Color, 1976, 93 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Maurizio Merli, Tomas Milian, Arthur Kennedy, Giampiero Albertini, Ivan Rassimov, Stefano Patrizi
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The gun-blazing mayhem of that particularly violent strain of Italian cop movie known as the poliziottesco is filled with hard-hitting gems, but there's something really special about the alchemy generated by director Umberto Lenzi, star Maurizio Merli, and composer Franco Micalizzi in a quartet of blistering favorites including Violent Naples, From Corleone to Brooklyn, and The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist. Then we have The Tough Ones, originally released in Europe as Rome Armed to the Teeth and also known in its edited U.S. form as Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Brutal Justice. A favorite from its VHS release as part of Sybil Danning's Adventure Video, it has never had a complete, widescreen release in the U.S. until its eye-popping three-disc edition in 2019 from Grindhouse Releasing, the most insanely elaborate treatment of any Italian crime film to date.
A moral rot is eating away at the populace of Rome, and no one can see it more clearly than Commissioner Tanzi (Merli), who's not above a high-speed car chase or public gunfight to take out the bad guys. Tanzi's methods are met with a mixed response back at the office, with the chief of police (Kennedy at his crustiest) indignant at all the rule-breaking brutality and Commissioner Caputo (Albertini) feeling a bit more sympathetic to the constant plague of junkies, pushers, and juvenile delinquents wreaking havoc every single day. As it turns out, all roads seem to lead to the hunchbacked Vincenzo Moretto (Milian), an unhinged criminal mastermind who moonlights as a butcher and has his fingers in every illegal pie around town. With the two men locked in a deadly dance, who will come out on top in the end?
Anchored by a typically stoic performance by Merli and an absolutely outlandish, unforgettable one by Milian (the deranged bullet-eating scene is a keeper), The Tough Ones is pure crime movie bliss with a string of episodic encounters that keep you on your toes, including a borderline psychedelic, druggy interlude with Ivan Rassimov that feels like it stumbled in from a different movie. Once again Micalizzi proves to be a heavy hitter here with an infectious, hard-driving score loaded with hooks that will lodge in your brain for hours, and the scenery of mid-'70s Rome is worth the price of admission all by itself.
The Grindhouse release is completely uncut and looks extremely impressive thanks to a new 4K scan that brings out a very healthy amount of detail, far surpassing any past release and looking very satisfying throughout. Colors are vivid and often beautiful, too, including those lime green cars and the bright red band on Milian's cap. Both the English dub and the Italian version (with optional translated English subtitles) are presented in DTS-HD MA mono mixes and sound great; the Italian track is far superior since that's the language nearly all the actors were speaking, but the dub has its wacko charms as well with a fair share of quotable dialogue ("Crap like you oughta be taken home and castrated!"). The film can also be played with a new audio commentary by Eurocrime! director Mike Malloy, who's chock full on info about the differences in the American version (which featured radically different credits with Anglicized names and omitted most of the entire opening 10 minutes), the joys of the score by Micalizzi ("one funky Italian"), the appeal of Merli's frequently interchangeable cop characters, the weirdness of Milian and Merli playing the same characters in multiple other films, the importance of the English-language voice actors, and tons more. Also on the first disc is All Eyes on Lenzi: The Life and Times of the Exploitation Titan (94m4s), a feature-length documentary by Calum Waddell featuring interviews with and about the venerable filmmaker with contributors including Giovanni Lombardo Radice, John Martin, Mikel Koven, Rachel Nisbet, and Danilo Mattei chatting about his genre-hopping abilities and impact on the thirst for sexy, violent entertainment from the '60s onward. Then "Music for Mayhem" (33m12s) features a reunion between Lenzi and Micalizzi in Rome in 2010 strolling down memory lane about their first meeting, working with Milian, a funny aside about Rambo, and the role the scores played in some of the strongest action scenes as well as the influences of everything from Neapolitan to Chinese music. "Citta Frontale: Roma on Location" (22m1s) is an archival piece by NoShame for Italian DVD covering the evolution of Rome on film from neorealism to the bullet-riddled heights of the 1970s, including considerable coverage of the locales seen in this film. Finally you get an international trailer (as The Tough Ones), the Sybil Danning VHS intro, a VHS trailer (as Assault with a Deadly Weapon), and bonus trailers for Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Massacre Mafia Style, Gone with the Pope, Pieces, Scum of the Earth, The Beyond, Cat in the Brain, An American Hippie in Israel, Corruption, The Swimmer, The Big Gundown, I Drink Your Blood, Captive Female (a.k.a. Scream Bloody Murder) Death Game, and Ice House.
