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20 Italian Crime Cinema Classics

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

In the early 70s, during the decline of the Spaghetti Western boom, Italian studios began producing crime genre films. The "poliziotteschi" genre was largely inspired by popular Hollywood hits of the day like Bullitt, Dirty Harry, The Godfather, The French Connection and Serpico. European stars like Maurizio Merli, Tomas Milian, Franco Nero, Luc Merenda, Gastone Moschin as well as American actors like Henry Silva, Lee Van Cleef, Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Richard Conte and many others got plenty of work in these exciting mafia and police themed pictures. Much like the Italian Westerns they provided audiences with an alternate take on their respective genre. One of the main differences between the American and Italian crime films was the increased graphic violence and how the police and criminals were depicted. The Italians clearly loved the Dirty Harry/rebel cop archetype and often the good guys were shown to be just as brutal and corrupt as the criminals. Also, during this time the Italian mafia were highly active for real and many of the films reflected the the contempt the Italian citizens had for the underworld and their destructive methods. As with most genres they dealt with, the Italians had to do things much bigger and bolder. These movies came jam packed with shootouts, punchups, kidnappings, car chases and robberies. We definitely can't forget their awesome soundtracks featuring music by such composers as Ennio Morricone, Stelvio Cipriani, The DeAngeliis Bros, Luis Bacalov, Francesco De Masi and others. This list features 20 of the GCDb's top favorite classics of the poliziotteschi crime subgenre.

More: Poliziotteschi: Italian Crime Cinema (Browse all) • Documentary: Eurocrime!Our list at Letterboxd

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Milano Calibro 9 (1971)

Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) has just been released from jail. His ex-fellow mafia members led by the loudmouth tough guy Rocco (Mario Adorf) are waiting for him. It seems that Milano mob boss Marcado (Lionel Stander) and everyone in his "family" think Ugo stole $300,000 of their money before being imprisoned but Ugo flatly denies it at every prodding or beating by Rocco and his men. Now he must try to clear his name before he's killed for betraying the mob. From start to finish this is the polizio genre at its finest. The first installment of DiLeo's Milieu Trilogy and DiLeo gem #1 on our list.

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Almost Human (1974)

Small time thug Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian) and his pals (played by Ray Lovelock and Gino Santercole) are tired of pulling petty robberies and living like dogs. Sacchi finally thinks up a sure fire way to be set up for life. This plan involves kidnapping the daughter (Laura Belli) of a wealthy businessman and holding her hostage. Meanwhile, Police Inspector Grandi (Henry Silva) is out to get Sacchi at all costs. A highly violent, thrilling work of Italian crime cinema that also went by the title The Death Dealer. TRIVIA: American actor Richard Conte was originally cast as Commissario Walter Grandi, but he died right before filming began; Umberto Lenzi stated that he worked hard to have Silva fit the role of a tough cop because Silva was more tailored to play villainous roles.

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Live Like a Cop, Die Like A Man (1976)

Inspired by the hit American TV show Starsky and Hutch, Ray Lovelock and Marc Porel play two young wreckless cops assigned to a special unit that targets the really dangerous criminals in the city. They are basically free to do things the way they want to get the bad guys, and believe me, they do. These fellas make Dirty Harry look like an angel. Easily one of the best polizios of the 70s. Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man was based on a screenplay by Fernando DiLeo originally titled Poliziotti si nasce poliziotti si muore (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Cop). This film was director Ruggero Deodato's only effort in the poliziotteschi genre and is one of the best.

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Mad Dog Killer (1977)

Four criminals escape from a maximum security prison. They are led by the "Mad Dog Murderer" Nanni Vitali (Helmut Berger) a psychotic, bloodthirsty brute. Nanni isn't out to hide, he's looking for some revenge and his main target is Barbaresci, the fatcat who sent him up for his prison bid. Nanni and the gang kill the guy in a brutal way then continue their roving reign of crime after kidnapping his girlfriend Giuliana played by the beautiful Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik). Vitali stands out as one of the meanest characters in Polizio cinema. Also known as Beast With A Gun.

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Wipeout! (1973)

Nick Lanzetta (Henry Silva) is a soldier in a mafia family run by big boss Don Corrasco (Richard Conte) and his associate Don Giuseppe Danielo (Claudio Nicastro) the man who raised him like a son. When a rival gangster Cocchi (Pier Paolo Capponi) seeks revenge on Danielo he figures a way to hit him the hardest: kidnap his teen daughter (who turns out to be a total hippie nympho!). Lanzetta gets caught right in the middle of his mob allegiances and all hell breaks loose. This movie is equally violent and funny in all the best ways. DiLeo gem #2 and the third and final part of his Milieu Trilogy. Also known as Il Boss.

