The Tough Ones Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 9, 2019
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Police commissioner Leonardo Tanzi (Maurizio Merli) obsessively pursues a cruel hunchbacked criminal named Vincenzo “The Hunchback” Marazzi (Tomás Milián) and his dangerous gang as they wreak havoc throughout the Eternal City. (From Grindhouse Releasing’s official synopsis)
All Italian genre fads were known for poaching talent and cannibalizing concepts, but the poliziottescho or Eurocrime series moved forward at an especially alarming rate (with several dozen films released in about 12 years) and recycled plotlines and characters to a pace unheard of outside of the peplum (sword & sandal) boom of the ‘50s, aka: the original Italian genre fad. Umberto Lenzi’s The Tough Ones (Italian: Roma a mano armata; aka: Rome Armed to the Teeth, 1976) sat at the center of the movement, was made by and starred perhaps a record number of key genre figures, and generally exemplifies everything great and terrible about the poliziottescho.
The Tough Ones’ lineage is a glistening ouroboros of creative theft and insular politics of the Italian film industry in the 1970s. Lenzi’s film was designed as a sort of sequel to Marino Girolami’s Violent Rome (Italian: Roma violenta, 1975), which was itself a false sequel to Enzo G. Castellari’s High Crime (Italian: La polizia incrimina la legge assolve, 1973). In Castellari’s film, Franco Nero played Vice Commissioner Belli and, when neither the star nor the director would return for an official sequel, Nero look-alike Maurizio Merli (fresh off of replacing Nero in Tonino Ricci’s White Fang sequel, White Fang to the Rescue [Italian: Zanna Bianca alla riscossa, 1974]) was hired to play Commissioner Betti in Violent Rome. Violent Rome was followed by Violent Naples (Italian: Napoli Violenta, 1976), once again starring Merli and directed by Umberto Lenzi. Mere months before Violent Naples (at least as far as release dates are concerned – I’m not positive on filming dates), Lenzi reportedly took a spy script titled Rome Has a Secret from producer Luciano Martino and asked if he could turn it from an espionage story into a crime flick. Martino happily accepted his offer, having already been eyeing the possibility of making a poliziottescho. Martino and Lenzi hoped that the Rome location would draw comparisons to Violent Rome and hired Merli to play another police commissioner. They weren’t able to use the Belli or Betti names, so they settled on Tanzi.
Lenzi’s 30-year-plus career as a filmmaker was plagued by inconsistent quality, in large part due to the Italian industry’s impossible turn-arounds, tiny budgets, and hasty trends. Still, he was a trendsetter, if not an innovator. His lighthearted comic book adaptation Kriminal (1966) beat Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik (Italian: Diabolik, 1968) by two years, he made some of the earliest Italian-made Eurospy movies, his first thriller, Paranoia (aka: Orgasmo, 1969), helped set the tone for psychedelic gialli about a year before Dario Argento blew-up the genre, and he accidentally invented the Italian cannibal cycle with 1972’s Man from Deep River (Italian: Il paese del sesso selvaggio; aka: Deep River Savages, Sacrifice!, Mondo cannibale, and others, 1972). While he’s best known for the sadistic violence of his cannibal movies, his ghost would probably prefer we remembered that he was actually a quite skillful action director. He cut his teeth in this regard on the aforementioned Eurospy movies, along with a couple of war movies, and series of adventure films (which was the impetus of the cannibal movies), but the insane stunts of his poliziottescho were a better venue for his talents.
