Poliziotteschi (Italian pronunciation: [polittsjotˈteski]; plural of poliziottesco) constitute a subgenre of crime and action films that emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s. They are also known as Italo-crime, Euro-crime, poliziesco, spaghetti crime films, or simply Italian crime films. Influenced by both 1970s French crime films and gritty 1960s and 1970s American cop films and vigilante films, poliziotteschi films were made amidst an atmosphere of socio-political turmoil in Italy and increasing Italian crime rates. The films generally featured graphic and brutal violence, organized crime, car chases, vigilantism, heists, gunfights, and corruption up to the highest levels. The protagonists were generally tough working class loners, willing to act outside a corrupt or overly bureaucratic system.[1]

Etymology of the noun

In Italian, poliziesco is the grammatically correct Italian adjective (resulting from the fusion of the noun polizia "police" and the desinence -esco "related to", akin to the English "-esque") for police-related dramas, ranging from Ed McBain's police procedural novels to forensic science investigations. Poliziesco is used generally to indicate every detective fiction production where police forces (Italian or foreign) are the main protagonists.

Instead the term poliziottesco, a fusion of the words poliziotto ("policeman") and the same -esco desinence, has prevailed (over the more syntactically-correct Poliziesco all'Italiana) to indicate 1970s-era Italian-produced "tough cop" and crime movies. The prevalence of Poliziottesco over Poliziesco all'Italiana closely follows the success of the term Spaghetti Western over Western all'Italiana, being shorter and more vivid – though in both instances the term that has come to be used more frequently by English-speaking fans of the genre (poliziotteschi, Spaghetti Westerns) was originally used pejoratively by critics, to denigrate the films themselves and their makers.


Although the subgenre has its roots in Italian heist films of the late 1960s, such as Bandits in Milan (Banditi a Milano, 1968) by Carlo Lizzani, it was also strongly influenced by such rough-edged American police thrillers of the late 1960s and early 1970s as Bullitt, Dirty Harry, The French Connection, Magnum Force, and Serpico; the 1970s wave of American vigilante films, including 1974's Death Wish; the increase of cynicism and violence in French crime films; the resurgence of mob films in the wake of The Godfather; French and American noir and neo-noir films; and the rise of exploitation films in the late 1960s and 1970s. More generally, the genre was also heavily influenced by real-life crime and unrest in 1970s Italy during the period known as the anni di piombo (political violence, kidnappings, assassinations, bank robberies, political militant terrorism, impending oil crisis, political corruption, organized crime-related violence, and recession).

Just as American police films, American crime thrillers, and American vigilante films of the time focused on the crime waves and urban decline in the United States of the 1960s and 1970s, poliziotteschi were set in the context of, or directly addressed, the sociopolitical tumult and violence of Italy's anni di piombo, or the "Years of Lead," a period of widespread social unrest, political upheaval, labor unrest, rising crime, political violence, and political terrorism from the 1960s to 1980s. During this period, paramilitary and militant political terrorist groups, both on the far left (e.g. the Red Brigades) and far right (e.g. the neo-fascist Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari) engaged in kidnappings, assassinations, and bombings (such as the Piazza Fontana bombing and 1980 Bologna train station bombing). At the same time, there was a period of especially violent conflict and disorder within the Sicilian Mafia, kicked off with the "First Mafia War" of the 1960s and culminating in the "Second Mafia War" of the early 1980s. Italian organized crime groups such as the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra, and especially the Roman Banda della Magliana were actively involved in both criminal and political activities during this time, carrying out bombings and kidnappings, making deals with corrupt politicians, and forming strong ties to extreme far right groups and neo-fascist terrorist organizations. Accordingly, poliziotteschi films such as Execution Squad (1972) often featured political extremists and paramilitary or terrorist groups alongside or in addition to the more commonly featured apolitical mafiosi and gangster criminal elements found in Italian crime films.[1][2][3][4][5]

Due in part to the genre's often ostensibly negative portrayal of political activists and militants, especially leftist militants, and its seeming endorsement of vigilantism and "tough-on-crime" or "law and order" stances, some poliziotteschi films (such as 1976's The Big Racket) were criticized by then-contemporaneous critics and accused of exploiting conservative fears of rising crime and political upheaval while containing "reactionary," pro-violence, or even quasi-Fascist ideological elements in their overarching message. These critiques were similar to those leveled at the 1970s American "vigilante films" of the same period, such as 1974's Death Wish, films by which the poliziotteschi genre were considerably influenced.[1][2][4][6][7]

