Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man (1976)

The neckerchief is fashion’s way of saying, “Sure, I put enough thought into my clothes to accent my outfit with something around my neck, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to learn how to tie a double Windsor knot.”  Achievers (both under and over) have sported neckerchiefs for years (but mostly in the 1970s).  The late, great Charles Nelson Reilly varied his Match Game outfits between neckerchief-centric and captain’s-hat-centric (and has even been known to chuck in the double whammy of both at once, much, I’m sure, to Gene Rayburn’s chagrin).  Fred (of Scooby Doo fame) strutted his stuff in the face of faux fiends and pseudo specters whilst engaging in the fine art of neckerchiefery (okay, I made that word up), and we all know this haute couture accessory was the real reason that Daphne was into him (hell, she even sported one of her own like they were twins or something).  It even forms the focal point and most distinguished feature (aside from the disturbingly short shorts) of the uniforms for the Boy Scouts Of America.  The inevitable question then becomes why has this always-fashionable length of cloth gone out of fashion?  Best guess?  Like so many things people thought were “far out” in the 70s, the power of hindsight and sobriety brought into clear focus just how lean its actual merits were (plus people needed more money for coke in the 1980s).  At least it would seem that way to the uneducated, but we know better, don’t we, gentle reader?  

Alfredo (Marc Porel) and Antonio (Ray Lovelock) are policemen who work in a special forces unit under the gruff but kind of unctuous superintendant (Adolfo Celi).  Their mission?  Chase criminals, murder them (rather publicly) with impunity, and stick their dongs in anything with a vagina.  After a fellow officer (Marino Masé) is brutally gunned down by the henchmen of Roberto (aka Bibi) Pasquini (Roberto Salvatori), the lads make it their sworn task to terrorize and take down the crime lord and his minions.  And stick their dongs in anything with a vagina during any lulls.

Ruggero Deodato is best known the world over for the incendiary quasi-shockumentary Cannibal Holocaust.  However, Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (aka Uomini Si Nasce Poliziotti Si Muore, aka The Terminators) is proof-positive that the director was equally adept at the poliziotteschi subgenre (think Dirty Harry in Italy).  My understanding is that films like this one were a reaction against the escalating violence in Italy (and certainly around the world, to be fair).  Audiences wanted a certain type of sanitized street justice to help them deal with their feelings over their perceived lack of control and security.  By that same token, however, movies focused on career criminals were (and are) equally popular, yet these were typically more about the rise and fall of a criminal than a glorification of the lifestyle.  

As much as we like to watch the bad guys get offed without the messy complications and uncertainties inherent in a trial, there is a strong sociopathic vibe coming off Alfredo and Antonio.  Their expressions when killing (and they are killing these guys; it’s not like they were chasing them, and the baddies accidentally ran into a brick wall or somesuch) are either stony-eyed or eerily satisfied.  The leads are almost bloodthirsty in their pursuit of criminals, and they are not above a bit of torture and testicular trauma to get the answers they need.  And yet, the two also seem to be in a state of arrested development.  They room together and appear to have the exact same schedule/routine every day.  They do the sort of idiotic shit kids with BB guns and dirtbikes would do, but these two use real ammo.  The dynamic duo are also two of the most brazenly horny young men ever put on screen.  They ritually harass the superintendant’s secretary (Silvia Dionisio), asking with which of them she would like to have sex.  She, of course, succeeds in making them even hornier for her by saying she would have both of them and then a couple more men.  While searching Pasquini’s sister’s (Silvia’s younger sister Sofia Dionisio) apartment, the cops (literally) tag team the woman, who is apparently the 70s interpretation of a nymphomaniac.  But it’s the earnestness with which Alfredo and Antonio act that allows the audience to forgive some of their boorishness.  They never pretend to be anything than what they are, they don’t put on airs, and they don’t make excuses.  Plus, they kill bad guys, and that goes a long way.

Like so many of this type of film, it has a vignette sensibility in its structure.  Long stretches of the runtime seem to not deal at all with the conflict between Pasquini and his cronies and our leads.  Rather random, violent crimes just happen, our demoniac doublet arrive on the scene and kill everything in their path.  That these rather long sequences are not linked to the main story in any way other than that they involve our protagonists causes the mid-sections of the film (and those like it) to sag.  Granted, there’s enough violence and action to maintain a sense of excitement and tension, but as far as pacing goes, it’s horrid.  Funny enough, this is one of the eurocrime/poliziotteschi subgenres’ more charming attributes.  It may not be quality plotting, but it does give an air of authenticity (sometimes) to these films.  After all, as Allen Saunders so famously said, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”  And this sense of verisimilitude is given a big assist in Deodato’s documentary style of filmmaking.  Handheld and dynamic camerawork combine in many of the action scenes (particularly the opening bike chase, which I found reminiscent of the acclaimed chase from William Friedkin’s The French Connection).  Filmmakers of today, please take note: Even with a wealth of handheld shots, this film never induces nausea, headaches, or both.  There’s a correct way to use cinematic techniques and there’s an incorrect way (not to say experimentation is bad, but failure is failure in any language).  This is the correct way, and the quality in the filmmaking makes for a damn good (if fairly deranged and sanguinary) buddy cop movie everyone should check out at least once.

MVT:  Deodato’s television commercial work taught him to work both quickly and with distinction, and these skills really shine through in this film.  Only a few years before making stomachs turn and audience’s feel like they needed a shower after watching his work, he put his stamp on a genre which far too often is little more than strictly generic.

Make Or Break:  The opening scene is not only a cracking good action sequence; it also sets up the stakes and levels at which the inhabitants of the film’s world are playing.  The criminals are not above dragging a woman along a sidewalk and stomping her already-dead face to get her valuables.  And the cops are not above causing thousands in property damage while pursuing them and summarily executing the criminals once the chasing is done.  

Score:  7.25/10             

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