Now patrolling the crime-ridden streets of Turin, slap-happy seasoned cop Inspector Betti (Maurizio Merli) and his counting-down-the-days-till-retirement partner Arpino (Raymond Pellegrin) intervene in a violent bank robbery. Only to be outwitted when a woman taken hostage to cover the thieves' escape turns out to be in cahoots with the gang. Whilst dealing with this mess Betti is called on to tackle another crime when armed thugs kidnap a bus load of screaming children. After the kidnapping takes a tragic turn Betti suspects the mastermind behind this heinous affair was crime kingpin Albertelli (John Saxon) and sets out to entrap the outwardly respectable businessman. Even as Italy's crumbling infrastructure, relentless crime and corruption leave Betti increasingly disillusioned with law enforcement.
A Special Cop in Action (released in its native Italy as Italia a Mano Armata) concludes the poliziotteschi trilogy preceded by Marino Girolami's Violent Rome (1975) and Umberto Lenzi's fan favourite Violent Naples (1976). Nevertheless macho moustachioed genre icon Maurizio Merli swiftly returned in more films, including other trilogies, where his crime-busting cop characters were indistinguishable from the righteously indignant Inspector Betti. As conclusions go the final entry in the trilogy wraps things up on a sour note. Its tone is one of simmering despair. Surrounded by fellow officers either retiring, dying or giving in to the hopeless state of things, Betti endures abuse from angry parents, slingshots from the press, stifling bureaucratic red tape and, of course, the remorseless brutality of heartless criminal scum. The film makes it clear that Betti, much like the Italian public, is sick of dealing with it all yet sees no end in sight.
Unfortunately frustration and impotence make up the one peg Girolami, here directing under the pseudonym Franco Martinelli, hammers relentlessly into the ground. More often than not Betti is stymied by cunning criminals, a broken legal system or sheer bad luck. Absent this time around are those cathartic moments for the audience when Betti unleashes a round of righteous fury on the bad guys. Despite a handful of half-hearted fist-fights and by-numbers car chases, A Special Cop in Action is much lower on rip-roaring action and wild stunt work compared to the earlier entries. The other staple ingredient of the genre: sleaze is present as kidnapper Mancuso (Sergio Fiorentini) takes a break from terrorizing kids to try to rape a passing lady cyclist, although the misogyny quotient is pleasingly low for a change. However the attempt at a romantic subplot between Betti and the grieving sister (Mirella D'Angelo) of one child victim falls flat. It is meant to be affecting, offering Betti an avenue out of a seemingly futile crusade as a cop, but so broadly played and sentimental it comes off as campy and shrill instead.
Elsewhere John Saxon slips ably into the stock genre role of phantom American bogeyman behind the Italian crime wave, contrasted with Betti's more easygoing relationship with petty local criminals like the pickpocket who proves an invaluable ally. Saxon brings welcome personality to an otherwise colourless cross-section of villains but the disjointed plot is less involving than the admittedly circuitous but livelier narratives of earlier films. Indeed the whole child kidnap thread is only barely connected to the main thrust of the plot concerning Betti's ongoing feud with Albertelli. Which takes a turn after Albertelli frames Betti for murder and the latter is imprisoned alongside thugs he himself convicted ("Wait till we get you in the showers"). None of this really goes anywhere and the third act further complicates matters by introducing yet another villain who then goes gunning for Albertelli.
Interestingly in place of the ambiguously "romantic" finale that capped off most prints, some versions of the film feature an alternate or what some might call an Alain Delon ending (c.f. Le Samurai (1967), Tony Arzenta (1973), Three Men to Kill (1980)). Some Euro-crime fans find its nihilistic tone more befits the grim sense of futility that defines the overall movie even if it is at odds with Merli's gung-ho heroics in the previous two films. Music by Franco Micalizzi that later found its way to the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (2007).
Italian director who over a 40-year career dabbled in most genres - like many of his fellow countrymen, his film-making choices were informed by whatever was popular in Hollywood at the time, from historical epics to westerns, sex comedies to action. Girolami frequently used the pseudonym Frank Martin for international releases, and is best known by horror fans for his hilarious 1979 gorefest Zombie Holocaust. Father of the equally prolific Enzo G. Castellari, and a European boxing champion in his pre-film career.