A team of professional thieves converges on a Roman bank in the middle of the business day, quietly sending signals to one another as they case the joint and prepare for an audacious robbery. Two rogue cops with feathered hair, looking like Italy’s answer to Starsky and Hutch, have the drop on them. Rather than setting up a sting operation or calling for backup, the cops simply attach silencers to their pistols and blow the thieves away, no matter that they haven’t yet committed a crime. So it goes with Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man, an agreeably sinister 1976 Italian exploitation film that picks apart the buddy-cop genre a full decade before it rose to prominence in Hollywood. As the handsome, blithely destructive partners, Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock show what really happens when cops play by their own rules—they’re reckless, pathological, and only slightly less a menace to society than the thugs they’re pursuing.
Written by Italian crime-picture maestro Fernando Di Leo and directed by Ruggero Deodato, who won infamy (and censorship) a few years later with Cannibal Holocaust, Live Like A Cop eventually gets around to Porel and Lovelock’s pursuit of a criminal mastermind, but it’s more episodic than typical genre fare. Opening with a thrilling motorcycle chase through the streets of Rome—the shoot was reputedly unauthorized—the film mostly follows these cops as they go about their business, shaking down lowlifes, tag-teaming beautiful women, and conducting absurdly risky operations that put ordinary citizens in harm’s way. They more than meet their match in a crime boss (Renato Salvatori) who’s every bit as sadistic as they are, but considerably smarter.
Deodato and Di Leo keep a distance from their smug antiheroes: They don’t explicitly condemn these bad boys for their behavior, but they don’t glamorize them, either. Instead, they let their actions speak for themselves. Porel and Lovelock are hollow men—a couple of dicks, as Kevin Smith might call them before a studio could intervene—and the film gleans dark laughs from their brazenness and utter disconnect from safety or morality. Of course, this being from the director of Cannibal Holocaust, Live Like A Cop has blood on its hands, and plenty of it—one prominent reason it refrains from passing judgment on violence may be its giddiness in supplying it. Like prime Times Square trash, the film marinates in amorality.
Key features: A 42-minute documentary, “Poliziotti Violenti,” features interviews with Deodato and other members of the cast and crew, and it situates the film within the popular Italian actioners of the day. Also included are 20 minutes of Deodato’s TV spots, with commentary by the director.