Weapons of Death (1977)

Weapons of Death

Weapons of Death is a real oddity. It’s a spin off to a series of movies that were popular at the box office in the 1970s. There are a couple of tactics being used, to get bums on seats, pretty shrewd tactics. 

The series of movies this film connects to are Maurizio Merli’s Commissioner Betti trilogy. A successful action thriller franchise that saw three films released in quick succession in 1975 and 1976, Violent Rome, Violent Naples and A Special Cop in Action. Two by Marino Girolami and the middle one by Umberto Lenzi.

Merli himself was seen as an alternative to Franco Nero, not to diminish Merli’s talents or presence at all. Merli became a huge name at the box office over a short space of time and Weapons of Death deploys Jeff Blynn as an obvious double of Merli on the poster to get bums on seats. Blynn’s character is involved in the storyline but isn’t really a pinnacle character. Perhaps a few of the more memorable scenes he is in are orchestrated for trailer and promotional materials. Given Italy’s lax approach to copyright during this time it’s bizarre they didn’t just call Blynn’s character Betti.

Instead, Leonard Mann plays Commissioner Belli, not Betti. Oddly, this is a name Franco Nero wore twice, once in 1969’s Detective Belli, which is also known as Ring of Death for which Weapons of Death might be a connecting title, and then in 1973’s High Crime. Some online sources suggest High Crime is a sequel to Ring of Death, however, the character really cannot be considered the same. Mann’s character shares more with Merli’s Betti than either Belli. Then there is also Mann’s character of Baldi in The Criminals Attack. The Police Respond which he made with Mario Caiano the following year, and a film we will come to. Caiano, who directed Weapons of Death, also directed Violent Milan in 1976 that wasn’t part of the Betti’s Violent [insert Italian City] series. The genre is sometimes known as Spaghetti Crime Films, rather than for their Italian originals it might be more due to the messy nature of their connections.

Strangely Weapons of Death is seen as a spin-off to the Merli’s Violent Naples as Massimo Deda is back as Gennarino, the plucky kid with a limp who is into all kinds of light criminal capers. Deda’s role in both films is particularly dramatic yet lightly comic. Where Merli’s Betti felt the need to return to the police after quitting the force when he saw a vulnerable Gennarino struggling a street crossing at the end of Violent Naples Gennarino’s story was continued in this film instead of Special Cop. To further confound things despite Weapons of Death’s conclusion the character of Gennarino would return in a third film, unrelated to these called La Pagella (1980) aka The Report Card that would resurrect the father he lost in Violent Naples for a vigilante flick that see the father, this time played by Mario Trevi, seeking revenge for Gennarino being gunned down in a robbery gone wrong. Messy Spaghetti Crime Films.

Back to Weapons of Death, whilst Mann is fine in the lead, the film is desperately looking for Merli’s intensity. Watching this in quick succession with the Betti trilogy it really becomes apparent how Merli’s screen presence is paramount to the series and Mann feels unfortunately lightweight by comparison, despite a good effort. Henry Silva plays a memorable and sinister villain and the scenes between Mann and Silva are good fun. Further enforcing the lighter moments, Kirsten Gille has a memorable role as a forgetful customer in need of a taxi. 

What Caiano did do is make a film that is hugely entertaining. The action is first rate keeping chases and carnage frequent and fun. There are obvious stunt performers for the meatier stunts and you can easily see Mann and others doing their fair share, this really helps suck the viewer in. As this is a 70’s Poliziotteschi flick the story packs its punch. Kids die, innocents slaughtered, paedophiles mutilated, women are treated roughly and murder is brutal. Oddly enough there is a lighter side to the film from time to time. Gennarino stealing a Lacia Stratos, Gille’s introduction to Blynn’s Taxi driver and some of the fun, zippy music from High Crime and Violet Rome makes a comeback. 

Technically the film is perfectly well made with engaging camera work and an exciting pace. Set primarily in Naples, it has a wonderfully dusty and decrepit look. As a city it has a fascinating look and history it’s easy to get lost in the background as Caiano captures it. This would be Mario Caiano penultimate theatrical release with the last being the similarly themed The Criminals Attack. The Police Respond before he moved to TV work.

Weapons of Death would be the last instalment in this series and isn’t normally referred to when folks talk about the Betti or Belli series and it’s a shame as it’s great fun and a memorable outing.

Artwork is typically all over the place with amazing original art slyly pushing Blynn. Other art is flashy and exiting, if a little formulaic for the genre.

Weapons of Death and A Special Cop in Action hit blu ray in 2019. The films are a little related I suppose, however, Violent Naples may have been a better fit when pairing with Weapons of Death.

Outside of this, you will struggle to find anything that isn’t an old VHS or ropy bootleg. One day we might get… one day.

Violent Naples
Spin off from Violent Naples (1976)


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