to the Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli starring The Cynic, the Thief and the Rat which is very much of a similar note but the leading cast raises some questions over a sequel connection. It’s hard to say which is the better film and I feel they might be as good as each other. Merli and Milian have a few scenes together and the film benefits from the pairing, however, it’s said that they did not get on terribly well.
The Tough Ones is packed full of plot moments and chases. Director Umberto Lenzi keeps the adrenaline running with constant movement. Action comes frequently and whilst there aren’t any huge action set pieces there is more than enough to satisfy. Scenes are short and to the point. The film rarely revisits a location, keeping the visuals fresh and exciting. Lenzi also keeps a tight shot on his cast members, ensuring the audience can see their faces during the action, adding a hair raising element of realism as the stunning Beatrice Pellegrino is dragged along the ground after a motorcycle in a terrifically fun stunt.
One of the harder moments to contend with is also a fairly brutal moment of violence towards a woman. It’s still somewhat difficult to watch today thanks to the sterling work from the cast and Lenzi’s handling. Certainly, a little shock and brutality in this type of film is par for the course, however, with modern movies becoming increasingly safe outside the horror genre a scene like this can creep up on a more sensitive viewer. A version of this film was release in the US as Assault with a Deadly Weapon, referencing this scene.
A significant car chase occurs three quarters of the way through the film. Milian commandeers an ambulance and has the driver zip through the busy streets of Rome pursued by a number of police cars and Tanzi in his Alfa. Much of this chase is white knuckle and terrific fun, even Milian’s somewhat likeable villain offers a quip about the ambulance driver’s skill.
This is an excellent introduction for anyone looking to have a go with Italian cop thrillers as it has everything you would expect in equal measure including two of their industry’s biggest stars. Recently blu-rays have resorted the film to its truest glory and there is no shortage of contributors wishing to gush about the movie. A triumph to remember Merli and Milian with.
Poster art is typically fantastic, featuring hand drawn art for it’s various different release territories. Brutal Justice features a notable nod to many of the tough action thrillers on release in the US and Die Viper making the most of the notably tense and dangerous car scrapping scene.