With a title crying out for a Jack Palance voiceover, this was Cannibal Holocaust (1979) director Ruggero Deodato’s contribution to the Italian cop thriller genre. Kicking off with bang, two motorcycle-riding purse snatchers drag a woman across the road to a bloody pulp, then run over a blind man’s seeing eye dog for a malicious encore. Hotshot super-cops, Alfredo (Marc Porel) and Antonio (Ray Lovelock) ride off on an exhilarating motorbike chase through the streets of Rome that climaxes with one crook impaled on a metal spike while the other lies injured, until Alfredo snaps his neck. “Mine died on his own”, says Antonio. “I helped mine out”, chuckles Alfredo.
Rome is in the grip of ruthless mob boss Roberto Pasquini (Renato Salvatori), a.k.a. “Bibi”, whose assassins gun down an investigating detective right before Alfredo and Antonio’s eyes. Thereafter, the duo adopt a take-no-prisoners approach in their fight against crime. Zipping around Rome aboard their two-man scooter, the super-cops assassinate a five man gang poised to rob a bank, flirt with comely police secretary Norma (lovely Silvia Dionisio - also in Deodato’s Waves of Lust (1975)), violently resolve a hostage situation involving Ruggero Ruggerini (Franco Citti) and his gang of coke-snorting anarchists, and shag Bibi’s hot, nymphomaniac sister Lina (Sofia Dionisio). Much to the annoyance of their hot-under-the-collar, police chief (Adolfo Celi - who played Largo in Thunderball (1965)).
By the seventies, la dolce vita turned sour as Rome entered an era of rampant crime and political corruption. Italian cinema’s response were movies like Street Crime (1973), Violent Naples (1976) and The Big Racket (1976) where macho, moustachioed megastars Franco Nero and Maurizio Merli cracked skulls and busted bad guys by any means necessary. Like numerous Charles Bronson vehicles, some of these films skirt perilously close to espousing a fascist worldview, but greatly delighted Italian audiences, angry and frustrated with real life injustice and official incompetence. Although Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man delivers similar vicarious thrills, as helmed by Deodato and scripted by Fernando Di Leo - who directed an array of crime thrillers from Manhunt (1972) to Loaded Gun (1974) - the film takes a sly, subtly satirical look at its cocksure, cop heroes. Alfredo and Antonio’s war on crime amounts to a series of childish pranks. They set fire to some rich gangsters’ fancy cars, use Bibi’s mug-shot for a dartboard, and hang mobsters from the rafters to use as punching bags.
Deodato and Di Leo pull off a uniquely tricky balancing act. For while the action is fast-paced, gory (missing from this print is a scene where Bibi rips a man’s eyeball out and crushes it underfoot) and exciting, there is an element of contempt for the antiheroes, who brag about screwing their cleaning lady’s young niece (“If she’s pregnant, the responsibility is yours!” she wails. “No, it’s yours!” laughs Alfredo), and wander blithely aboard Bibi’s booby-trapped yacht near the climax. They’re so preoccupied with molesting a topless, Swedish blonde, a supporting character saves the day and finishes off the villains.
Much of the sexism is easily deflected by the sassy, female characters. The boys jokingly ask Norma which of them she would like to sleep with, but are left flustered when she nonchalantly claims women can outlast men in bed: “Masculine values are bull. Women have more stamina.” Later, both men take their turns with Lina, whose sexual appetite leaves them drained and slightly humiliated. Hearing the boys’ orgasmic cries, her housekeeper shrugs and offers to make them an egg nog. So much for male sexual prowess.
Indeed, Di Leo wanted to go even further and make the pair closet homosexuals, until censors intervened. As it stands, this remains an unconventional and amusing action movie. The film was a big hit, but owing to the fractious relationship between Lovelock and Porel (a notorious heroin addict who died several years later), the sequel never got off the ground.
Italian director best known his ultra-violent horror work, but whose filmography takes in many genres over a 40-year career. Worked as an assistant director on a variety of films during the sixties, and made his first credited directing debut in 1968 with the superhero yarn Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen. Throughout the following decade Deodato made erotic dramas (Gungalar, Waves of Lust), musical comdies (Man Only Cries for Love), and comic book romps (Zenabel).
It was Ruggero's horror films that gained him an international reputation however. The trashy Last Cannibal World was followed by 1980's notorious Cannibal Holocaust, and the likes of House on the Edge of the Park, Cut and Run and Bodycount were popular amongst video audiences during the eighties. Other films during this period include the action fantasy The Barbarians and bizarre thriller Dial Help, while Deodato's work during the nineties was largely confined to Italian TV.