THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST (1977) BY UMBERTO LENZI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Il cincio, l’infame, il violento; O Cínico, O Infame, O Violento; Le cynique, l’infâme, le violent; Die Gewalt bin ich
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writer: Ernesto Gastaldi, Dardano Sacchetti, Umberto Lenzi
Year: 1977
Starring: Maurizio Merli, John Saxon, Tomas Milian, Renzo Palmer

Synopsis:
Luigi ‘Chinaman’ Maietto bursts free from the big house and sets in motion his revenge on the man who put him there, the legendary Inspector Leonardo Tanzi. When an assassination attempt leaves Chinaman believing the heroic officer dead, Tanzi uses his new found anonymity to bring down the numerous crime organisations that are helping ruin his beloved city.

Review:
THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST represents the return of Inspector Tanzi as moustachioed blonde Maurizio Merli reprises his role as the vigilante Inspector from ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (aka ROMA A MANO ARMATA; THE TOUGH ONES, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON and BRUTAL JUSTICE in the USA).

No doubt commercially THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST with so named as a riff off of Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and it wastes no time in getting started as within ten seconds we witness a mugging. This undoubtably sets the tone for this ramped up sequel before it cuts into the by now clichéd shots of cars cruising the city as a flurry of criminal activities take place, and police cars speed around including past the iconic Milanese duomo instantly placing this film away from its predecessor.

After the opening credits we meet Tanzi, now a murder mystery novel consultant who discovers as he returns home from his surely unfulfilling job that someone has left an obituary note for marking his date of death as that very day. A bad omen for things to come. Thankfully he still possesses a gun so we know at least he will be safe…although I am certain his hands are registered weapons.

Jump to a shot of a police teleprompter and we learn of a criminal named ‘The Chinese’ who has just broken out of jail while the police inspector Astalli (played by genre regular Renzo Palmer – DANGER DIABOLIK; STREET LAW; VAI GORILLA; THE BIG RACKET and also alongside Merli in WHITE FANG TO THE RESCUE) calls in Tanzi to warn him that this criminal, who Tanzi apparently helped put away, might be looking for some payback. A hunch that we know is justified and ends up with our Inspector being dispatched…or so it seems allowing the action and characters to be transported back to Rome, even if most of them are meant to be elsewhere. With the basic plot now outlined we are free to enjoy the rest of the film and meet the rest of our cast.

With that we can say hello to our friend Tomas Milian, who plays The Chinese aka China, and he is quickly joined on screen by John Saxon, playing the American-Italian gangster Di Maggio. After a bit of fun small talk they get down to talking business…illegal business.

All of this and more has happened in just twenty minutes by  which time we have met our three main characters, how they relate to each other and witnessed just why Saxon is the top Mafioso in the city. All of this means a battle for justice, money and ultimately for vengeance is on the cards.

Tanzi’s struggle sees him once again pitted up against several hoodlums as the plot develops and ends up using almost anything available to him in his bid to bring criminal to justice including faulty wiring, stage lights, a camera which leads to a witty one-liner or even a sound board to burn a guy’s face, particularly brutal even for this film although the acid attack runs it close. As you can probably surmise there is a lot of action in this film and it is quite quickly paced with the result on our ex-Inspector becoming more and more desperate when faced against overwhelming odds, which is evidenced by the time he car jacks an innocent woman in a bid to get away from some crooks.

For all the desperation of the character however quite often Merli is in pure 70s playboy mode, the model of masculinity throughout the film even when he is hilariously traversing a corridor of laser beams, bordering on the comical as the film takes on almost a 60s spy thriller vibe thanks to the look of the ‘beams’ aka red string and the use of lighting.

On the contrary, Milian’s character China is a lot more relaxed and in control however some might argue the actor is disinterested but I would disagree although the character is a lot less repugnant than Il Gobbo in ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH and a little less unhinged which no doubt lends itself to this opposing view. Sure Milian’s performance is perhaps not as good as in the earlier film, who knows if the frustration of working with Merli boiled over resulting in the genuine bitterness on screen which was absent here but his performance as ‘The Chinaman’ is more than competent here while Saxon is his usual reliable self but it is quite clear that he only has a supporting role here.

Behind the camera things are just as good and it is apparent that even in the short time from the first Tanzi film, Gastaldi & Lenzi have increased their understanding of the genre’s constructs, its requirements and most importantly its audience. While the sporadic use of POV help ramp up the tension when necessary and shows how Lenzi has utilised all the tricks of the trade learned through his years of gialli and mystery.