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The Big Racket (1976)

Policeman Nico (Fabio Testi) swears to get the main boss running the drug and extortion rackets in the city. He decides to bring together the last survivors of the mob's attacks to take out the criminals responsible. The film takes a "Dirty Dozen" approach with the group of psychologically broken but angry victims working together to take their revenge. There's plenty of brutal action/violence, unique Italian charm/wit and colorful characters delivering some very funny dialogue. TRIVIA: Director Enzo G. Castellari said that while he usually shoots his films in English, he shot this one in Italian, to be dubbed into English later, because lip-synching in English was too difficult for star Fabio Testi.

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Contraband (1980)

Criminal Luca Di Angelo (Fabio Testi) and his older brother Mickey (Enrico Maisto) are forced to do battle with Frenchmen Francois Jacios aka the Marsigilese (Marcel Bozzufi) who wants to take control of the Naples underworld so he can bring his heroin into Italy. Il Maestro Lucio Fulci and the crime genre sure make a very violent and gory mix. Not for the squeamish! TRIVIA: The film's story was changed to include additional scenes of violence and to better pace the plot. On the second week of a ten week shooting schedule, the film's ran out of money and received funding by actual smugglers in Naples. The smugglers also made changes to the plot and title of the film.

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Revolver (1973)

Prison official Vito Cipriani (Oliver Reed) finds out his wife has been kidnapped as ransom to get an infamous prisoner named Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi) released. Only once Ruiz is freed Vito holds him hostage on his own so there's no errors in getting his wife back safe and sound. This doublecross drives the vengeful criminals to seek out Vito and get Milo back at all costs. TRIVIA: The film's theme "Un Amico" which was scored by Ennio Morricone was also featured in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009).

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The Italian Connection (1972)

Two NYC mob hitmen, Dave Catania (Henry Silva) and Frank Webster (Woody Strode) are hired to goto Milan and execute a small time pimp named Luca Canali (Mario Adorf) for stealing a heroin shipment. Meanwhile, Luca, who is actually innocent of the crime, tries to find out who is trying to kill him and why. A standout action sequence features a vengeful Luca apprehending a thug after his wife and daughter are run over. Hard boiled, action packed, brutally funny DiLeo Gem #3. Also known as Manhunt in Milan, Hit Men and Black Kingpin. The second part of Fernando Di Leo's "Milieu Trilogy" also including Milano Calibro 9 (1972) and Wipeout! (1973).

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Street Law (1974)

Mild mannered Carlo Antonelli (Franco Nero) is attacked by some thieves during a bank robbery and nearly killed. When the police decide to drop the case, Carlo, a man who has never been violent in his life, decides to take the law into his hands and seek his own brand of justice. A polizio classic that covers the vigilante angle extremely well. TRIVIA: 1) All of the interiors in the film were actually shot before the exteriors, so the wounds and cuts on Franco Nero's face were invented before the actual beating had been filmed. Enzo later had to coordinate the beating to match the makeup he had had on while shooting the interiors. 2) The film was released on VHS in the U.K. with the title "Vigilante II", an unofficial sequel to director William Lustig's 1983 film Vigliante. On the commentary for the Blue-Underground DVD release, William Lustig told director Enzo G. Castellari that "Street Law" was the inspiration for his film "Vigilante". This means the film that inspired the other illogically became its "sequel."

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Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (1973)

Frankie Diomede (Lee Van Cleef) is a high level mobster that gets himself thrown in prison to find a killer thats knocking off his fellow criminals. Meanwhile, a guy named Tony (Tony Lo Bianco) worships Frankie and tries to help him but gets tossed in jail as well. While the two are in the stir, they form a friendship while keeping their enemies at bay and plan a breakout. Co-starring Edwige Fenech, Jean Rochefort. Also known as The Cold Arms of Death, Escape From Death Row and Power Kill.

