Rogue Cops and Racketeers

The Italian film industry having demonstrated in the sixties how it could adapt to trends and produce films of wide commercial appeal quickly, cheaply and in great number with their “spaghetti Westerns,” the seventies brought that same approach to their “poliziottesco” genre, police thrillers created with the same bold and brash approach now celebrated by Arrow in two films directed by Enzo G Castellari gathered under the title Rogue Cops and Racketeers.

Released in 1976 and set in Rome, taking full advantage of the sunshine, locations and architecture of that historical city, The Big Racket (Il grande racket) is unflinching in its depiction of the methods employed by an organised criminal group extorting cash from shopkeepers, threatening them and their children, interfering with their business, smashing their goods and setting their premises on fire if the terrified owners do not pay the demanded protection money.

Determined to break the gang are Inspector Nicola Palmieri and his partner Sergeant Salvatore Velasci (Fabio Testi and Salvatore Borghese), struggling with the reluctance of any of those impacted to testify for fear of repercussions and having to adapt their methods to become as ruthless as those they are seeking the prosecute, leading to Palmieri first being removed from the case then dismissed from the force entirely.

Many of the cast, Testi among them, former stunt performers, the action is frequent as the police in their silly little cars lose control of the situation and as The Big Racket turns into a shooting war Palmieri gathers a fractious group of vigilantes whose need to avenge their wrongs outweighs self-preservation as one bloody ambush leads to another and an explosive finale.

Released the following year, The Heroin Busters (La via della droga, more literally The Drug Route) expands the scope with brief scenes set in Cartagena, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and New York but once again Rome is at its heart, establishing the flow of the narcotics trade and the endeavours of officer Mike Hamiliton (David Hemmings) to break the chain locally and so disrupt it globally.

His inside man is Fabio (Testi), posing as an ambitious courier seeking to establish himself in the network while actually working to locate and identify the ringleaders, clandestinely reporting back to Hamilton while placing himself in danger both of being uncovered and of being mistaken for a genuine smuggler and shot by the police in a plot of audacious plans and improvisations.

Once again relying on Testi’s ability as an action hero, he runs, jumps, climbs and tumbles at any opportunity and has no qualms about using underlings to achieve his goals or even as human shields in a gunfight, and again Castellari orchestrates a finale unexpected yet in keeping with the over-the-top expectation established throughout The Heroin Busters.

With many of the same cast and crew serving on both films the supporting features on each disc of Rogue Cops and Racketeers include interviews with recollections from Castellari and Testi, the director covering the ensemble whom he regarded and friends and his collaborative approach which encouraged spontaneity in performances and the actor considering the wider context of social conditions and Italian politics which informed the works, as well as trailers, galleries, commentaries, interviews with other actors and crew and an appreciation of the soundtracks.

Rogue Cops and Racketeers is available on Blu-ray now from Arrow films



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