Appellate Judge Tom Becker once tried living like a Coppola, but the Fraud Squad killed that right quick.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man offers up a one-time only collaboration of four of the most significant names in '70s Italian exploitation cinema: Director Ruggero Deodato of Cannibal Holocaust fame; Writer Fernando di Leo, who wrote and directed some of the best crime films of the era, including Caliber 9 and The Italian Connection; and stars Ray Lovelock and Marc Porel, the leading male exploitation ingénues of their day. Lovelock—who sings the soft-rockish theme song here—appeared in classics (trash and otherwise) like Autopsy, Last House on the Beach, and The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, while Porel turned up in notable culters like The Sister of Ursula, The Psychic, and Don't Torture a Duckling.
Given its pedigree, then, is Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man an essential dose of poliziotteschi, or just a more-violent-than-usual bit of Eurotrash?
Facts of the Case
Alfredo (Marc Porel, L'Innocente) and Antonio (Ray Lovelock, Emergency Squad) are cops who make their own rules. Those rules include shooting suspects on sight, vandalizing property of people who might be patronizing a criminal enterprise, and generally doing whatever they think is best to try to deter crime.
Yes, the plot description's a bit light, but frankly, that's pretty much all there is to Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man. Di Leo, whose famous Milieu Trilogy offered complex characters and ever-twisting storylines, seems to be a coasting a bit here, while Deodata stays focused on creating dynamic action set pieces rather than a compelling story.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man opens with a pretty spectacular sequence: a pair of hoods on a motorcycle assault and rob a woman in broad daylight; however, our heroes, also on a motorcycle, witness this and give chase. This sequence—with a satisfyingly nasty punchline—runs 13 minutes and sets the tone for the rest of the film: fast, if a bit drawn out; gruesome; and strangely disconnected.
Di Leo and Deodato seem to be following the Dirty Harry template: trigger-happy rogue cop(s) dealing with a central story/case, with stops along the way for assorted and largely unrelated mayhem.
But while Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan films were focused and grim, and contained social and political statements, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man feels more like a bloody lark. It's violent and gory, but the tone remains strangely lighthearted; the central story, involving the cops' efforts to take down successful gangster Bibi (Renato Salvatori, Z) lacks a real sense of urgency.
What we have is a series of violent set pieces featuring a pair of actors who are just a bit too cute to be taken so seriously.
They might be living like cops and (perhaps in another film) dying like men, but the sense here is that they're playing like boys. It all seems like a game to Alfredo and Antonio—in fact, in one scene, they're actually playing a game in which they run around shooting at cans positioned near each other's heads, kind of like kids playing cops and robbers, only with real ammo.
It's really no spoiler to report that these puckish protectors of the peace consistently walk away unscathed; after the second or third audacious bit of derring-do, you pretty much know how this is going to go. It is a shame that neither Deodata nor di Leo did anything to help Porel or Lovelock create characters. They are just "the boys," cartoonishly handsome supercops without distinct personalities.
We never see them apart. They have no relationships besides each other. The boys even live together in a cheap apartment, like a pair of downmarket Jonas brothers. Contrary to what's suggested in an essay included with this set, there's really no homosexual subtext here, though that might have added an interesting element to the characters; instead, they're just good-looking devices without much inner life, and a little too coy to create the impression that they're dangerous men in a dangerous world.
As a series of set pieces, the film works quite well; any one of the actions segments could serve as a model of how to make an exciting sequence. Deodata might not get things like story and character, but his violence is top-notch. And even if Lovelock and Porel are a little too pretty to be gritty, their interplay is fun in a nonchalant way.
It's a shame, then, that Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man doesn't hold up better as a complete film. This was Deodata's only excursion into poliziotteschi, and while he gets it right on a surface level, he just didn't turn out a film that has the depth necessary to be considered a classic of the genre. The lack of interesting characters—heroes and villains—along with the less-than intriguing plot, put this on a lower tier than the films of di Leo or Umberto Lenzi, who made essential crime thrillers like The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist, Violent Naples, and the Tomas Milian sleaze classic Almost Human.
The disc from Raro/E1 is a pretty nice affair. The print is clean and good looking, and audio—English or Italian tracks—solid; the Italian is the way to go, incidentally, as the English dub is a little goofy. The disc contains an excellent supplement, "Poliziotti Violenti," a look-back at the film with comments from Deodata, Lovelock, actor Al Cliver (who turned down a role), and others. We also get a bunch of TV commercials directed by Deodata, and an insert that contains a one-page bio of Deodata by Robert Firsching of All Movie Guide, as well as a kind of clumsily written, anonymous essay about the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
OK, so it's not a genre classic, and anyone expecting the kind of iconic grue that Deodata served up in Cannibal Holocaust is in for a letdown, but Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is an undeniably fun, Saturday afternoon-type action film. The much-hyped violence is a bit tame by contemporary standards, but the action scenes are exciting, and it's overall a good time.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man might not be the finest example of an Italian crime film, but it's worth checking out. Raro/E1 does a fine job resurrecting this little-seen film.
A bit over-hyped, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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