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Mr. Scarface (1976)

Tony (Harry Baer) is a small time collector for a loanshark that works out of a casino. When his new friend Rick (Al Cliver) gets stuck with a betting debt, his boss, a feared criminal named Manzari (Jack Palance) aka "Scarface" covers it...with a bad check. Tony decides to go ahead and steal the 10,000 lire Scarface didn't pay to impress his inner circle and show he has balls. What he doesn't take into account is that when Scarface finds out what he did, he'll be gunning for all of them. DiLeo Gem #4. Also known as Rulers of The City.

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Emergency Squad (1974)

Ravelli (Tomas Milian) is an Interpol agent who has been trailing the killer of his wife for several years. When he arrives back in Milan after an absence he is quickly pulled into a new crime investigation when a group of robbers, who pose as an Italian filmmaking crew, hold up a payroll courier and steal $200,000,000 lire. The group are led by "Marsiellaise" (Gastone Moschin) a calm, ruthless criminal who seems to know just how to execute a crime to perfection. Soon Ravelli is on their tail and the action goes into overdrive.

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Ricco The Mean Machine (1973)

Ricco Aversi (Christopher Mitchum) has just been released from jail after two years. His father was murdered by a mafiosi named Don Vito (Arthur Kennedy) and to make matters worse, the man stole Ricco's estranged girlfriend Rosa (the beautiful Malisa Longo) from him. Ricco soon begins letting all his friends know he's back in town and starts looking for some retribution. This movie has everything a good Poliziotteschi should: groovy music, hard hitting action scenes, sexy women and a great sense of humor!

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Kidnapped (1974)

A gang of psychotic degenerate criminals (Maurice Poli, Aldo Caponi, Luigi Montefori) who have just robbed an armored truck and killed several people in the process, kidnap a woman and force a man to drive them out of the city. This kicks off a highly volatile road thriller filled with ever increasing tension and sicko violence. One of Mario Bava's last (and best) efforts that delivers on all levels! Also known as Rabid Dogs (alternate cut).

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The Violent Professionals (1973)

When the chief of police Gianni (Carlo Alighiero) is murdered by an underworld organization, his friend Lt. Giorgio Canepara (Luc Merenda) seeks revenge on his own terms by going undercover in the mob as a getaway driver. If you're expecting a polizio with lots of over the top violence such as pool hall brawls and car chases, you certainly won't be dissapointed! This is another gem we highly recommend. Co-starring Richard Conte, Silvano Tranquilli, Martine Brochard. TRIVIA: In 2009 Empire Magazine named it #9 in a poll of the "20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen".

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Weapons of Death (1977)

Henry Silva plays a flamboyant, ruthless mobster named Santoro who is being tracked down by the ambitious Captain Belli (Leonard Mann). No matter what Belli tries, Santoro seems to slip through his fingers. Silva, a veteran of the polizio genre gives another standout performance as a sadistic, slimy gangster without a soul. A fast paced, crackerjack crime adventure filled with shootouts, car chases and Gianetto De Rossi designed decapitations. The score by Francesco De Masi is one of the standouts in the genre. For polizio beginners here's another title that we can say will make you an instant fan.

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Blazing Magnums (1976)

In this action packed murder-mystery, grizzled police officer Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman) finds out his sister Louise (Carole Laure) has died and becomes suspicious of the causes. The autopsy soon reveals she was in fact poisoned. This leads him to a doctor that administered a medication briefly before she died. When another murder occurs, Saitta begins a dangerous hunt to find out who is behind it all. A unique polizio that blends a giallo style whodunit with adrenaline charged action sequences. This movie also went by the more giallo-esque sounding title Strange Shadows in An Empty Room.

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Syndicate Sadists (1976)

Genre icon Tomas Milian delivers a memorable, eccentric performance as Rambo, a mysterious figure that arrives back in the city of Milan after being gone awhile. His first stop is to visit his old friend Pino (Mario Piave) a policeman who is working on a special assignment to take down notorious mob boss Conti (Luciano Catenacci). Rambo decides to assist Pino in his task even though he's not law enforcement and the two are successful in apprehending Conti. This leads to the ruthless mobster seeking revenge on Pino. With his own past ties to the underworld, Rambo goes to an old mob friend (Joseph Cotten) for guidance.

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High Crime (1973)

Commissioner Belli (Franco Nero) arrests a Lebanese drug dealer but during the ride to the police station the transport is bombed killing everyone but him. Not knowing who to trust, Belli tries to get information from a retired gangster (Fernando Rey) but soon finds himself the target of the ruthless criminals who set up the attack and infiltrated the local government. Another fantastic Nero/Castellari team up.

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