Free Hand for a Tough Cop Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 28, 2023 (as part of Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection)
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, English
Run Time: 91:50
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Severin’s Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection five-movie set, which also includes Almost Human (Italian: Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare; aka: The Death Dealer, 1974), Syndicate Sadists (Italian: Il giustiziere sfida la città, 1975), The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Italian: Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, 1977), and Brothers Till We Die (Italian: La banda del gobbo; aka: The Band of the Hunchback,1978).
For a longer look at the careers of director Umberto Lenzi and actor Tomas Milián, please read my Almost Human review first.
A scheming convict known as Er Monnezza (Tomas Milián) is sprung from prison by a hard-nosed cop (Claudio Cassinelli) and the two team up to hunt down Monnezza’s former crime partner (Henry Silva), who has kidnapped a critically ill child. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
Free Hand for a Tough Cop (sometimes shortened to Tough Cop) is the official debut of Tomas Milián’s seminal creation known as Sergio ‘Monnezza’ Marazzi and, though not designed as such, a secret sequel to the previous year’s The Tough Ones (Italian: Roma a mano armata; aka: Rome Armed to the Teeth, 1976), because it fits the same continuity as that film, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, and Brothers Will We Die. In previous reviews, I described him as a grotesque parody of Serpico, while author/critic Roberto Curti describes him as “[polizotteschi’s] answer to characters played by Alberto Sordi in commedia all’italiana.” Being allergic to commedia all’italiana, I’ll take his word for it. The film begins with its credits running over an unnamed western film that is being screened for a rowdy, jeering jailhouse audience. The metatext gag is ultimately the best and most acrid joke in the entire movie, putting the previous generation’s fad in its place as no longer relevant to the leering criminals that make up a typical Italian film audience.
From here, Milián’s oddly ham-fisted approach to cynicism, as well as the comedy in general, is an acquired taste. What I personally find interesting here is that some of Lenzi’s direction reminds me of Enzo G. Castellari’s approach to crime cinema, specifically the use of dynamic framing over busy camera work. It still feels like a rough ‘n raw Umberto Lenzi movie, but the overall look is a nice contrast to Monnezza’s constant clamor. Poliziottescho fans are quick to note the similarities between Free Hand for a Tough Cop and Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs. (1982). Hill’s film, which paired an up-and-coming Eddie Murphy with Nick Nolte, is also about an odd couple team-up about a rigid police officer releasing a criminal from prison to take down a greater evil. While I can’t find any proof that Hill or co-writers Roger Spottiswoode, Larry Gross, or Steven E. de Souza saw Lenzi’s movie, producer Lawrence Gordon’s original premise did, apparently, also involve a kidnapped child, which might be one similarity too many to claim the parallels were a complete coincidence. On the other hand, Lenzi and Lucio Fulci favorite screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti’s script is too unfocused for Hill & company to have been ripped off wholesale.
The Nick Nolte role is filled by Claudio Cassinelli, who became a tough guy favorite, despite playing understated, borderline vulnerable characters in movies like Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Italian: La Polizia Chiede Aiuto, 1974), Luciano Ercoli’s Killer Cop (Italian: La polizia ha le mani legate, 1975), Mario Caiano’s Violent Milan (Milano violenta, 1976), and Fernando Di Leo’s Blood and Diamonds (Italian: Diamanti sporchi di sangue, 1977). Henry Silva is cast for type here as the lead villain, though there are so many cops and criminals to introduce that he doesn’t show up until around the 30-minute mark.
Blazing Magnums: Italian Crime Thrillers Vol. 1, edited by Tristan Thompson and Paul J. Brown (Midnight Media, 2006)
Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 by Roberto Curti (MacFarland & Co., 2013)
Free Hand for a Tough Cop has never previously been released on US home video, at least not officially. Lenzi fans had to import English-friendly DVDs from Germany. In 2021, limited edition Blu-rays were released in the UK and Germany (from Fractured Visions and Cinestrange Extreme, respectively). I don’t have either of those on hand for comparison, but wouldn’t be surprised if they utilize the same or at least a similar 2K remastered transfer to Severin’s US Blu-ray debut. This is the one film in the Violent Streets collection shot by Luigi Kuveiller and Nino Celeste, and their approach is gloomier than Zanni’s. Comparatively, the transfer is also a bit flatter than the others, but it’s only an issue as far as the texture during particularly dim shots is concerned. There’s also a bit of wobble throughout, either because the footage was warped or because the cameras were literally shaking in the wind.
Free Hand for a Tough Cop includes English and Italian dub options (as per usual, all tracks are dubbed and the film was shot without sound), each presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono. This disc is the opposite of Syndicate Sadists in that the Italian track is the louder and punchier of the two, while the English dub is a bit muffled all-around. The English language script is actually better than average in terms of naturalistic dialogue, at the risk of performance and lip sync, which are kind of dreadful. Other than Silva, who dubs himself again (few people can say “mother fucker” better than that man could…). One unfortunate choice is having everyone refer to Milián’s character as “Garbage Can,” instead of Monnezza or Marazzi. Bruno Canfora’s score is a fun pastiche of bygone spaghetti western themes, noir keys, and contemporary comedic funk.
In the Asphalt Jungle (3:46, HD) – Lenzi briefly discusses being brought onto the film by Milián and the double standards involved in critiquing the politics of westerns and crime movies.
Tough Guy Corrado: A Look at the Career of Corrado Solari (38:45, HD) – Actor Corrado Solari (“Thug with Brick”) talks training, politics, and runs down some career highlights, including an early appearance in Sergio Leon’s Duck, You Sucker! (Italian: Giù la testa; aka: A Fistful of Dynamite, 1971), Marco Bellocchio’s Slap the Monster on Page One (Italian: Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina, 1972) alongside Gian Maria Volontè, Steno’s Execution Squad (Italian: La polizia ringrazia, 1972) alongside Enrico Maria Salerno, and various films with Lenzi.
The Father of Monnezza (34:02, HD) – Screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti chats about his poliziotteschi with emphasis on the Lenzi pictures, creating the Hunchback and Monnezza, Walter Hill ripping him off, and Lenzi and the producers not understanding Monnezza, leaving Milián to pick up the slack and collaborate with Sacchetti to clean up the script.
Hand-Held Camera for a Tough Cinematographer (15:40, HD) – Cinematographer Nino Celeste shares stories of working with Milián on various movies, other members of the Free Hand for a Tough Cop cast & crew, and technical difficulties (I guess that’s why there are two cinematographers credited?).
Making Movies (12:10, HD) – Producer Ugo Tucci runs down his history with Lenzi and the making of Free Hand for a Tough Cop.
Extended jewelry store robbery scene, sourced from the original negative (3:27, HD)
English export trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.