Violent Rome

Violent Rome (1975)

Violent Rome is also known as Roma Violenta (obvious Italian translation there,) Violent City, Forced Impact, Street Killers amongst others. This is the first of a series of movies featuring Maurizio Merli as Commisioner Betti, a tough cop who takes the law into his own hands to get results after losing his job due to bureaucracy! Mixing both the tough cop thriller with the vigilante action movies that were becoming popular at the time made Violent Rome a huge success.

This would be Marino Girolami’s first outing on the Poliziottesco genre and whilst he was best known for a fair few of Italy’s sexy comedies, he would make a huge impact with this film. He, oddly, sat out the second entry, letting Umberto Lenzi take the helm, before returning for the third outing and final entry starring Merli.

Merli became a huge star in Italy off the back of this film and the sequels were hammered out in quick succession to capitalise on the emerging love affair the cinema-going public had with cop movies at the time.

The novelty of Violent Rome is that the film is in two halves with Merli as a cop in the first, followed by leading a vigilante brigade against the crime wave in the second. The film layers in the action nicely with fist fights, chases and shootouts happening frequently, however, the mid film car chase is by far the biggest selling point. Taking place on a stretch of elevated expressway in Rome, Merli gives chase to John Steiner in a white knuckle ride that is astoundingly exciting and frequently forgotten when lists of car chases are put together.

As expected from a movie called Violet City there are some shocking moments to the story including Richard Conte’s daughter’s rape and the subsequent revenge. Deaths are brutal, villains are despicable, women are thrown about like rags and bystanders are destroyed as Merli tears the city apart in his quest for justice… or peace!

Merli proves that he is absolutely on point as more than just a stand in for Franco Nero and makes the most of the opportunity. His previous film had been the unofficial third entry to the White Fang franchise and Merli had reputedly been cast due to his similarity to the series’ star Franco Nero. As a huge fan of Nero I honestly believe Merli pulls off a masterclass in intensity when it comes to Betti and other films of their likeness, not only making the role his own but also going above and beyond what is required of him. During the action Merli is front and centre making fight sequences well animated and especially lively. He can also be seen doing his fair share of the car chase, kicking out the windscreen at high speed.

As Betti Merli feels more human than other characters he would play in this genre. He has a little chemistry with the ladies and smiles with his friends in the department. It’s a welcome experience seeing Merli smile in a cop thriller. I don’t think it happens too much across his films. 

Richard Conte has a fairly limited role as a lawyer putting together a private vigilante force to combat the thugs the police are ineffective with. His role requires a brutal sequence that sees his daughter attacked by a very creepy Luciano Rossi and stands out at the most violent scene in the film. John Steiner plays an initially likeable villain who then reveals he had no qualms about firing a sub-machine gun at a group of children to aid a getaway, a sure fire way of being removed from people christmas card list. 

Elsewhere we have Daniela Giordano as Betti’s crush, however, there really isn’t much of a love story anywhere in here. Some other moments might be designed for a laugh more so than shock value with a woman’s handbag being stolen only for the woman to turn out to be a male police officer who beats the hell out of the robbers. As with many of these films Violent Rome excels are showing despicable looking low-lives who are constantly at odds with the law, purely for Merli’s immaculately well turned out hero to dispatch justice to.

The ending is a little ambiguous and can lead to some conversations in the audience. Despite the series having two sequels, Violent Rome being released in August 1975, Violent Naples released August 1976 and A Special Cop in Action in November 1976, the shocking ending must have been the fantasy of the character observing. However, I have my suspicions that the events of Violent Naples might have occurred before Violent Rome and would sit as a prequel.

High Crime was a trailblazer and Violent Rome copies and accelerates it’s innovations. It’s not an easy film for most to watch, however, it’s memorable and impactful. Merli deserves the respect he accrued for the role and is much, much more than a stand-in for Franco Nero and I’m glad we have his, fairly short, collection of films.

There is no shortage of art for Violent Rome as the film was released many times over the years and given a fresh look to bring in (possibly unaware) returning audiences. Artwork would be reused for the sequels in different territories.

Violent Rome is, currently, difficult to find. Both Amazon and Google TV have removed the film from their listings, along with good portion of similarly themed movies. One can only hope the reason for its obscurity is that a boutique label is going to drop a loving restored boxset of the films.

The odd DVD or VHS will surface on Ebay from time to time, however, for now to see the film, you might have to get inventive.

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