Friday, March 19, 2010

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man
Original title: Uomini si nasce poliziotti si moure
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Italy, 1976
Poliziotteschi, 87 min.
Distributed by: Raro Video & Nocturno

Good old Ruggero Deodato’s only entry into the Poliziotteschi genre Live like a Cop, Die like a Man is a dark, malicious little entry into that great Italian niche, but it’s dark tones are not thanks to a charismatic villain, or a hard necked cop on a personal vendetta, but by two very unconventional undercover agents of the “Special Squad” who bar no holds in their fight against crime… even if it means crossing the lines of justice themselves and getting laid on the way.

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man was Deodato’s second film after his “comeback” with the slightly erotic thriller A Wave of Pleasure (Una ondata di piacere) 1975, and shows the early signs of where he was determined to take his movies; into a realm of dark, haunting, non-remorseful world of violence and cynicism. I say comeback due to the fact the 36-year-old director had been tampering with commercials and TV serials for the last couple of years since directing the modest comedy Zenabel in 1969. A Wave of Pleasure starring Al Cliver and Deodato’s at the time girlfriend Silvia Dionisio [who also starred in Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula 1974, and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s Crimebusters 1976.] was a moderate success and on the back of this producers/screenwriters Alberto Marras and Vincenzo Salviani [who later wrote and produced Lucio Fulci’s erotic thriller Devil’s Honey 1986] offered the script that they had written with genre master Fernando di Leo to Deodato.

Intrigued by the script Deodato started planning the cast, and suggested Cliver for a lead role. Although Cliver found the level of violence a tad too much for his taste, and with what was in store for the Italian genre cinema just down the road, ironically passed on the part. Instead the parts of Fred and Tony went to Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock, both of them no strangers to violent action.

And violent action is exactly what Live like a Cop, Die like a Man is all about. From the opening scene to the final one it’s a screaming frenzy of sadistic beatings, fast paced chase sequences, explosive shootouts, male chauvinism, bold law enforcement and heartless crime lords.

Instead of the usual quick fix, I’ll give you the first ten minutes of the movie, as these set the tone and vibe for the movie in an excellent way. Starting out with a shot of the two leads, Porel and Lovelock, riding their motorbike through the streets titles pass by in a manner that is convention for most Poliziotteschi, simple text against images of city life with the odd obvious bad guy thrown in here and there. Two geezers stand suspiciously outside a band [keep your eyes open for Deodato’s cameo here] and when a woman walks out holding her handbag in a firm grip close to her chest, the two rouges take off on their motorbike down the road, heading straight for the woman. They snatch her bag, but it’s chained to her arm, and instead of letting go, they simply drag her along the sidewalk, slamming into the curb and crushing her head against a light post as they try to get the bag out of her grip. As if that wasn’t enough, they stop the bike, get off and start beating the life out of her in a very gruesome scene that would become somewhat of a Deodato trait through out the movies to follow – the passive observing of scenes of grisly violence – because this is not just a few slaps to the face, but a deadly assault that we can only avoid by closing our eyes or turning off the screen. But you wouldn’t want to do that now would you, because this is where Fred and Tony return to the screen.

After a quick examination of the now dead woman, they take off after the thieves, or should we call them murderers now, and an exhilarating eight minute motorcycle chase follows which sees Lovelock and Porel dash in and out of traffic, tight alleyways, and a couple of terrific jumps over diverse obstacles. To show just how ruthless the bikers are, they swoosh past a blind man at a crossing and run his dog over… but Fred and Tony are just as ruthless and zoom past the blind man on each side leaving him in a could of smoke. All good things come to an end and even so this exciting chase as Fred and Tony force the criminals into the back of a parked van. One of them goes flying through the van and ends up smashing into the ground in front of the van, whilst the second is impaled on the gears of the bike. Tony watches as the impaled biker writhes in pain and as he takes his last breath there is a sinister smile upon his face. At the same time Fred gently tends to the biker who smashed into the ground at high speed, helping him sit up appropriately and breathe freely. But in the blink of an eye he snaps the biker’s head, breaking his neck. Satisfied with taking out the bad guys, Tony and Fred tell the arriving officers that they will take care of the details of the two bikers “accidental” death in their reports, remount their motorbike and head off for new confrontations with crime…

