Color, 1978, 78 mins 17 secs.
Directed by Stelvio Massi
Starring Maurizio Merli, Janet Agren, Ettore Manni, Chris Avram, Massimo Mirani, Mariangela Giordano
Cinestrange Extreme (Blu-ray & DVD) (Austria R0 HD/PAL), Avo Film (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Launched as a budget-conscious headliner at the height of the Italian cop action film wave (poliziotesschi), mustachioed Maurizio Merli has since come to embody the cult subgenre perhaps more than any other actor after his big breakthrough in 1975's Roma violenta. In quick succession he made a string of classics like Violent Naples and The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, not to mention solid outliers like Mannaja. Merli, who would pass away very prematurely in 1989, was at the height of his cop cycle in 1978 when he made Il commissario di ferro (or The Iron Commissioner), one of the earliest of six collaborations with director Stelvio Massi, a match made in action movie heaven. With its very brief running time and smaller number of action set pieces than usual, this may not be the most epic of their films together but it still delivers a hefty amount of entertainment value with Merli in fine form as usual.
Likely taking its title from the previous year's Giuliano Gemma vehicle Il prefetto di ferro, this one kicks off on the right note with opening credits unfolding over loving shots of a movie theater showing The Swarm. Apparently delighted by their evening of killer bees, a young couple goes back to their car only to be accosted in slow motion by criminals wearing ski masks who toss them in the back of a car. It's all part of a string of kidnappings around town, and Commissioner Mariani (Merli) is on the case all the way to a nocturnal gas station shoot out that sends one thug barreling through the rollers of a car wash. Back at the office, his ex-wife, Vera (Eaten Alive's Agren), brings their son by just as a hostage plan is about to blow up at the station stemming from an arrest in Mariani's recent past. Soon it's a race against time on multiple fronts with these bad guys who mean business and aren't afraid to leave a few bodies in their wake.
Anyone expecting elaborate chase sequences and gun fights will find this a more muted affair, though you do get a fun pool hall brawl and lots of shots of Merli skulking around posing with his gun. Luckily the film never wears out its welcome and sports a strange, sometimes funky score by Lallo Gori, who scored everything from Four Times That Night to Werewolf Woman. Portions are in the usual jam family of composers like Stelvio Cipriani and Franco Micalizzi, but he also throws in some odd electronic shadings that give some nice flavor to the scenes of our hero exploring warehouses and frequently scouring the streets at night looking for culprits. On top of that the cast is peppered with some welcome familiar faces, most notably Chris Avram from Bay of Blood as the other main cop, the unforgettable Mariangela Giordano (a sleaze goddess from Burial Ground and Giallo in Venice among others), and spaghetti western and peplum staple Ettore Manni in one of his last roles. In short, it's a film that doesn't even try to upend the formula but should make Italian crime fans very happy.
As popular as Merli's films were in Italy, he never came close to breaking through as a big star in the U.S. with this film barely shown at all outside Italy. A 2004 DVD was in Italian only but at least gave the curious a chance to see it, while the soundtrack CD actually proved to be far more easy to acquire for years. Released under the German title Kommissar Mariani - Zum Tode verurteilt, the film hit Blu-ray from Cinestrange Extreme in a limited mediabook edition with a DVD included as well. Since there isn't much precedent for this one on home video, it's easy to say this is the best way to see this film by a long shot; the appearance is modest and in keeping with what appears to be a pretty cheap and drab aesthetic, with a fairly soft filtered veneer that nevertheless jumps way past the only earlier DVD option. The German dub and the original Italian track are included (the latter featuring Merli's own voice, a rarity in most of his crime films preceding this one). Optional German and English subtitles are included, the latter very welcome even if they have a lot of odd typos ("Just tell me whereto!") and strange turns of phrase like "You're addressing reproaches!" There's also an odd translation of utterances of the film's title as "Mr. Super-Cop," which could've been a fun name had this ever gotten an English-friendly theatrical release. The biggest extra is a lengthy gallery (33m3s) playing over the entirety of the film's soundtrack, which makes for great, groovy listening on its own. In addition to the newly-created German trailer you also get two bonus ones for American Rickshaw and three for Subconscious Cruelty. The mediabook also comes with a liner notes booklet (in German) by Leonhard Elias Lemke.
Reviewed on January 16, 2019.