Color, 1973, 99 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring Luc Merenda, Richard Conte, Silvano Tranquilli, Carlo Alighiero, Martine Brochard, Luciano Bartoli
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Wild East (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Quinto Piano (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
One of the most purely enjoyable Italian crime films of the 1970s, The Violent Professionals (originally titled Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia) has everything you could want in a poliziottesco title: a rebellious cop, fuzzy political cynicism, shocking violence, and rough and tumble car chases. The trend was still in its infancy when this opened in 1973 during an explosion that saw releases like High Crime, Revolver, Flatfoot, Gang War in Milan, The Boss, and Big Guns, and any single one of these titles would have been enough to make action fans giddy. This particular film benefited from some heavy hitters behind the camera, namely the dream team of director Sergio Martino, producer (and brother) Luciano Martino, and prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, not to mention uber-producer Carlo Ponti who backed Sergio and Ernesto's Torso the same year (which also featured this film's star, Luc Merenda, and the always welcome music of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis). If you ever wondered about the whole Italian cop film cycle and didn't know where to start, this one fits the bill perfectly.
Milan cop Giorgio (Merenda) is fed up with the rampant crime all around him, especially when a pair of grease-ball robber cop killers escape from custody on a train and ruthlessly kill a cute little girl in their getaway car. Giorgio decides to deal with them with extreme prejudice and ends up being chastised by his no-nonsense boss (Bay of Blood's Avram), who suggests Giorgio stop chasing high-level bad guys and focus on a robbery ring. After another sudden act of violence, Giorgio traces the mayhem to local mobster Padulo (obligatory American cast member Conte from The Godfather) and poses as a getaway driver to infiltrate his inner circle, which opens his eyes to a much more high-ranking and widespread corruption than he had expected.
With his '70s coif and slighter build, Merenda can be something of an acquired taste in action films like this compared to Maurizio Merli or Fabio Testi; however, he turns out to be perfectly cast here as he brings a wry humor and sensitivity to the role that contrasts nicely with the more shocking outbursts of violence. Like its peers the film is obviously inspired by recent U.S. hits like The French Connection, Bullitt, and especially Dirty Harry, but it definitely has its own tone and style. Martino brings plenty of energy to the film including its two major car chases, which feature some great kinetic stunts including an eye-popping bit involving a sideways vehicle and a tree. The film doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the violence (including one infamous bit involving a pregnant woman) but also manages to avoid wallowing in the bloodshed and sadism as well; the rough stuff is doled out just as much as it needs to be.
Though it was given a fairly respectable U.S. theatrical release, The Violent Professionals fared very poorly on home video for decades with fuzzy VHS-sourced transfers being ripped to a handful of bad gray market releases. The best of the DVD lot was a Wild East release in 2003 that was fully letterboxed and taken from a decent 35mm print, but it went out of print very quickly and started commanding insane amounts of money online. A 2010 release in Italy featured both the English and Italian audio options with a better transfer, plus optional Italian subs. Thankfully the 2018 Blu-ray release from Code Red blows all of those out of the water and marks the first availability of th film in HD anywhere, featuring great colors, fine detail, and no attempts to tweak with the inherent grain structure of the film. The central car chase halfway through has an odd technical anomaly with the footage from one of the cameras apparently suffering a bit of damage to the edges (it comes and goes from shot to shot), so that's a shortcoming of the original film, not the transfer. Both the English and Italian tracks are included (DTS-HD MA mono), and it's a toss up as to which is preferable; some scenes sync up in one language instead of the other, while a handful don't sync up to either version at all. The Italian one sounds classier and a bit more carefully mixed, but the English one is bound to bring a smile to anyone familiar with the voices of dubbed '70s Italian cinema. Optional English subtitles are provided, but they're dubtitles for the English version; in this case they're useless for the Italian version, which has spoken lines in entirely different places throughout (you'll frequently hear incidental lines in one track that aren't in the other at all) and often with wildly diverging meanings. Extras include the U.S. trailer and bonus ones for Almost Human and The Last Hunter.
Reviewed on May 25, 2018.