Witty, violent and pure fun THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST is a film free from all societal and institutional story restrictions and this is its greatest asset as it allows Tanzi to go straight up against China and by extension Di Maggio with the usual building vinaigrettes giving way to a longer over riding narrative broken up by almost inconsequential crime peppered about to keep the momentum going.  The benefit is the scriptwriters ably manage to combine narrative context with action seamlessly allowing for an action packed, fast paced film but also this time with a compelling story arc that elevates the film to the upper echelons of the genre.

However for those of you who have read Curti’s fantastic book, Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 will find an opposing opinion to my own and so depending on your own personal approach to the genre you may wish to delve a little further into investigating this film.

Where I do agree with Curti however is in the use of the females, as often with Eurocrime films they are merely there as instruments for either the story or setting up an action set piece and here it is no different and although to judge a film by modern day sensibilities is always a dangerous thing to do it is clear who this film was aimed at and what the prevailing attitude was at the time.

Nevertheless it is an enjoyable straight forward film and if you want a bit more humour I recommend the English dub which mocks Merli’s stereotypically un-Italian blonde hair and blue eyes but whatever your audio preference grab a beer and a copy of the 88 Films version for a guaranteed fun night in.

Version Reviewed:
I watched the 2017 blu ray release from 88 Films. It’s a high-definition transfer from the original camera negative and I doubt the film has ever looked this good. Audio wise it has a restored English soundtrack, a restored Italian soundtrack and obviously English subtitles.

What’s more 88 Films have put in the effort and commissioned some extras just for this release, well perhaps not technically as some of it appears to be cut from the same source as the extra’s on the SYNDICATE SADISTS release but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The extras include eurocrime expert Mike Malloy talking about the film for just over ten minutes in an informative and humorous segment where Malloy tells of about the story happening behind the camera as well as in front of it. I’m happy to say Malloy takes to the camera like Merli to a backhanded slap and I certainly hope 88 Films use him some more…and unsurprisingly he does feature on the SYNDICATE SADISTS release as well.

Further extras include ‘Armed to the teeth again: An interview with Umberto Lenzi’ which contains a couple of revelations (such as the motivation of Milian during filming of ALMOST HUMAN) and tales covering both his own films and the animosity between Merli and Milian and the problems this caused. Although Lenzi does appear to misremember a few bits of his films this is forgivable considering the period of time that has passed and the great volume of work he has been involved with. Furthermore it is clear that this is part of a longer interview with segments taken for other releases.  In addition to this we also get ‘The cynic, the rat and the sadist: An interview with Tomas Milian’ where the actor seems to talk more about SYNDICATE SADISTS and therefore really should be on that release instead of this one. Regardless Milian is an interesting fellow to talk to and his discussion about his choice of dubbing artist, Ferruccio Amendola if you are interested, is an interesting insight into an area not often covered while he also discusses this films sequel, ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH, a release I am hoping 88 Films acquire soon.

THE BIG RACKET (1976) BY ENZO CASTELLARI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Il Grande Racket; Racket; Big Violence; Forajidos 77
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Enzo G. Castellari, Massimo De Rita, Arduino Maiuri
Year: 1976
Starring: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Renzo Palmer

Review:
A toe tapping score introduces the film as a criminal gang terrorise a commercial neighbourhood all the while police Inspector Nico Palmieri (a strapping Fabio Testi – WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?; THE HEROIN BUSTERS; RINGS OF FEAR; CONTRABAND) watches on, waiting for his chance to pounce and bring some justice to the streets. Opening with scenes of mayhem and violence is nothing new for the genre and the film set’s itself up nicely with these opening sequences but it is not long before director Enzo Castellari’s style (and apparent love of multiple camera angles comes into play to provide something different.

After the brief introduction of Rudy (Joshua Sinclair – KEOMA), the English boss of ‘the racket’, we are treated to multiple angles of the same instance which although fails to provide any additional depth or understanding is a good excuse for some breathtaking footage as an internal catches the reaction of the Inspector as he is trapped inside his car which is repeatedly rolling 360 degrees down a hill. This scene is worth mentioning in itself not because of the usual distance shot of the car but for these cuts to an the internal camera as we see the poor Inspector turned upside repeatedly as glass shatters all around him.

Unsurprisingly hospitalised and now disillusioned with the (trope alert) impotence of the law, Palmieri seems almost beaten as he states when asked if he wants to go after the punks that did this to him “What’s the use …in 3 days they’ll be out and about again”. 