His first shot at cops & robbers mayhem was Gang War in Milan (Italian: Milano rovente, 1973), followed by the more popular Almost Human (Italian: Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare; aka: The Executioner and The Kidnap of Mary Lou, 1974). That was the director’s first collaboration with Milián as well and they worked together again on Syndicate Sadists (Italian: Il giustiziere sfida la città, 1975). The Lenzi/Milián Eurocrime movies tend to blend into one another by design, but, between Milián’s performance and the unhinged intensity of the action, The Tough Ones is a decent place to start and a nice sampling of everything the director and star could bring to the table. The (near) climactic car chase in particular illustrates Lenzi’s penchant for mayhem (it is honestly on the level of William Friedkin’s French Connection  chase) and Milián’s penchant for injecting irony into bleak situations. Merli’s appeal is a bit harder to quantify, especially for anyone not already acclimated to the greater context of the poliziottescho. Once known only for his passing resemblance to Nero, he grew into one of the era’s biggest stars playing Tanzi types, but these characters were rarely dynamic. Unlike Nero, whose collected demeanor draws from inherent charisma, Merli’s Italian Dirty Harry bit comes across as confused and petulant, rather than justifiably outraged. This is best demonstrated in a scene where he whines to a superior for ‘unfairly’ accusing him of killing a suspect, even though he actually did kidnap the man, drive him to the outskirts of town, and murder him in cold blood.
Frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti’s script takes a surprisingly long time for any semblance of plot to be established. Furthermore, the characters are treated like returning cast members, as if we’re meant to recognize them and know their back stories; which I suppose Italian audiences would, considering all the effort put into making faux Eurocrime sequels during the era. There is a nugget of a socially progressive message buried deep beneath the typical reactionary fascism seen in Eurocrime movies, but, not unexpectedly, the meaning is muddled by contradictory information. The Hunchback, for instance, is introduced as a sympathetic wretch who is framed and viciously beaten by Tanzi and his partner. Later, he is revealed to be another depraved criminal and, to further complicate issues, he gives a short speech about only committing crime in the name of the proletariat. Taken at face value, his politics are depraved and Tanzi’s politics are righteous, especially when everyone who disagrees with Tanzi is made to look like naïve fools when The Hunchback and other villains wreak havoc. For a more well-defined counterpoint, see Damiano Damiani’s poliziottescho, namely The Day of the Owl (Italian: Il giorno della civetta, 1968), Confessions of a Police Captain (Italian: Confessione di un commissario di polizia al procuratore della repubblica, 1971), and How to Kill a Judge (Italian: Perché si uccide un magistrato, 1974), which, like his westerns, tend to deal with corruption from an unequivocally left-wing point-of-view.
Italian exploitation has never been particularly kind to women, especially not Italian women, but the poliziottescho’s grounded brand of barbarism can rarely be rationalized as stylized or exaggerated, as the violence seen in gialli or straight horror movies tend to be. As a result, Eurocrime movies tend to feel more misogynistic than their exploitation counterparts, even though that feeling can be difficult to quantify, especially considering the sheer nastiness of something like Lenzi’s ultimate man-eating orgy Cannibal Ferox (1981). Here, the violence against women is designed for maximum outrage, in contrast to the more amusing and bloody violence of gunshots and fisticuffs. It’s meant to rile the audience in favor of Tanzi’s brutal retribution. While the nastiest parts tend to be left to our imagination, the randomness of the cruelty and its service to the male lead, rather than story, is pretty cringe-worthy.
That brand of offensiveness is, unfortunately, to be expected – what is unusual is that Tanzi is rarely even called to the scene of a crime. Instead, he tends to stumble upon lawlessness. At one point, a tertiary, unnamed character is gang raped and violated with a tree branch and Tanzi coincidentally drives by in time to chase down and attack the perpetrators. Later, he literally runs over a purse snatcher with his car, possibly by accident. Offensiveness aside, this all ties back into the key issues with the film’s episodic nature and the fact that the main character is basically a compulsive psychopath. With the right mindset, however, this becomes the entire appeal of the film. Tanzi is basically a vigilante superhero, though unlike Frank Castle (aka: The Punisher), he doesn’t have to do the legwork of actually finding criminals, because he has a magical ability to be in the right place at the right (wrong?) time. The arbitrary leaps from one mini adventure to another is less annoying if we realize that we’re basically watching a season of the Belli/Betti/Tanzi TV series in fast-forward, complete with The Hunchback as an ongoing big bad who is finally defeated to end the season.