That’s pretty much the tone and hefty pacing of the film. The special agents are forceful, take no shit, move fast, even if they defy their commanding chiefs direct orders, and take out bad guys like there was no tomorrow. Mob boss Roberto “Bibi” Pasquini [Renato Salvatori], runs a tight operation with his hardened thugs and bribed law enforcers, all the way to the top, keeping him one step ahead of the long arm of the law. Women are simply there for two causes, either victims or objects of sexual desire.

It’s interesting from this perspective because there are strange sexual preferences and themes at work in this movie, and the first thing I think when I see the two undercover agents riding their motorbike together in the opening scene is; wow, that’s pretty intimate for two supposedly hard-ass coppers to be riding around hugging each other on a motorbike. There’s not too much about the first images that says; two rough, tough skit kickers out to stop crime in it’s tracks at all, it could just as well have been two lovers on the way to the park or something. But this obviously gets kicked on its ass as they take up pursuit of the handbag snatchers a few moments later and exterminate the brutes, but still there’s a strange thing going on here and this is what I see. There are these two macho blokes who eliminate bad guys each day at work. They obviously are very close and even share a bike as their means of transportation, they also share a flat together and I sense some kind of homoerotic vibe between the two. To balance up the homoerotic vibe the two guys try to bed every woman they make contact with. This is apparent as they leave their flat after their cleaning woman accuses them of getting her daughter knocked up. They go to work and try to work their way into the pants of the chief’s secretary Norma [Silvia Dionisio – at this time Deodato’s wife] with an aggressive line of seduction. But when she responds with the same approach claiming that she could take on both of them, they can’t quite deal with her reply and still pester her to decide which one she would go to bed with. She tells them that women are much more insatiable then men, and she could take them both and two more. This returns later on in a variation as they finally start closing in on mob leader Pasquini and meet his nymphomaniac younger sister Lina [Sofia Dionisio – younger sister of Silvia here credited as Flavia Fabiani]. She wriggles her way out of her clothes and lures the not to hard to persuade Tony into the sack during her interrogation. As Fred talks to Lina’s maid Maricca [Gina Mascetti] they hear the sounds of Lina wearing down Tony, and Fred walks into the room and like some kind of sexual tag team, takes over where Tony ended. Even in the “climactic” ending, starring death in the eye – ok they don’t know, but they have a sense of it – they take the time out to shag Pasquini’s girlfriend… It’s a strange relationship that the two guys have with each other, but it also brings a strange kinkiness to the flick without going over the top and stepping into sleazville.

At the same time, the two protagonists kinky sexual games, sadistic violence and neglect to obey their executives make them interesting characters that walk a dangerous balancing act on the thin like between being protagonists and becoming antagonists. It would be easy to regard the two unorthodox cops as bad guys, unsympathetic characters who don’t play fair. But we don’t, we just keep rooting for them to save the day. This is all due to the fact that they hold a childlike approach to everything they do. Their continuous adolescent referrals to being such studs and later they ironically can’t satisfy the only woman who offers them a piece of the action. The innovative ways they take out the villains, with a sense of dark humour and playful “ha gotcha” approach, when they burn all the cars – 20 of them, Beamers, Mercs, Porsches and a Rolls Royce – they do it with a giggle and a wink, just like kids. The same goes for that final after their Boss [Adolfo Celi] - or even father figure if you like - has sorted out the mess they have gotten themselves into with an “It Ok now lads” gesture, they look at the detonator connected to the boat they just got off with a look on their faces that say’s “Should we press that lever?” and you know what they are going to do before it even happens, even though there is no necessity to actually blow up the boat. They do it because they are like two kids getting up to mischief.

