Grindhouse Releasing: The Tough Ones (1976) - Reviewed

The first time I became familiar with the late Italian provocateur Umberto Lenzi, who sadly left our world in 2017, was through his wildly notorious Cannibal Ferox.  Dubbed the ‘most violent film ever made’ by the American distributor and quickly branded in the UK as a ‘video nasty’, the controversy engendered by his film for a while was all most American filmgoers knew of the diverse jack of all trades whose talents extended to screenwriting and writing novels.  Credited as the first man to direct an Italian cannibal film with Man from the Deep River, his untimely death generated renewed interest in his life’s work and soon many of his long sought-after pictures began resurfacing in deluxe special editions including his zombie apocalypse freak out Nightmare City.

What I was unaware of, however, was where the prolific writer-director’s true vocation lied.  Though he often directed giallo, erotic thrillers and pictures for the spy genre, I quickly learned with Grindhouse Releasing’s limited-edition reissue of The Tough Ones his true calling was the Poliziotteschi film.  Poliziotteschi, or police-related film (Euro-crime and Italo-Crime also apply), generally concerned a brutally violent hard-boiled cop thriller heavy on action including but not limited to car chases, rogue policemen fighting an uphill battle against a politically correct by-the-book police system and generally labyrinthine detective story. 

Though this wasn’t my first Poliziotteschi film, with The Suspicious Death of a Minor neatly treading a fine line between poliziotteschi and giallo, this was the first time seeing Lenzi’s work in the genre.  To say that he excelled at the Poliziotteschi picture with The Tough Ones being among the best examples of the genre would be putting it mildly.  Though Lenzi was no stranger to the genre, having directed a wealth of them throughout the 1970s, it is The Tough Ones which many consider to be his masterpiece of the genre.

Starring poliziotteschi regular Maurizio Merli (Fear in the City; Violent Rome), The Tough Ones is a sharp-edged, intensely violent and ultimately compelling cop thriller concerning Commissioner Tanzi (Merli), a tough cop tailing a hunchbacked criminal named Vincenzo Moretto (Tomas Milian) who operates as a butcher by day before becoming a ruthless crimelord at night.  Seemingly every recent string of robberies, rapes and murders in Rome are tied to Moretto and Commissioner Tanzi will stop at nothing to bring him to justice, even if the justice system itself repeatedly sandbags his attempts.

Written by frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti and scored by poliziotteschi regular Franco Micalizzi, The Tough Ones is a shining example of pure cinematic craftsmanship.  Exciting, shocking, thrilling and wildly entertaining, the film was originally born out of a director-for-hire task presented to Lenzi in the form of a script called Rome Has a Secret.  Deeming it nonsensical and junking the script, Lenzi with Sacchetti approached producers Mino Loy and Luciano Martino (brother to the great Sergio Martino) with the idea of making a poliziotteschi about widespread violence brewing through Rome and within a week Lenzi and Sacchetti turned over The Tough Ones.

Originally released in Europe under the title Rome Armed to the Teeth before being censored for American release with newly added shots of New York City with the title Brutal Justice followed by a second reedit with the title Assault with a Deadly Weapon, The Tough Ones remained unavailable to foreign consumers in its original Italian form until now thanks to Grindhouse Releasing.  Seen now after his aforementioned cannibal and zombie features, The Tough Ones displays the late director’s true passion for and mastery of the poliziotteschi genre and remains one of the most intense action-packed crime thrillers to ever come out of Italy in the 1970s!  If you were to ask what exactly a poliziotteschi film is, look no further than The Tough Ones!

- Andrew Kotwicki