Sunday, August 27, 2017

Special Cop In Action (1976) review


Maurizio Merli (Commissioner Betti), Raymond Pellegrin (Arpino), John Saxon (Albertelli), Mirella D'Angelo (Luisa), Toni Ucci (Cacace), Daniele Dublino (Luizzi), Massimo Vanni (Fabbri)

Directed by Marino Girolami (as Franco Martinelli)

The Short Version: The Commissioner Betti series is capped with this, the GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY of the Tough Cop triumvirate. It's an epic denouement brought to you by the man who introduced the character, Marino Girolami (as Franco Martinelli), the father of Enzo G. Castellari. Merli is excessive force par excellence in what is easily his finest pure action film. There's shootings, car chases, stunts, and fist fights every five minutes. SPECIAL COP is certainly a Special entry in Italian Action cinema.

When he isn't trying to locate a busload of kidnapped school kids and solve a series of bank robberies, Commissioner Betti attempts to nail down the mastermind behind the crimes. Believing a smuggler named Albertelli is the kingpin, the real criminals pulling the strings want the persistent lawman out of the way; so Albertelli--who has a past with the Iron Commissioner--has Betti framed for murder. Sent to prison, Betti must now contend with dozens of thugs he put away there. It isn't long before Betti is released and he quickly turns the tables on Albertelli and his partners.

Maurizio Merli had been a bit part actor for a decade before he broke out as a leading man in 1975 starring in Girolami's VIOLENT ROME; a film that drew some inspiration from MAGNUM FORCE (1973), but owed greater allegiance to Steno's superb EXECUTION SQUAD (1972). A big hit for the actor, he returned to the role in 1976 for director Umberto Lenzi in the superior VIOLENT NAPLES. One of the finest films of its type, it stands tall alongside the best of Eastwood and Bronson. The same year Merli would play Commissioner Betti for the third and last time under Girolami's direction in SPECIAL COP IN ACTION; a film that deviates in tone and structure from the previous pictures.

If you've seen the first two movies, you'll notice Maurizio is more mello Merli this time around. He still dishes out lead justice and hard chops to the face with an open-handed fist, only he's slightly more restrained, and certainly more calculating; he takes more risks with his own life in trying to save whoever is in harm's way at that moment. By comparison, the Betti of VIOLENT ROME was like a wild west cowboy driven from policeman to vigilante; blurring the lines between law and lawlessness. For VIOLENT NAPLES, Merli's Betti retains that "I don't give a damn" approach to catching crooks and exposing corruption, but an element of pathos creeps into all that masculine attitude.

The Betti of SPECIAL COP is more refined, and fits the mold of Eastwood's Callahan more so than it did in Girolami's first go-round. Dramatically, his interpretation is more one-dimensional compared to the deeper tones of NAPLES; what little characterization that surfaced in Lenzi's classic is virtually non-existent here. Girolami's movie is more interested in giving the audience action, and Merli's fans will not be disappointed.

Each film is basically a separate adventure unrelated to each other. Merli's character is the only hold-over in the trilogy. What's uniquely frustrating about SPECIAL COP is that it has its own backstory. We discover that Betti has a past not only with some of his fellow officers, but the criminal element he's after. Unfortunately, we never learn much about these details beyond the periphery since the script isn't the least bit interested in exposition--using these ambiguous tidbits as an excuse to give the audience a chance to breathe between action sequences. 

John Saxon returns, but he's playing an entirely different gangster character from NAPLES. His portrayal of Albertelli is more flashy, aggressive, and a bit too sure of himself; very different from his seriousness playing Capuano in the previous movie. Saxon played yet another mobster in the Merli vehicle, THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST (1977); another crimer for Umberto Lenzi. He wasn't always playing lawbreakers, though; Saxon was on the right side of the law in some entries, one such being Alberto de Martino's fireball classic, BLAZING MAGNUM (1976), oddly titled SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM for its US release.

Genre regular Raymond Pellegrin co-stars as Merli's partner. He sends for him early into the movie when he realizes his hands are too full with multiple robberies and a kidnapping case all at once. These two have a good rapport onscreen. When Arpino (Pellegrin) reveals he's retiring in a month, that's a cue for the viewer that something bad will likely happen to him later in the picture. Interestingly, we get a better feel of the working relationship of Betti and Arpino than we do the burgeoning, intimate relationship between Betti and Luisa (Mirella D'Angelo) that never even begins to simmer. 

Merli's movies occasionally had love interests, but these sometimes ended up much the way Paul Kersey's did in the DEATH WISH sequels a few years later. Other times these romantic angles weren't given chances to bloom--simply there to give Merli's cop characters a lady to rescue and swoon over him afterward. It wasn't till the tail-end of his career in THE REBEL (1980) that he was given a cop role with a heavy dose of characterization; and a female coupling with some believable passion behind it. 

The phrase "action-packed" perfectly describes SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976). Stunt director Goffredo Unger truly delivers some fabulous chase sequences and other instances of kinetic movement. So many of these movies were interchangeable with one another and Girolami and his crew bucks the system by cramming as many bank robberies and car chases as he possibly can to keep the film moving to its unexpected ending. Without giving anything away, if you've seen VIOLENT ROME, that film's ambiguous ending could be seen as foreshadowing for what is to come.

In Italian cinema, and especially their crime pictures, slow-motion is often overused to the extreme. You get it here too, but sparingly. Letting the action move untouched, as well as being able to see the impact of crashes at full speed, is a refreshing change of pace.

SPECIAL COP is a big bang closer to the Betti series. It's a satisfying finish to a trilogy that began coarse, yet solid; reached an apex with Umberto Lenzi's no-nonsense, brutal sensibilities; and climaxed with an explosion of adrenaline-fueled, epic action. If you're not familiar with the actor, this series is a fantastic starting point; but begin with VIOLENT NAPLES, then ROME, then SPECIAL COP. If you enjoy Tough Cop style actioners, then Merli is the man you're after.

This review is representative of the Dorado Films bluray 2 disc set (one bluray double feature of SPECIAL COP IN ACTION and WEAPONS OF DEATH and DVD of THE COUNSELLOR); Specs and Extras: 1080p 1.85:1 (both HD features; THE COUNSELLOR is 2.35:1 widescreen English only); English dub/Italian dub (English dubtitles), Italian, Spanish subs for HD feature films; original theatrical trailers for all three films; SPECIAL COP running time: 01:41:13

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