Color, 1976, 91 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Tomas Milian, Claudio Cassinelli, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Henry Silva, Robert Hundar
Fractured Visions (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Cinestrange (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
After dipping its toes into the cop films of Sergio Martino with its debut release, Silent Action, U.K. label Fractured Visions takes the logical next step of tackling Umberto Lenzi with this bullet-riddled golden era favorite originally released as Il trucido e lo sbirro. This one holds a special place in history as the cinematic debut of Tomas Milian's "Monnezza," one of the exaggerated personas he introduced to the poliziottesco and one he'd revisit to varying degrees in several later films like Brothers Till We Die and Destruction Force.
After one of the funniest fake-out openings in Italian cinema we're introduced to our antihero, Sergio Marazzi, a.k.a. Monnezza, a crude, cigarette-pinching, curly-haired prison inmate watching a spaghetti western with his fellow prisoners. During a bathroom break he's suddenly punched out and snatched by Commissioner Antonio Sarti (Cassinelli), who's taking very unorthodox tactics to close in on some gangsters who have just dumped a trio of kidnapping victims at a construction site. However, still missing is a little girl, Camilla, who has a kidney ailment -- and a rich daddy being extorted for a great deal of money. Monnezza will be crucial in pinpointing the main culprit, Brescianelli (Silva), who's just had plastic surgery to render himself unrecognizable to the casual eye. The carrot dangled in front of Monnezza is a promise to let him get back to his low-level racketeering without interference from the Marseille mob, but things get very complicated indeed as our odd pairing face off against a motley crew of ruthless criminals.
Thanks to the presence of Milian near the start of his exaggerated caricature phase (the same year as The Tough Ones and before he really went nuts with the Nico Giraldi comedy crime cycle), this one introduces more humor than was typical for the period. However, Milian mostly keeps it in check here and has you rooting for his character all the way to the clever ending, which finds a satisfying way to handle both of our protagonists without leaving you feeling short-changed. The film is also a feast of Italian character actors and movie in-jokes, with several familiar faces turning up throughout; it's also Lenzi at the peak of his crime movie powers, somehow churning out this, The Tough Ones, and his masterpiece Violent Naples all in the same year. Adding to the fun is an infectious and funky score by Bruno Canfora, which deserves a full soundtrack release one of thee days.
Probably due to its very Italian sense of humor and localized atmosphere, Free Hand for a Tough Cop didn't get much play in English-speaking territories outside the VHS and gray market circuit until it finally hit Blu-ray in 2021. The first out of the gate by a nose came from Cinestrange in Germany (as Der Schlitzohr und der Bulle) with the German, Italian, and English tracks with optional German subtitles, but the preferable option is the U.K. one from Fractured Visions. The 2K restoration from the camera negative looks pretty good and is likely accurate to the source, given that we don't really have much out there decent quality-wise to go by. The original Italian and amusing English tracks are both included in DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English (translated) subtitles, and both sound perfectly fine for what they are. Also included are two audio commentaries, the first with Eurocrime! producer Mike Martinez and the second with Troy Howarth and this writer; obviously they can't be evaluated here but hopefully you'll find them informative and enjoyable.
In "Cops and Robbers" (24m21s), the first of four Eugenio Ercolani featurettes, cinematographer Nino Celeste covers his career from the early days in the Italian new wave working his way up the ladder through his peak period with the likes of Lenzi (as well as his love of Disney). "No Small Roles" (28m36s) features actor Corrado Solari relating his own life story starting in Trieste and going through his gigs on a variety of spaghetti western, crime, and war films opposite actors ranging from Rod Steiger to Gian Maria Volante, with a big chunk devoted to this film of course. In "Producing Mayhem" (11m30s), producer Ugo Tucci recalls his own common traits with Lenzi, the inspiration for the Monnezza character, and his subsequent projects with Milian like Destruction Force by Stelvio Massi (a gig that ticked off Lenzi). Alessandara Lenzi turns up in "Portrait of a Daughter" (18m46s) to chat about her memories of her father, his great love for cinema that kept her on the road with him a lot, her times on the sets, and her mom's participation on the productions, as well as some of the location shooting for films like Violent Naples. In "Eurocrime: The Lenzi Way" (16m11s), Barry Forshaw offers an academic rundown of the film and its place in the "Years of Lead" poliziotteschi trend which often required a significant international star to travel outside Italy. (The original specs announced a featurette called "Monnezza's Machine" by Francesco Massaccesi, which apparently got dropped somewhere along the line.) Finally the disc rounds out with the subtitled Italian trailer, the English VHS trailer, and the English VHS credits. Limited to 3,000 units, the slipcase edition also comes with six art cards and a booklet featuring an essay by Austin Fisher and a text interview by Ercolani with Lenzi. Note that for some bizarre reason, loading up the disc forces you to sit through a lengthy textless menu screen with music for about 90 seconds before the menu proper comes up. Just go grab a soda or something while it plays out and then come back when it's ready.
Reviewed on December 17, 2021.