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  Free Hand for a Tough Cop Tomas Is Trouble
Year: 1976
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Stars: Tomas Milian, Claudio Cassinelli, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Henry Silva, Robert Hundar, Biagio Pelligra, Giuseppe Castellano, Tano Cimarosa, Dana Ghia, Renato Mori, Susanna Melandri, Mario Erpichini, Corrado Solari, Rita Forzano, Antonio Casale
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The outlaws ride across Monument Valley, kicking up dust until they reach the saloon, whereupon a mass brawl erupts - but in the prison hall where the convicts are watching this movie, there's nothing but the odd disgruntled comment to indicate anyone is interested, and even then, only on a cursory level. One of those convicts is Garbage Can (Tomas Milian), a seasoned criminal with a line in fast talking that has gotten him out of trouble on more than one occasion, but when he excuses himself to visit the toilet, he is confronted by Antonio Sarti (Claudio Cassinelli) in the corridor, who promptly knocks him out, throws him over one shoulder and leaves...

Free Hand for a Tough Cop, or Il trucido e lo sbirro if you were Italian, was one of a series of collaborations between director Umberto Lenzi and star Tomas Milian, often tough police dramas that were extremely popular in Italy and latterly picked up a strong cult following abroad thanks to their uncompromising nature, frequent bursts of violence, general air of bad taste and scenes that few in their right mind would include in a mainstream thriller decades later. Neither the best nor worst of those, this sat somewhere in the middle, a convoluted plot slightly working against its best intentions instead of making for a richer narrative experience.

Nevertheless, while there were curious elements included, and indeed curious elements left out - nowhere was there to be seen a car chase, only two or three bits where it seems like we were going to get one - there was much to relish here for the seasoned poliziotteschi fan. Once that fakeout of the opening sequence had been dispensed with, we could be told what we were actually here for, which was a rescue attempt on a kidnapped girl who needs a hospital to treat her kidneys. What kind of ruddy dastard would place a tiny little girl's life in danger? Step forward who else but Henry Silva, as the leader of a ruthless gang who go places others would balk at.

Certainly Garbage Can does, essayed by Milian with an extraordinary perm and corralled into helping save the victim by Sarti, who is in fact a cop willing to work with the bad guys in order to save the day. He assembles a small gang himself, criminals all, and Milian was the Joker in the pack (we see him playing cards as if to elicit that response), obviously being given preferential treatment by Lenzi to keep him engaged in the film by offering him comedy scenes, not that they're hugely hilarious, but were an indication of where practically every genre winds up eventually: playing for laughs when the ideas run out. Milian was evidently enjoying himself as the resident clown, and Silva aside was assuredly the most charismatic performer in this.

Cassinelli fared somewhat worse, given little to do but the strongarm tactics and a sense of moral right that propelled his character through the compromised justice business (only not as compromised as you might anticipate from the introduction). He did get to act tough and beat up and shoot all sorts of ruffians and evildoers, so that by the end everyone had received their just desserts, not necessarily always the case in Italian crime thrillers, but this was a shade more conventional than some. Where it diverged was in the sheer nastiness of its villainy, upping the ante in a format that had already done so from the start of the seventies, therefore with nowhere to go but down as its thugs debase themselves by behaving as revoltingly as possible - even the ones we are supposed to be on the right side of. And what Garbage Can was doing with those sheep is anybody's guess. But overall, if not the best introduction to the style, then it was ideal for action addicts. Music by Bruno Canfora.

[Fractured Visions presents Umberto Lenzi's Free Hand for a Tough Cop on Blu-ray 29 November 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Umberto Lenzi  (1931 - 2017)

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.

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