Rambo (Tomas Milian) is something of a rogue who makes his way through life skirting close to the line of lawlessness, but is capable enough to pull off his schemes. His brother, however, is firmly on the side of the police, and when Rambo visits him and his family one day he makes him an offer: there is so much crime on the streets of Italy these days that the authorities are crying out for cops to help them out with all those murders, kidnappings and robberies. He is sceptical that this is his sort of deal, but goes along to see the training for the recruits and is fairly impressed, though they are more impressed by Rambo as his hand to hand combat skills and marksmanship show them all up. Will he join up?
Well, he does and he doesn't in another collaboration between director Umberto Lenzi and star Tomas Milian where they took the Italian crime movie scene by storm. Sometimes it can be difficult to discern precisely what was working out in this genre thanks to the sheer bulk of the product that was created from the late nineteen-sixties into the seventies, but the public were most appreciative of this duo when it was at its most popular, though Syndicate Sadists was regarded as a lesser entry in their canon, and tends to be to this day. Not to say there was nothing to enjoy, as Lenzi knew what his leading man was able to carry off and played to his strengths; here he was a cross between Dirty Harry and Serpico.
Not only that, but a heavy dose of Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars into the bargain, thanks to a plot that recycled Dashiell Hammett's "play both sides against each other" classic novel Red Harvest, seen from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo to Walter Hill's Last Man Standing. Nevertheless, there was enough of a spin put on what was growing somewhat hackneyed to make it watchable in its element, and seeing the obvious maverick Rambo, and wondering if he is in fact a reprobate rather than a hero, was always going to be entertaining, an ideal role for Milian who even saw his movie characters on the side of the good guys come across as a little bit dodgy thanks to the actor's bad boy charisma.
About that name, he was called Rambo because Milian was a fan of David Morrell's novel First Blood, and even wanted to arrange a film adaptation of it with himself as the star, a most intriguing prospect that came to nothing, but so attached was he to the material that Lenzi allowed him to name the protagonist here after its lead. Sylvester Stallone famously went ahead and made his own version of it, and the rest was Vietnam veteran fiction history. There was really no more connection than that, for Milian's Rambo was tailored to his persona, so he was more like a serious Terence Hill in one of his Westerns in that he looked grubby and came across as lazy, but would use this to deceive his enemies when he was actually far more adept than they took him for; Rambo meets setbacks, sure, but we are confident he can succeed.
Succeed in foiling a gang of kidnappers, that was, who had grabbed a young boy and were demanding a huge ransom for his return. Rambo's brother has tried to go out on his own and retrieve the child, but early on in the plot is murdered by the baddies for his attempt, necessitating a revenge scheme as much as a plan to get the boy, and leading to Milian in humanising scenes where he looks after the widow and his nephew, but also muscular sequences with the requisite car chases and gun battles that were de rigueur in these thrillers. Joseph Cotten showed up as a man of influence who Rambo pits himself against, bringing out the sense of humour in the character for a film that could have been as hard-edged and glum as many of its peers, though mostly it was him squaring off against a selection of Italian tough guy actors with faces like a welder's bench, flinging them around and gunning them down when the opportunity arose. The best joke was when regular exploitation performer Luciano Pigozzi asked Rambo that age old question, "Hey, don't I know you from somewhere?" and was told by him it was probably at a holiday resort for homosexuals (!). Music by Franco Micalizzi.
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.