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Director: Luciano Ercoli
Writers: Mario Bregni, Gianfranco Galligarich
Cast: Claudio Cassinelli, Arthur Kennedy, Franco Fabrizi
Length: 97 min
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1
Audio: Italian: LPCM 2.0 and English: LPCM 2.0
- Interview with production manager Alessandro Calosci
Following the economic turmoil of post-War Italy and the brief economic boom of the early 1960s, Italy found itself in what historians refer to as the Years of Lead. The Years of Lead — “Lead” used as a reference to bullets — spans roughly a decade between the late 1960s into the 1970s (with an aftermath that continued well into the 1980s), which saw Italy overwrought by political unrest and far-right and far-left wing terrorism. It is a time of spastic change in Italy’s political infrastructure. At the point of the failed revolutions of 1968, the most popular genre in Italy, the Spaghetti Western, had reached the end of its classical cycle. In four short years, hundreds of films of films were made and the genre began to become cyclical. Filmmakers moved into other genres, while a few attempted to cling to the dying form. Filmmakers who made their first mark in the Western genre, like Enzo G. Castellari, Damiano Damiani, and Sergio Sollima, soon found themselves attached to a genre with a growing popularity in Italy, the Eurocrime film (also known as Poliziotteschi). These films share a lot in common (and are, at least in part informed by) gritty crime films of America, but unlike the Italian Western were not as easily exported (although this film in question did experience a brief US theatrical run). Often based on real life acts of violence and taking the form of vigilante justice and/or police-revenge thrillers, the films have often been criticized for their right-leaning agenda, some going as far as to call them fascist films. This is the world that Luciano Ercoli’s penultimate film, La polizia ha le mani legate aka Killer Cop, emerges from, and, while it does demonstrate some questionable politics, it is nonetheless an excellent representation of its genre.
When a bomb explodes in a Hotel lobbing killing a mass of civilians, a young police detective Matteo Rolandi sets out to track a small group of leftist activists suspected to be behind the acts. Rolandi’s investigation continues but with every step forward there his hunt only becomes more cloudy and unclear. The calculated, straight-laced detective, soon finds himself implicated in systematic deceit that points towards political and police corruption. [As the film is very plot-driven and reliant on reveals, I’ll spare any specific details, as it could lead to spoilers.]
Better known for his early giallos (Death Walks on High Heels, Death Walks at Midnight), with Killer Cop Luciano Ercoli expanded into somewhat new grounds, taking part in the growingly successful genre of Eurocrime. The film, which is based on the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan that saw the injury of 88 people and the death of 17, is somewhat typical of all of the best and worst aspects of the Eurocrime cycle. Despite the rather muddled reality of the bombings the film is based on — the culprits still more or less unknown and having been blamed on both right and wing terrorists — the film is a bit of a product of its time, where it was generally believed that the acts were carried out by Italian anarchists. At best, the film falls into somewhat unclear political territory but definitely could be accused of falling into rather right wing grounds. It shouldn’t be taken to the extremes of calling the film fascist but one can see certain fascist desires implicit in some of the film’s plot points. In that light, it could be argued that much of the film could be read conversely as left-leaning, but stacked up next to the work of a known-leftist filmmaker who worked in the same genre, like Fernando Di Leo, it falls short.Politics aside and regardless of Ercoli’s inexperience in the genre, Killer Cop is a beautifully crafted, entertaining film, even if it doesn’t have quite as much visual flare as some of its contemporaries. Instead, it is more of a contained and reserved film. Ercoli’s talents, however, are still very much on display; they just aren’t outwardly showy like Italian cinema can often be. The lead performance by Claudio Cassinelli as Rolandi becomes the driving force of the film. It is to the testament of Cassinelli’s performance that the film works. He can display the perfect balance of sympathy, intelligence, and ruggedness in order to allow his screen transformation to be plausible. The inclusion of Moby Dick is equally effective as it is rather on the nose. Rolandi obsessively reads Moby Dick while similarly finds himself on a quest for his very own ‘white whale.’ It pushes the symbolism of the film forward, albeit at the risk of seeming a bit pedantic.
If not the performances, the standout aspect for the film is probably Stelvio Cipriani’s score. By the time of Killer Cop’s release, Cipriani was already a genre mainstay, having written the music for Bay of Blood and other Italian gems, including Ercoli’s Death Walks on High Heels. Many will probably, if for nothing else, recognize his work sample in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. For Killer Cop, Cipriani composes a rather typical score for the time, but it is still extremely memorable and remarkable; one of over 200 scores in his prolific career.La polizia ha le mani legate translates literally to “The police have their hands tied,” which is actually a much more apt and effective title than the sexier sounding Killer Cop. Killer Cop is somewhat of a misnomer or at least sets up incorrect expectations for the film. This is not a film about a rogue officer picking off ever criminal that crosses his path. Killer Cop is the title that was used when it was imported from Italy to play Stateside, so understandably the film was being marketed on the wake of Dirty Harry’s success. La polizia ha le mani legate is more nuanced and comments better on the complicated nature that the film is reacting to. While it could be argued that Killer Cop is a comment on the end result of the effect of political corruption on Rolandi, it paints the film in a far more basic light than what it deserves.
Having seen bits of the film from previous DVD releases, RaroVideo’s new HD transfer from the original 35mm negative is quite stunning and certainly the best this film has looked since its initial release. Like many of their releases, the print that Raro has accessed was finely maintained, leaving a clean and clear transfer that doesn’t show any signs of age-related issues. There does not appear to be any ‘enhancements’ made to the print, leaving a nice heft of film grain intact. It must be noted that, due to the often run-and-gun production and on-location shooting, some shots experience a larger amount of grain that almost clouds the image, but this is something that is a result of the production and not the print. Overall, Raro have provided a fine restoration of an underseen, underapreciated Italian gem.
RaroVideo have provided both an LPCM 2.0 Italian track and an English dub for the film. While some of these Italian productions feature high end English dubbing, this is not one of them. Fans and newcomers will want to go with the Italian track and utilize the nice, new subtitles that Raro have provided. Overall, audio is clear and there aren’t any distracting hisses, pops, or cracks apparent here.
Other than the illustrated booklet, featuring an essay on the film, RaroVideo’s release features only a 20-minute interview with the production manager on the film Alessandro Calosci. Calosci, who also worked on Argento’s Opera among many other Italian productions, gives a rather candid interview on many aspects of the film and working with Ercoli. He touches on the political nature of the film and the time in which it was released, but largely claims that the film is unintentionally political at best. [It should be noted that the disc that we received had a glitch that would not allow the special feature to play, but when inquired with others found no one else to experience the same problem, so it may be a fluke.]
It is safe to say that, even though his filmography is rather small, Luciano Ercoli is a grossly overlooked, underappreciated director of Italian cinema. He may have his political inconsistencies, but he was an extremely savvy in terms of character development and honed-in cinematography. Killer Cop is both an excellent representation of Eurocrime as well as being an important piece of the cultural phenomenon that produced these films. So closely tied to the real-life aspects that informed it, Killer Cop is a time capsule, giving us a snapshot of life in 1970s Italy. It is an important film that must be checked out by fans of the genre and Italian cinema, as well as those who enjoy gritty, realistic crime dramas.