Saturday, September 16, 2023

#2,927. Killer Cop (1975) - 70s Euro Crime Triple Feature


The Italian title for Luciano Ercoli’s 1975 Euro-crime film is La polizia ha le mani legate, which translates in English to The Police Have Their Hands Tied. In my opinion, that is a lot better, and certainly a more appropriate description of the movie, than calling the film Killer Cop. Why they named it Killer Cop in America is beyond me. It is not only misleading, but also a disservice to what is a tense, intriguing crime thriller.

The police do, indeed, have their hands tied throughout Killer Cop. While searching the hotel room of an international drug dealer, inspector Matteo Rolandi (Claudio Cassinelli) of the Milan police is caught in the middle of a terrorist attack; a bomb, hidden inside a suitcase, explodes in the hotel’s lobby.

The young political activist who planted the bomb, a guy we later find out is named Franco (Bruno Zanin), tried to retrieve the suitcase before it exploded, and even warned everyone to run just before it went off. That’s because Franco realized, at the last minute, that he accidentally planted a much larger explosive than originally intended. Feeling guilty, the young man (who lost his glasses while attempting to get the suitcase back) hops a bus and rides it for a few stops.

When he gets off the bus, Franco writes an apology on a newspaper and leaves it in a nearby phone booth. Unfortunately for Franco, Police Inspector Balsamo (Franco Fabrizi) was also on this bus, and, noticing the young man’s nervous disposition, retrieves the newspaper, reads it, and immediately gives chase. Franco escapes, but not before Balsami gets a good look at him.

As the only person who can identify the bomber, Balsami is placed in protective custody, and takes up residence at the home of Armando Di Federico (Arthur Kennedy), the gov’t official put in charge of investigating the bombing. Unfortunately, Franco’s associates still get to Balsami, and he is gunned down.

Anxious to find out who is behind both the bombing and Balsami’s assassination, Inspector Rolandi, though not assigned to the case, does a little investigating of his own, all as Franco and his associates, Rocco (Paolo Poiret) and Falena (Valeria D’Obici), are somehow staying one step ahead of the law.

What Rolandi and Di Federico don’t know, however, is that there are greater forces at work, and a few individuals very close to them, government employees like themselves, might know more than they are letting on.

Along with acting as a time capsule of the socio-political climate in Italy the mid-‘70s, Killer Cop was also inspired by true events, specifically the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan. This brings a chilling sort of realism to the film, and sets the stage for what will prove to be an involving and very cool procedural, both from the perspectives of the law and the lawbreakers.

We watch as Rolandi ignores protocol to get a look at some important evidence in police storage, then enlists the help of a number of opticians, figuring that Franco, who is near blind without his glasses, will try to get a new pair at some point. We also sit in with Di Federico as he wrestles with both the country’s Information bureau (who are demanding to be included in the investigation) and his own conscience (for not better protecting his star witness, Balsami).

But director Ercoli also brings us into the world of the bomber, Franco, and his compatriots, who run into a little trouble of their own when they attempt to flee Milan. Ercoli and writer Gianfranco Gallgarich ensure that both sides of this story are given ample screen time before merging into one in the final act.

I also loved how Ercoli referenced other well-known crime films throughout Killer Cop. The killing of Balsami, from the area where he’s gunned down to the fact he was shot in the back, felt like an homage to the shooting of Don Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather (both occur while the intended victim was shopping for fruit at a streetside stand). Also, late in the film, there’s a scene where Rolandi is chasing down Papaya (Sara Sperati), an informant who purposefully misled him. Suddenly, a shot rings out. The way Ercoli frames this incident, then follows the gunman into the subway, reminded me of a similar moment (or two moments together) from William Freidkin’s award-winning The French Connection.

These cinematic tributes aside, this is a first-rate thriller with chases and gunplay aplenty, and will keep you poised on the edge of your seat.

Even as you’re asking yourself why the hell did they call it Killer Cop?!?
Rating 8.5 out of 10

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