Violent Rome: 70s Italian crime

Film Title

Violent Rome / Roma violenta (1975)


Angry cop goes “grrr” too many times, joins the private sector for free.


Marino Girolami


Maurizio Merli
Richard Conte
Silvano Tranquilli
Ray Lovelock
John Steiner


Did you find subtitles for this one?

French subtitles, again. Not sure if I’m getting more proficient at both Italian and French or forgetting the little I knew of either.


Subtitled or no, could you explain the plot?

Maurizio Merli stars as Betti, a tough cop that plays by his own rules and… well, that’s about it. Expect malevolent criminals, disagreeable superiors, injured partners and an escalation of comeuppances.


B-list American actors / have-beens earning a fast paycheck

Richard Conte plays a lawyer that has somehow got all the permits to create a vigilante force, one that can patrol the city at night armed with baseball bats. Predictably, he doesn’t quite win the hearts and minds of the local underworld. It was Conte’s next-to-last screen role (before something titled The return of the exorcist), and he’s punched and forced  at knifepoint to watch the rape of his twenty-something daughter. That’s what happens for not retiring with Don Barzini.


Typical examples of Italian scuzziness

Meh. Some fuzzy hairdos, and a heavy that, in my inebriated state, I liked to envision as Slavoj Zizek (no funny accent, though). I have to wonder: is there that much profit in stealing dusty rugs from a merchant? And there’s this guy’s idea of a sharp outfit, but it’s less Italian than a 70s thing:


Superfluous displays of Mediterranean misogyny

Nothing explicitly sexist besides the rape, which was little more than an excuse to show some boobs & bush following the flawless logic of the late Michael Winner. If the woman was spending a quiet night at home, why would she be clad in a fitting orange dress and wearing no bra? A couple of purse snatchers are karate-kicked by an old lady that is revealed as a transvestite cop, because in those days film producers didn’t believe in female cops mastering the martial arts, so there was no need to pretend such things actually happen. Merli has a couple of scenes with a woman, and it’s not clear whether she’s a fuck buddy or, you know, a would-be girlfriend he doesn’t have much time to spend with because he’s so devoted to his job and she deserves better than a neglectful relationship, which sadly it’s the only kind he would provide. So, a fuck buddy.


Random acts of sadistic violence

Let’s see…

  • Within hearing of some cuffed felons, Merli pretends he’s received some tips from another thug just released from custody. The next day, some “friends” push the unsuspecting chump in front of an oncoming bus.
  • Zizek throws a female hostage from a speeding car. Crackling with meanness, this fella!
  • A disabled cop in a wheelchair is kicked in the back and the stomach, then thrown to the ground and kicked some more.
  • Merli beats the crap out of a dozen scumbags through the movie, and you have to see him gritting his teeth to know he’s not kidding at all. I pity the extras.

That would be good enough, but wait for the dirty trick pulled by Stylish Shirt Dude during the kick-ass eight-minute car chase in the middle of the film. Rather than shooting at the pursuing Merli, the guy tells his driver to slow down a little so that he can mow down three children on the sidewalk and force Merli to stop! Sure enough, Merli hits the brakes and regards the scene for a few seconds, but needless to say he gets madder than before and eventually catches up with the heartless son of a bitch and plugs him four times…


Instances of South-European police incompetence

… which some goddamned judge interprets as an excessive use of force, even though the bastard was about to retaliate with his gun. Merli is put on suspension, has a chat with Conte and agrees to join his neighborhood watch. Isn’t it paradoxical that the same laws that we’re told to decry because they thwart the efforts of the police apparently allow for some benign rich lawyer to create his own private army and provide security for honest citizens? No, it isn’t, because it’s about forty years too late for the screenwriters to notice and attempt an explanation.


Body count

14. And the deaths of those kids were bloodless but on screen.


Is it any good?

Maurizio Merli in his first poliziotteschi! I was aware of his legendary stature among the fans, and the hype was deserved. In a way, once you’ve seen one Merli vehicle you’ve seen them all: it’s either “Roma” or “Naples” or the whole of “Italy” that is “violent” or “armed to the teeth”, but that’s no reason to refrain from looking for more. True, the man could only alternate between a stern visage and a pissed off look; however, with that mustache and the most forbidding frown I’ve ever seen on a leading actor, why would he need any more? Merli was a live action Rex Banner, implacable and humorless, and so damn macho as to become a parody of manliness, but it is impossible to overlook that half the time he seemed about to explode and it didn’t look like acting at all. His anger and outrage were genuine, and the most skeptic liberal would approve of his brutality, if only to convince himself that the guy at the receiving end of his fists or his gun truly deserved it. Which these movies are only too quick to prove.

Leaving aside the car chase, this one is cheap even by Italian standards of the day, and the loose plot amounts to little more than a bunch of vignettes hastily thrown together. Incredibly, in the last fifteen minutes or so it manages to reach an almost poignant conclusion, as Merli somberly reflects that his struggle is meaningless but he’s too entrenched in his ways to try to change. Violence doesn’t solve anything and only begets more violence, we’re told in a tone more weary than preachy, and it’s only a matter of time before our hero gets unceremoniously shot in the back. And yet, the film has enough sense to go back to a few seconds before and finish with a badass freeze-frame of Maurizio Merli walking on, ready to keep venting his private frustrations within the safe outlet of the silver screen; a laughable endeavor with diminishing returns, yes, but one he carried with disarming conviction before that heart attack at 49 saved his mythical figure from the dreadful Italian action comedies of the next decade.


Prog-rock or proto-Morricone?

The De Angelis brothers strike again, with a couple of lazy variations on the main theme and the rest of the tracks recycled from previous, slightly more expensive films.


About Miguel Sancho

Part-time engineering student, part-time postal worker, full-time failure man, Miguel Sancho hopes to escape one day from his native Spain, probably by means of an alcohol related death.

Follow Miguel at @miguelojsancho