Alternative Titles: Uomini si nasce poliziotto so muore; Brigada anticrimen; Het recht in eigenhand; The Terminators
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Writer: Fernando Di Leo
Starring: Marc Porel, Ray Lovelock, Adolfo Celi, Franco Citti, Silvia Dionisio
Fred and Tony are members of an elite ‘special squad’ of undercover police in Rome, Italy which thrive on living dangerously with their license-to-kill.
LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN comes from a story by Alberto Marras (MEET HIM AND DIE), Vincenzo Salviani (THE DEVILS HONEY) and genre legend Fernando Di Leo (MILANO CALIBRO 9; THE BOSS) while it is directed by the notorious Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST; CUT AND RUN; PHANTOM OF DEATH; THE WASHING MACHINE) so for any first time viewer it is understandable that expectations are high for this quasi-buddy cop movie.
Therefore it is almost an anti-climax when it starts with a subdued opening as Fred (Marc Porel – DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING; THE PSYCHIC; THE SISTER OF URSULA) and Tony (Ray Lovelock – OASIS OF FEAR; THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE; VIOLENT ROME; MURDER ROCK) cruise the streets together sharing one motorcycle while a song that could be on almost any light drama plays through. Interestingly it was star Ray Lovelock singing this track, titled Maggie. These opening minutes of LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN are certainly quite misleading but do serve to mark out the relationship between our two leads as intimate with their emotional bond represented by their literal physical proximity.
As the song plays out, it overtaken by the roar of the bike engine and the action begins; a handbag is snatched by a couple of thieves on a motorbike…well almost as the poor female victim had just left the bank and had her bag handcuffed to herself for security with the result being a botched and brutal robbery attempt. These sorts of crimes are presented as a common occurrence in Italian crime films of the decade, and certainly the country struggled with criminal violence throughout this period – rather worryingly motorcycle led crime is seemingly resurgent in cities such as London now due to the flexibility and quick getaway opportunities the smaller vehicles provide.
Rather unfortunately for our young thugs all of this action takes place right in front of Fred and Tony, still yet not identified to the viewer as law enforcement, leading to a ridiculous wheelie, the commandeering of a(nother) motorcycle – after all our heroes cannot share one for a chase can they – and the start of what can only described as a frantic, exhilarating chase complete with quick cuts, POV shots and tight editing.
In fact with something this good you almost don’t want it to end and seemingly neither did director Ruggero Deodato as the sequence becomes almost all encompassing showing us not just the successful weaving in-and-out of traffic but also an error or two, in one case resulting in the patio of a café getting trashed. By the end of this sequence the focus has shifted away from the criminals’ behaviour and become more about the amoral attitude of our supposed law enforcement, something that is tackled verbally by the Police Captain later, who seems unconcerned about the lack of due process. In his mind seemingly the unquestionable authority of the law and the resultant actions are clearly necessary so that wider society can flourish.
While most of the brutal justice at the hands of a lead characters in Poliziotteschi are due to them being failed by the legal system and their superiors (pretty much any Maurizio Merli character for instance falls into this group) here our officers methods are actually condoned by their superiors if not necessarily endorsed although admittedly this tolerance is pushed to the limit. Even so it makes for a rather unsettling situation especially in comparison to films such as THE CONFORMIST by Bernardo Bertolucci and INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION by Elio Petri earlier in the decade that show that what civil repression and unchecked power can do when exploited and abused by those in authority.
As LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN plays out however this would be just one aspect of Fred and Marc’s character traits that are certainly at odds with ideas of freedom, equality and due process. With these films from a bygone era it is easy to either view attitudes from a modern rather than contemporary perspective but similarly it is easy to dismiss clearly unacceptable behaviour as being simply how things were.
The argument that it was a different time and therefore cannot be judged by today’s standards is one to take note of but in more recent times it has been bandied around in relation to reports often of a sexual nature and this clearly is relevant here through the sexist and misogynistic attitude displayed by our anti-heroes.
Admittedly there is an argument in one case for the complicity of the female police secretary – although this then may lead to an off-topic discussion of implications and fear of speaking out – as they frequently beg her for sexual gratification only to be repeatedly knocked back through humour and intelligence as she proves more than a match for their advances. The same cannot be said for the sister of one of the criminals in the film, a nymphomaniac, who undergoes a rather inappropriate form of questioning…twice, later in the film.
However this opinion that we are forming of Fred and Marc is once more further complicated through the closeness of their bond and level of comfort with each other. This element lead Roberto Curti when writing in his book Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 to state that “their misogynist attitude suggests a subterranean homosexual complicity” and this is certainly an opinion I subscribe to, at least to a certain extent.
Their overtly macho posturing and attitude is betrayed by their bond of brotherhood although whether this is sexual, which I would argue not, there is a case to be made for it on an emotional level blurring the lines in how far this platonic love goes.
As a viewer we quickly come to the realisation that Fred and Tony are arrogant and semi-obnoxious, while it is hard to tell if they mean well or get a kick out of their legalised macho bullshit, although from the dialogue in the film it does seem the latter. But when their colleague is gunned down outside of their office, complete with a death fall that has to be in contention for the world’s slowest, they have an added impetus to hate crime and rack up the bodies with this pivotal event helping provide the catalyst for the remaining story.
LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN is structured like so many other eurocrime films, with an underlying story arc complete with a big boss being broken up by several minor or unrelated crimes in order to build context, character, and help drive the narrative forward through action set pieces in order to maintain attention and keep focus – some of these set pieces however are delightfully over the top and exactly what you want to see in a film of this type
One thing that helps place the film in the upper echelons of the genre however is its use of clever story direction as LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN is able to subtly shift tone and feel, with for example one sequence playing out more like a heist movie yet the holistic overall feel of the film remains consistent and coherent, never once breaking the viewers belief in the world or disrupting the flow allowing for an enjoyable and often entertaining experience.
However for whatever reason the film does seem to run out of steam towards the end and while still providing a competent ending it does appear somewhat flat compared to several earlier moments.
Essentially a brutal and amoral Italian Starsky & Hutch, LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN is a decent watch and a strong entry in the genre thanks to the hugh level of skill of all those involved both in the cast and crew. It does not shy away from character flaws, for better or worse, and interjects some genuine humour into the film allowing it to keep the viewers’ attention without the need for constant violence.
Despite all these positives it is a shame that all of the women, with the exception of Silvia Dionisio come across either as victims of violence or morally corrupt but perhaps that is the point as very few paragons of virtue exist even on the male side with those who do not indulge in excessive behaviour often complicit in enabling it.
Through researching this film it was noted that there was due to be a sequel however due to personal differences between Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock this never really got going. If this was the sole reason then it certainly would have been interesting had Al Cliver, who had just finished working on Ruggero Deodato’s WAVE OF LUST (1975), got the gig as originally mooted.
I reviewed this off of the 88 Films blu-ray release which offers English language audio as well as Italian language with English subtitles. Extras include a trailer and stills gallery along with the now expected reversible sleeve and a neat little poster artcard.