Cop films tend to come in several varieties, but, for my tastes, they tend to break down into two basic themes: either (A) the cop is fighting the system (think of Sylvester Stallone in COP LAND, or Al Pacino in SERPICO) or (B) the cop wears a badge but operates outside the system, always on the edge with his career and his life oft times hanging in the balance (think ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan as played by Clint Eastwood in DIRTY HARRY or in any of the other HARRY films, or Bruce Willis from any of the DIE HARD pictures). While the former breed of cop films tends to garner the critical praise, it’s the latter that draws the attention and general respect of the viewing audience, and that’s because if any of us found ourselves in a situation requiring the assistance of the police then we’d want a true supporter of justice (Dirty Harry) out there gunning for our safety. That’s not so much a political commentary on any legal system; it’s just that folks feel more secure in knowing that the police are going to stop-at-nothing to see villains, ne’er-do-wells, and dastardly devils definitively dealt with once and for all. Also, it’s easier to forgive the cop for tauntingly saying “make my day” when we know that our days have been made safer as a consequence of his actions, right or wrong.
Similarly, Director Ruggero Deodato embraces the cop ‘dark side’ in this signature 1976 release, LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN, which incidentally looks terrific as a result of the restoration process for this release from Raro Video. Kudos to all those involved in bringing this film into the digital age.
The story could be lifted up and mass produced directly from any cop thriller of this variety. Two officers, Alfredo and Antonio aka ‘Fred’ and ‘Tony’ (played with sufficient 70’s cool by Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock), have proven their effectiveness in “cleaning up the streets,” and they’re promoted to a secret task force which specializes in perfecting the body count with criminals. Eventually, they cross ‘Bibi’ (played with screen chewing aplomb by Renato Salvatori), and the rest of the film is essentially a cat-and-mouse chase (admittedly, an unusually violent cat-and-mouse chase!) of good guys versus the bad guys where neither side will sleep until the other side rests six feet under. It’s a simple premise, but that’s all it takes when the centerpiece here is action, violence, and a few buckets of well-placed blood.
Clearly, much has been written about LIVE LIKE A COP’s violence. Much like the original DIRTY HARRY, there’s a fair amount of shock value intended with this film. Apparently, some of the film’s original content was censored during its initial theatrical release. By today’s standards, some of that inhumanity seems passé (torturing a suspect, torching an entire parking lot of cars owned by criminals, sexually roughing up an uncooperative female witness, etc.), but the film still carries a lot of bite; in particular, I was a bit stunned with how one of the cops deal with the surviving cyclist from the opening sequence, and I think that’s when I knew I was in for a fairly wild, cinematic ride. I won’t spoil it in any way because, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense given the framework of these characters as they’ve been written and developed.
Cop-centric action aficionados have plenty to be thankful for with the release of LIVE LIKE A COP. For starters, the film starts with not only a terrific opening motorcycle chase, but also it’s a sequence that’s arguably one of the greatest motorcycle chases ever captured on film. That alone is no small feat in itself. Not only do these two dark horses ride together, they live together, sharing a single bedroom and, most likely, any woman who happens their way. (This is an Italian film, after all!) While dressing a bit dated (hello, bell bottoms!), Fred and Tony look a little too much like European underwear models for my tastes at being believable heavies, but they pull it off convincingly. Think of them as an international “Starsky & Hutch”; indeed, I wondered how much influence one property had on the other as the actors bear a reasonable resemblance to one another.
If anything, the film suffers from a bit of a laugher-of-a-conclusion where our heroes/anti-heroes aren’t really given an authentic chance to go out swinging properly. Imagine BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID without the gunslingers marching out into their ultimate showdown, and you capture only a hint of what awaits Fred and Tony, though it’s nothing so fatal. Again, I’m hesitant to give too much away because I don’t want to spoil it for any of the viewers, so I’ll leave it at stating that the ending as filmed was a bit of an emotional letdown. This is not to say it was inconsistent in any way; it makes perfect sense given what developed in the slim storyline. However, the visceral appeal of seeing the bad guys suffer at the hands of the good guys is central to the effectiveness of LIVE LIKE A COP, and I can’t imagine the American studio system greenlighting the film with its current climax because the two leads end up being deprived yet vindicated in a unique if not troubling last-second turn of fate that gives the film more ‘sleeper flick’ or ‘cult movie’ credibility than it does anything else.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to share that the people at Raro Video provided me with a DVD screener copy for the purposes of writing this review.