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July 12, 2019

The Tough Ones

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Roma a mano armato / Rome Armed to the Teeth
Umberto Lenzi - 1976
Grindhouse Releasing BD Regions ABC two-disc and one CD set

There's a scene in Raoul Walsh's White Heat, where the manic gangster, Cody Jarrett, has escaped from the penitentiary with a con, Parker, who had attempted to kill him, hiding him in the trunk of the getaway car. Jarrett is a sociopath, but because he's played by James Cagney, he's the kind of gangster that the audience roots for in spite of themselves. The morning after the escape, Parker is still enclosed in the car trunk. From inside the trunk, Parker tells Jarrett that it is getting stuffy inside the trunk. Jarrett shoots several bullets into the trunk, in his words, to provide ventilation for his victim. While most contemporary viewers will probably chuckle at the black humor of this scene, in its time it was considered horrifying. I thought of White Heat and Umberto Lenzi's documented admiration for Raoul Walsh while watching The Tough Ones.

In The Tough Ones, Tomas Milian plays the part of Moretto, a hunchback who has thus far hidden his criminal activity. Moretto goes to a pawnbroker, with the premise of pawning some jewelry, and offers the pawnbroker to touch his hump for good luck, as according to the superstition. The pawnbroker declines the offer. Moretto turns around with a machine gun, shooting the pawnbroker, with the comment that not touching his hump brings bad luck. It's the combination of violence and cruel sarcasm that makes the character of Moretto appear inspired by Walsh's Cody Jarrett. Lenzi also adds a propensity for Roman rhyming street slang for Morretto. Moretto's gang of bank robbers are an especially nervous bunch, equally as ready to fire their machine guns at random targets.

Whatever filament of a plot there is concerns a Roman cop, Tanzi, searching for a criminal on the run. Tanzi is portrayed by Maurizio Merli, and is typical of many of his other film appearances, is that rogue detective who disregards bureaucracy, slaps around bad guys and asks questions later, and can be counted on for a high speed car chase. To his credit, Merli also does his own stunts including the driving. Tanzi encounters a virtual catalogue of the kind of crime that took place during the time The Tough Ones was made including the previously mentioned bank robbery, kidnapping, rape, purse snatching and illegal drugs. In his commentary track, Mike Malloy states how several set pieces in The Tough Ones are to found in other Eurocrime movies. Lenzi's film helped set the template for similar films featuring the names of cities in their titles, the various narrative elements as well as star Maurizio Merli's on-screen persona.

Of the many extras, one I found of interest was an older supplement by Michele De Angelis of the late, lamented DVD label, NoShame. A personal note here - NoShame was the first company to send me screeners when I first launched this website. De Angelis positions The Tough Ones within a history of Italian narrative films that documented the social changes in Italy following World War II. That Eurocrime thrillers would have a connection to neorealism is less of a stretch when one considers the influence these films had on Hollywood film noir. De Angelis goes on to discuss the influence of films such as The French Connection and Dirty Harry on the Eurocrime genre.

The Calum Waddell produced documentary about Umberto Lenzi's career is frustrating as there is nothing about his life prior to his career as a director, and does not bother mentioning films made prior to the thrillers with Carroll Baker. While Lenzi's giallo and crime films are his best known, I encourage those unfamiliar with the early works to check out Lenzi's official debut feature, Queen of the Seas, a costume adventure film about the female pirate Mary Read, and Lenzi's version of Gunga Din, Three Sergeants of Bengal. Hollywood veteran Arthur Kennedy appears in The Tough Ones as Tanzi's supervisor. If someone wasn't familiar with Kennedy, they would think the only film of note he appeared in was Lawrence of Arabla. Aside from multiple Oscar nominations, Kennedy had roles in a handful of film noir classics, notably Too Late for Tears. It may possibly be coincidence that Kennedy had also appeared in one film each by Raoul Walsh and another director Lenzi admired, Samuel Fuller.

It's the first supplement on the second disc, titled "Umberto", that I would consider required viewing. Umberto Lenzi talks about his life and career for almost an hour. In addition to Walsh and Fuller, Lenzi also names Otto Preminger and Robert Siodmak as part of the four most influential directors. Three of the four have directed key films in the history of film noir, with Fuller making a contribution as a screenwriter. The Fuller connection is more obvious in Lenzi's use of social commentary and also with the war films that Lenzi describes as being his most personal work. Several other film noir filmmakers are also cited, including Edward Dmytryk and that director's masterpiece, Christ in Concrete. There are also some brief clips from Lenzi's first film, made in Greece, Mia Italida stin Ellada. Lenzi is forgiven exaggerating is memory of working as an assistant on Raw Wind in Eden. The only person whose career really suffered from that film's failure was star Esther Williams. Lenzi offers a first-hand account of film production practices in Italy when genre films were imported around the world.

Additional information of genre production practices, as well as more specific information on the making of The Tough Ones is in the interview with screenwriter Dardano Sachetti. Supporting player Corrado Solari offers several humorous anecdotes. The still beautiful Maria Rosaria Omaggio talks about making her film debut under Lenzi's direction. There is also an hour and a half interview with Tomas Milian which includes discussing his time with the Actors Studio. In all, be prepared to set aside several hours on the supplements. And if an interview with composer Franco Micalizzi isn't enough, there is also the enclosed CD with the soundtrack.

As for information regarding the making of The Tough Ones, Lenzi recounts how he filmed the car chases on the street, in real traffic. The additional secret sauce is that Lenzi would have the camera run at 22 frames per second, heightening the sense of speed when projected at the normal 24 fps. A conversation with composer Franco Micalizzi offers more information on their several collaborations. Film historian Roberto Curti's booklet notes provide context regarding the real life inspirations for several scenes, as well as some background on the production of the film. Umberto Lenzi had an interest in history, as well as film history. It would seem in light of much of the material included with The Tough Ones that Lenzi understood that as a genre filmmaker, much like those directors he admired, that his work would receive greater appreciation by future film fans and scholars.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 12, 2019 07:02 AM