Uncompromising Italian cop Comissioner Tanzi (Maurizio Merli) is after a master criminal who has eluded his anti-crime task force for years. Following an informant, Tanzi and his men bust an illegal gambling den but once again the mysterious Mr. Big eludes them. Sneaky sidekick Savelli (Biagio Pelligra) refuses to dish the dirt on his anonymous employer. Between punching out purse-snatchers, roughing up rapists and decrying the system at every opportunity, Tanzi sets after hunchback Moretto (Tomas Milian), a seemingly small-time criminal who may know more about the kidnapping, bank-robbing, prostitution and drug-trafficking racket around Rome than he lets on. Tanzi’s no-nonsense interrogation methods earn him a reprimand from his by-the-book boss (Arthur Kennedy), putting Moretto back on the street and out for revenge.
Also known as The Tough Ones, Roma a mano armata (Rome Armed to the Teeth) was first in a series of films directed by Umberto Lenzi starring macho moustachioed poliziotteschi icon Maurizio Merli as Commissioner Leonardo Tanzi, although frankly his kick-ass approach to crime-busting leaves him pretty much indistinguishable from Inspector Betti, hero of the pair’s previous cop film, Violent Naples (1976). Clearly audiences didn’t care what Merli’s characters were called, so long as they were shown beating brutal criminals to a bloody pulp. And that he does, pretty much non-stop, interspersed with random atrocities that serve to underline Tanzi’s theory that Rome has gone to hell in a handbasket because the system is too compassionate towards no-good street punks (“Crap like you ought to be put in a home and castrated!”)
Written by Dardano Sacchetti (who went on to pen horror scripts for Lucio Fulci) from a story by Lenzi, this basically extends the first thirty minutes of every Dirty Harry film into an entire movie, a series of episodic encounters where our brawny hero puts a righteous smackdown on assorted scumbags. A rich kid and his juvenile pals gang rape a woman as Lenzi zooms onto her big breasts to underline a sense of moral outrage (yeah, right). Smooth-talking drug pusher Tony (horror favourite Ivan Rassimov) gives his girlfriend a lethal dose of heroin when he gets bored screwing her. Needless to say, Tanzi gives both lawbreakers a right good kicking but the film proves a wearying cycle. Whereas Dirty Harry concerns a uncompromising cop protecting society from a psychopath, in Rome Armed to the Teeth society is itself psychotic and Tanzi’s solution is unsettlingly close to the final solution: kill everybody.
Merli’s impassioned performance makes Tanzi’s rage and frustration palpable but his endless rants decrying lefties, the press, politicians and those pen-pushers sat behind their desks tread perilously close to espousing a longing for the good old fascist days of Mussolini. Tanzi clashes repeatedly with his liberal girlfriend Anna, a psychologist who orders the release of two teenage thieves who are promptly killed by a truck during their last hit-and-run. This prompts Tanzi to berate his “idiotic” girlfriend in a crowded restaurant. Anna winds up getting kidnapped by Moretto’s gang and almost crushed to death in her car, in a sequence that is more or less a big, finger-wagging “told you so” to liberal do-gooders and foolishly compassionate women.
Tomas Milian’s nuanced performance makes Moretto almost sympathetic until the finale wherein the machinegun-toting loon hijacks an ambulance with a dying woman aboard and kills everyone in his path, confirms Tanzi’s suspicions he was a scumbag all along. Lenzi orchestrates the mayhem with brutal efficiency (a spectacular rooftop chase proves a suspenseful highlight), though once again appears to have lifted ideas from the superior French policier Peur sur la ville (1975).
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.