Lenzi, Merli, and Milián reteamed for The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Italian: Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, 1977). Merli once again played Tanzi and Milián played a different villain named Luigi 'The Chinaman' Maietto. Then Lenzi and Milián reteamed again for a second sequel starring The Hunchback (reportedly based on at least two real-life characters) called La banda del gobbo (1978). Between The Tough Ones and La banda del gobbo (translation: The Band of the Hunchback), Lenzi and Milián also made Free Hand for a Tough Cop (Italian: Il trucido e lo sbirro; aka: The Numbskull and the Cop, 1976) and originated the character Sergio Marazzi, aka: Er Monnezza or Er Rubbish/Trash (he arguably had already played prototypical version of the character in Syndicate Sadists). Milián played Er Monnezza, a somewhat comedic, sometimes grotesque variation of Frank Serpico, and a very similar character named Nico Giraldi on and off throughout the rest of his career in Italy. Sacchetti and Lenzi worked together on Free Hand for a Tough Cop, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, and Ironmaster (Italian: La guerra del ferro: Ironmaster, 1983).
The Tough Ones was released on US VHS as Brutal Justice and Assault with a Deadly Weapon (famously as part of Sybil Danning's Adventure Video collection, via USA Home Video), but doesn’t seem to have ever made its way onto stateside DVD, not even on one of those grey market budget collections. Discs were released in Italy via Mondo and Nocturno, but the only English-friendly DVD came from New Entertainment World’s R2 German disc (only the limited edition has the English language track). Grindhouse Releasing had announced a LaserDisc back in the late ‘90s, but apparently never finished producing it, meaning that this new Blu-ray is North American fans’ first chance to see the film uncensored and in its correct 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Grindhouse has put a lot of care and attention into their 4K restoration, like they always do. Details are tight without any notable over-sharpening effects and grain levels haven’t been eradicated by unnecessary DNR. Action sequences aside, The Tough Ones is actually more cleanly filmed than most poliziotteschi, which helps punch up the clarity. If you’re really looking for it, you’ll see minor signs of compression, mainly slight posterization in softer details and slight bleeding throughout the brightest colors. Otherwise, hue quality is impressive and black levels are deep without pooling or crushing important detail.
Both the original English and Italian dubs are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound. As per usual, there was no synced on-set sound, so there is no official language track – all tracks are dubbed and often actors were speaking their own languages. In this case, most people seem to have been speaking Italian while filming, which makes sense, since Milián and Arthur Kennedy were the only two major, non-Italian cast members. The subtitle translations also feel more natural than the English dialogue. The Italian track is notably louder and it features slightly richer bass. Typically for this type of dub, the English track has clarity advantages and less high-end distortion during loud dialogue or sound effects. All things considered, I’d opt for the Italian dub this time. The music was supplied by Franco Micalizzi, who also worked with Lenzi on Violent Naples, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, The Greatest Battle (Italian: Il grande attacco, 1978), From Corleone to Brooklyn (Italian: Da Corleone a Brooklyn, 1979, also starring Merli), and Black Demons (Italian: Demoni 3, 1991). Essentially, the score is a series of variations on a main theme, which mixes surfy, Bond-inspired guitar, funky clav, and big, rich brass horns.
Disc one (main feature):
Commentary with Mike Malloy – The journalist and director of the 2012 poliziotteschi documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s offers up loads of behind-the-scenes factoids and supplies some greater context for the poliziottescho from social and cinematic perspectives. For the record, Malloy’s documentary covers the subject in even more depth and comes highly recommended.
All Eyes on Lenzi: The Life and Times of the Italian Exploitation Titan (1:24:04, HD) – Director Calum Waddell’s feature-length documentary concerning the bulk of the director’s career, focusing mostly on his exploitation movies. It features archival and new interviews with Lenzi, collaborators, and a litany of genre critics/experts (including Waddell). The title is in reference to the film Eyeball (Italian: Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro, 1975), because it was originally included with 88 Films’ Blu-ray release of that film.