Plot wise it’s an intriguing movie, sometimes difficult to keep up with as several threads that at first seem random, eventually come into the story and reveal a larger meaning towards the end of the movie. At times the crimes and villains that Fred and Tony take out seem just arbitrary, but it becomes apparent that they in one way or another are connected to the big fish – Roberto “Bibi” Pasquini. One such thread is the minor subplot with the great supporting actor Bruno Corazzai as the gambling heroin addict Morandi. When he fails to pay his debts in time, Bibi’s henchmen sadistically tear out his eye as a violent reminder not to screw around with Pasquini, but this apparent random event, comes back into the narrative during the last act when Fred and Tony start tightening the noose round Pasquini’s neck. Using Morandi and his pending debt towards Bibi, they find away to get close to the mobster constantly one step ahead.

The ending, even though it may come as an anticlimax for some viewers, I see as a great moment, as it also adds to the darkness of the movie. Without exposing anything, I can say that the ending according to classical narrative structure sets records straight and “the helper” proves that he’s really been behind the heroes’ all the standing by them in their philosophy that the only good criminal is a dead criminal.

I’m quite fond of Italian soundtracks and especially of this time period when they had their own sound and aura to them. You probably know that I’m not to fond of the later movies where contemporary pop and rock moved in and the suave, jazzy boss nova swing was out. Ubaldo Continiello’s score for Live like a Cop, Die like a Man get’s the job done, but it doesn’t stand out in the way that say Armando Trovaioli, Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, or Franco Micalizzi’s Poliziotteschi scores do, but it at least gives Lovelock an opportunity to sing along to the theme song “Won’t take to long” and that’s always something of value.

Live like a Cop, Die like a Man, surprisingly became quite a hit for Deodato, and obviously because it’s a gritty, sexist, macho piece of hard handed aggression that rushes forth taking no prisoners in it’s wake but with a constant twinkle in the eye. And even though the film is Deodato’s only entry into the Poliziotteschi genre he didn’t surrender to the success Live like a Cop, Die like a Man, and churn out a bunch of sequels. Instead Deodato ventured deep into the Philippine jungles and started up the shoot of Last Cannibal World. Within a few months Italian genre cinema would have a new provocative subgenre to shock the un-expecting audiences with and instead of fast shooting cops and robbers the screens would be filled with unfortunate urban city dwellers isolated in the deep jungles confronting blood thirsty loin clothed cannibals munching their guts.

1,85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen

Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, optional Italian or English dialogue. English subtitles are available.

One of the great things with the Raro releases are their great selection of extras, here there’s a pretty lengthy documentary (just under 40 min) about the movie with interviews with Deodato and Ray Lovelock, but also Al Cliver, Gilberto Galimbeti [Master at arms on the film] and Armando Novelli. There’s also a little musical surprise for you at the end of the documentary. There’s also a series of Ruggero Deodato’s commercials that he directed before returning to features, his biography and filmography to round it all off.

And here's a clip from that great opening...


Alex B. said...

The motorcycle chase in this is legendary.
Also when they ride past the blind guy and run his dog over... mean joke but at least no real animal cruelty this time.
This is Deodato's most entertaining work, while his best film as a drama is House on the edge of the park

CiNEZiLLA said...


I'm slowly working my way back through Deodato's movies, as I saw them all so very very long ago. As often happens, the early stuff is awesome, and the later stuff just kinda go's on autopilot.

But it's good stuff and he sure made some real fascinating movies in his day. I just dread the day Cannibal Holocaust 2, or whatever it ends up being called. Then again he never stays in a genre too long, and rarely repeats himself. And considering what he actually did comment with Holocaust was unique and one can only hope that it's along the lines of that one.

But still, I'm glad that he is trying to get a new movie out, because I have a smart and cunning plan my lord!

Alex B. said...

Yes, early Deodato sure has a lot more punch, but some of the visual and technical achievment in later films such as THE WASHING MACHINE is commendable, despite the lack of atmosphere and inspiration.
At least Deodato didn't let himself go as Lenzi did with dreadful BLACK DEMONS and HOUSE OF WITCHCRAFT.
I've been very sceptical about Deodato's comeback cannibal film ever since it was first announced a good 3-4 years ago. I honestly believe it impossible to top those 70's films.
I wonder what your cunning plan is..

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