Finally however our dejected Inspector reaches that stereotypical eurocrime turning point of admitting that if the law cannot do what is required and if the ends justify the means, then he is the man to take the law into his own hands and make a difference.

Setting about his plan to bring down the mysterious English boss, Palmieri uses some dubious methods which not only result in the release of the lackeys he does manage to collar but also in some gruesome repercussions for one unlucky citizen and his family. Once again reiterating the point that the law protects the guilty and not the innocent.

These initial failed attempts see Palmieri kicked off the case, or at least that is what is said but in practice it makes no difference to the film as he ploughs on with his mission propelling the film forwards and providing a handy little plot device to eschew the procedural aspects that sometimes bog down these types of films but has enough room to allow for the justification and organizational protection (although whether this is a good thing is another debate especially when we consider the tale of repressive power in Elio Petri’s INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION – but let’s make like this film and sidestep serious political debate) that only being a member of the police force can provide.

From here the film is pretty unrelenting in terms of action as director Enzo Castellari is pretty much given carte blanche to indulge and he certainly makes the most of the opportunity as cars are blown up and violence rife. All of this action however comes at a price as THE BIG RACKET utilises its action for two purposes; the first is to entertain, and secondly to replace the need of a subplot or character relationships as it is actually through action rather than dialogue that these instances occur, such as the ways in which we an elderly pick pocket and a champion skeet shooter are introduced. 

The introduction of the later occurs via a high octane and brutal gunfight. If the retaliation by the ‘racket’ to the earlier inconvenience caused by Palmieri and a meddling civilian was brutal, Enzo Castellari takes things up a notch for our new have-a-go hero as the tone suddenly shifts to slightly darker territory more akin to the sleazier entries in the wider genre, such as ALMOST HUMAN and RABID DOGS, and as powerful as it is the result is that it feels a little alien to the rest of the film.

Irrespective of this short lived tonal shift, a double crossing and sacking helps lead us to the formation of our vigilante squad and with the random roping in of an ex-mob hit man our motley crew go off to settle old scores in an explosive showdown.

Despite lacking the rugged looks and masculinity of contemporaries such as Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli, the athletically built Fabio Testi, fresh off a year which saw him star in the Lucio Fulci western THE FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE and the Tonino Valerii crime drama VAI GORILLA, puts in a solid performance as Inspector Palmieri. 

If you are not familiar with his other performances then you may be forgiven for thinking that the star is a little two-dimensional, as his character lacks any form of emotional complexity or emotional engagement that would either test the actor or provide some additional depth to the narrative. However the actors loss is the films gain, with this lack of depth actually streamlining the film allowing for the momentum of the action to be maintained. 

On the subject of the cast the film also features notable performances from a strong cast including Vincent Gardenia (DEATH WISH; LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS [remake]), the familiar face of Renzo Palmer (DANGER: DIABOLK; STREET LAW; THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST), as well as Glauco Onorato (BLACK SABBATH; VIVA! DJANGO) and Antonio Marsina (KEOMA; THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD; THE LAST BLOOD) amongst others.

After HIGH CRIME and STREET LAW, THE BIG RACKET is a successful return to the world of the vigilante for Enzo Castellari which is pretty close to being definitive of the genre. I say this because it makes a terrific introduction to the genre, displaying many of the hallmark tropes with its disillusioned cop, impotent justice system, well-choreographed entertaining fights and vigilante civilians standing up for justice all contributing to the mirroring of the chaotic and frequently violent Italian society of the 1970’s.

Overall however THE BIG RACKET is an entertaining watch from start to finish that promises and delivers everything a fan of the genre would want and despite not being quite up there with the best efforts of the genre it deserves to be in the collection of every fan of the genre.

Additional:
As a bit of a side note, if rumours are to be believed THE BIG RACKET represents something of an oddity for the films of Enzo Castellari and the period in general due to the way that the audio was recorded first in Italian and then dubbed into English after, as opposed to the usual method of the other way around. 

Allegedly this is because star Fabio Testi was unable to speak English. However, many directors at the time (perhaps most famously Lucio Fulci) would frequently have cast members speaking their lines in their native language because they knew that it would all be dubbed over anyway as the Italian industry rarely worked with live sound. 

Meanwhile Enzo Castellari actually comes from a family of film makers with his father, Marino Girolami, also being a director who worked on VIOLENT ROME and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST amongst others.