Then it's on to the second disc, a Blu-ray dedicated entirely to bonus features. "Umberto" (55m31s) is a new Freak-o-Rama interview with the director about his career from film school onward; as usual he's prone to boasting and colorful storytelling that's entertaining to hear and should probably be taken with a grain of salt. The opening section on his early career is especially fascinating with a focus on projects that usually don't get covered in overviews about his path to becoming a director. Then Milian appears in "The Rebel Within" (88m50s), a sprawling overview of his life and career from his turbulent upbringing through his path to acting (and the military) as a way of escaping his reality including his time at the Actors Studio and his landmark European cinema career. The fact that both Lenzi and Milian died within months of each other in 2017 makes both of these even more valuable as a record of their achievements and full life stories. A brief "Back Story" (5m54s) chat with Milian in Miami is included as well. "The Merli Connection" (44m39s) is a NoShame DVD featurette saluting the late actor with Enzo G. Castellari, Ruggero Deodato, Antonio Tentori, Marco and Antonio Manetti, and Merli's son recalling their time with the beloved action icon; though over padded with clips, it's a warm and frequently illuminating snapshot of the actor from several different perspectives. Then actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio appears in "Beauty and the Beasts" (29m31s) to discuss her "precious experiences" with Lenzi and the lessons she learned about acting on camera including the use of those huge glasses she occasionally wears in the film. "Corrado Armed to the Teeth" (45m17s) spotlights actor Corrado Solari for a lengthy reminiscence about Lenzi, Italian crime character acting, co-stars like Henry Silva, and of course his own impressions of Merli. Up next is actress Maria Roasioa Riuzzi in "Brutal City" (14m12s) to discuss his start in the classic Profuma di Donna and her notable film and commercial appearances including a variety of comedy and action films; it's definitely more casual than the one she did a little earlier for Emanuelle and Francoise. "The Rebel and the Bourgeois" (19m5s) features actor and costume designer Sandra Cardini going into her entry into acting via Milian and her reliance on the "joy of youth" and her natural Roman accent, while omnipresent screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti appears in what seems like his 20th interview this year in "Vodka, Cigarettes and Burroughs" (39m31s) focusing on his collaborations with Lenzi both professionally and socially from the film Manhunt in the City onwards. Last and most definitely not least comes MIcalizzi for "The Godfather of Rhythm" (36m14s), a welcome look at his journey to becoming a composer from his singer mother to his musical training, his rock 'n' roll evening gigs, and his big breakthrough with the score for They Call Me Trinity before launching into jazz and funk-fueled crime films and his popular tearjerker scores. Image galleries are also included divided into promotional materials (Italy, Spain, Germany, U.S.) and miscellaneous (mostly soundtracks). As usual with Grindhouse, be sure to play around with the menus to find some hidden goodies including the Italian featurette "Vita a Mano Aramta: The Legend of the Hunchback of Quarticciolo" (16m45s), an ode to the late Sage Stallone (4m13s), and a quick little Murawskian Milian outtake (57s). The substantial slipcover packaging also comes with in-depth liner notes by Roberto Curti, a soundtrack CD for Micalizzi's essential score, and in a limited bonus touch, a custom 30-caliber metal bullet pen limited to 2,500 units.
In 2021, 88 Films brought Lenzi's epic to the U.K. Blu-ray in a two-disc set with a limited edition featuring a rigid slipcase with new art by Thomas Walker, a 40-page book featuring a Lenzi interview by Eugenio Ercolani, and a double-sided fold-out poster. Disc one features the movie itself (looking identical to the excellent U.S. presentation) with DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono English and Italian tracks with optional subtitles, the Mike Malloy commentary, the trailer, and alternate Italian credits sequence, but from there things diverge completely with a new slate of extras. Kim Newman and Sean Hogan provide a new audio commentary in which they take a lighthearted look at the ins and outs of the Italian cop film, the traits shared with American counterparts, the significance of using particular cities in the titles, Merli's career and cinematic significance, and tons more. Eugenio Ercolani provides a whopping seven new featurettes, some with participants on the previous release but in solid new interviews here: "Standing Out" (17m46s) with Solari, "Funk and Violence" (26m57s) with Micalizzi, "Men of Violence" (20m11s) with Omaggio, "A Family Affair" (25m9s) with Maurizio Matteo Merli, "Fast and Furious" (11m52s) with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, "Budy’s Story" (10m9s) with Cannibal Ferox composer Roberto Donati about his song written for the film and his background in the Italian music biz, and "Armed to the Teeth" (30m55s) with the late Lenzi in fine form chatting about noir, crime films, and his own approach to cop action. Disc features a nice bonus as well: the American Brutal Justice version by Aquarius Releasing, which clocks in at 82m57s and features some bizarre Pink Panther-style cartoon main titles. Taken from an archival print in pretty good shape, it obviously looks inferior to the main version but is great to have here for posterity as an example of how this first hit U.S. shores. Also on the disc is "Aquarius Releasing: An Appreciation" (29m1s) with Malloy offering an appraisal of the exploitation outfit's tactics of repurposing their acquisitions in sometimes outrageous methods well into the 1980s, with plenty of mileage gotten out of this one along with countless kung fu and horror movies. It also goes into their more progressive aspects, such as giving black filmmakers a bigger platform than the majors would have afforded at the time. Great stuff, and another reason to have both releases sitting proudly on your shelf.
88 Films (Blu-ray)
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray)
Updated review on December 1, 2021