Music for Mayhem (33:12, HD) – A 2010 discussion between Lenzi and composer/frequent collaborator Franco Micalizzi
Citta' Frpntale (22:01, HD, Mondo Italian/No Shame archive extra) – A look at the role that real-world Italian cities have played in crime movies since the early days of the region’s post-WWII cinema, plus a tour of the Rome streets from the film as they appear today.
International and home video trailers
Grindhouse Releasing trailer reel – Including trailers for as-yet unannounced (I think?) acquisitions, Marc B. Ray’s Captive Female (aka: Scream Bloody Murder, 1973), which we covered on our protoslasher podcast, and Peter S. Traynor’s Death Game (1977), which Eli Roth remade as Knock Knock in 2015.
Vintage VHS intro from Sybil Danning (1:32, SD) – As mentioned in the Video section, The Tough Ones was released in the states as part of Sybil Danning's Adventure Video collection and the cult actress’ original video intro is included here.
Disc two (supplements):
Umberto (55:31, HD) – More original Grindhouse interview footage with the director, who covers more or less his entire life in film, from childhood interest to education, professional life, and career resurgence, thanks to younger filmmakers and DVD/Blu-ray. Lenzi’s talking head is broken up with a collection of posters/behind-the-scenes images and scenes from The Tough Ones.
The Rebel Within (1:28:50, HD) – This is essentially a feature-length interview outtake with Milián, running even longer than similar extended interview documentaries, namely Giuseppe Sansonna’s The Cuban Hamlet (2014, 52 minutes) and Eric Zaldivar’s The Journey of Tomas Milian (2017, 54 minutes). Like Lenzi, he talks about his life from childhood to pseudo-retirement. I believe pieces of this interview were used for Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s (Malloy’s name as producer seems to back that up, too).
The Merli Connection (44:39, HD, Mondo Italian/No Shame archive extra) – A look at the acting career of Maurizio Merli, featuring interviews with famed directors (Enzo G. Castellari and Ruggero Deodato among them), professional fans, and others.
Back Story (5:54, HD) – Yet more archival interview footage with Milián, recorded in 2011.
Beauty and the Beasts (29:31) – A new interview with actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio, who made her debut as Anna, Tanzi’s girlfriend and the precinct’s juvenile court counselor. She shares stories of her experience filming and her co-stars.
Corrado Armed to the Teeth (45:17, HD) – In another epic interview, actor Corrado Solari, who plays Albino, discusses his small part in the film and includes some choice tales from behind-the-scenes.
Brutal City (14:12, HD) – Actress Maria Rosaria Riuzzi, who plays the rape victim, quickly walks us through her brief career as a Eurocrime damsel and sexploitation goddess.
The Rebel and the Bourgeois (19:05, HD) – Actress and Sandra Cardini, who plays Milián’s wife, fondly recalls working with Lenzi (a first!) and offers up some very sweet stories about Milián, who she worked with as a wardrobe supervisor/costume designer on this and other films.
Vodka, Cigarettes and Burroughs (39:31, HD) – Prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti speaks from behind piles of books and sticks mostly to his work with Lenzi, but veers off course a few times.
The Godfather of Rhythm (36:14, HD) – The final interview in this (whew) exhaustive collection features composer Micalizzi solo, taking the same route as other interviewees and walking us through his career/life as a musician and composer.
Promotional material galleries – Italy, Spain, Germany, United States, and ‘Miscellaneous’
Disc three (CD) and other supplements:
Franco Micalizzi's complete 17-track motion picture soundtrack, remastered in 24 bit/192khz sound from the original master tapes.
Liner notes by critic and author of Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 (2013, McFarland) and Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 (2015, McFarland), Roberto Curti
Limited Edition (2500 units) custom 30-Caliber embossed metal bullet pen
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