In retrospect, despite contemporaneous claims in the 1970s of overly conservative or reactionary themes within the genre, film historians such as Louis Bayman and Peter Bondarella contend that, in fact, poliziotteschi films generally presented a more multi-faceted, complex outlook on the political turmoil and crime waves of the time, as well as violence in general, with Bayman and author Roberto Curti in particular arguing that the genre generally used political conflicts and violence for largely apolitical tension-building and cathartic or emotional purposes rather than to promote any particular political agendas.[1][8] Curti notes that the genre's protagonists often simultaneously displayed both right-wing and left-wing views, and protagonists were often working class while villains were often wealthy right-wing conservatives.[1] The film Caliber 9 (1972), for instance, features protagonists of both right-wing and leftist ideologies and offers differing views on the causes of crime and the true antagonists of law-abiding Italian society, while Execution Squad reveals the actual antagonists of the film to be right-wing reactionary, "tough-on-crime" ex-police officers and vigilantes rather than the initially suspected leftist militants.[2][4] Rather than explicitly supporting violence or vigilantism, the genre just as often displayed a morally ambiguous or aloof position on these themes, or even presented vigilantism and violence as a no-win situation. Though poliziotteschi films have been viewed by some critics as condemning a "liberal" or "weak" judiciary system as ineffectual in its treatment of criminals, the genre also suggests a more general distrust of authority, whether left-wing or right-wing, by portraying right-wing law enforcement, politicians and businessmen as hopelessly corrupt and manipulative.[1][2] According to Bondarella, the "classic" poliziotteschi film reveals "almost universal suspicion of the very social institutions charged with protecting Italian society from criminal violence."[4]

With directors such as Fernando Di Leo and Umberto Lenzi and actors such as Maurizio Merli and Tomas Milian, poliziotteschi films became popular in the mid-1970s after the decline of Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospy genres. The subgenre lost its mainstream popularity in the late 1970s as Italian erotic comedy and horror films started topping the Italian box office.

Although based around crime and detective work, poliziotteschi should not be confused with the other popular Italian crime genre of the 1970s, the giallo, which (incorrectly) refers to violent murder-mystery crime films. Directors and stars often moved between both forms, and some films could be considered under either banner, such as Massimo Dallamano's What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974).

The poliziottesco subgenre gradually declined in popularity during the late 1970s. Screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, who was unhappy with what he deemed the genre's "fascistic" undertones, credits himself for "destroying it from the inside", by making it evolve into self-parody. By the end of the decade, the most successful films associated with the genre were crime-comedy pictures, which gradually evolved towards pure comedy.[9]

Directors include

Actors include

Selected Films

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Curti, Roberto (2013). Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980. McFarland.
  2. ^ a b c d Bayman, Louis; Rigoletto, Sergio (Jan 17, 2013). Popular Italian Cinema. Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  3. ^ Aulenti, Lino (2011). Storia del cinema italiano. Libreria universitaria.
  4. ^ a b c d Bondanella, Peter (2009). A History of Italian Cinema. A&C Black. pp. 454–479.
  5. ^ Bayman, Louis (2001). Directory of World Cinema: Italy. Intellect Book.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (1974-08-04). "Screen: 'Death Wish' Exploits Fear Irresponsibly; 'Death Wish' Exploits Our Fear". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-06.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (1974-07-25). "Screen: 'Death Wish' Hunts Muggers:The Cast Story of Gunman Takes Dim View of City". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-06.
  8. ^ Uva, Christian; Picchi, Michele (2006). Destra e sinistra nel cinema italiano: film e immaginario politico dagli anni '60 al nuovo millennio. Edizioni Interculturali S.r.l.
  9. ^ Christian Uva, Michele Picchi, Destra e sinistra nel cinema italiano. film e immaginario politico dagli anni '60 al nuovo millennio, Edizioni interculturali, 2006, p. 90

Further reading

  • Roberto Curti, Italia odia: il cinema poliziesco italiano. Lindau, 2006, ISBN 978-8871805863.
  • Daniele Magni, Silvio Giobbio, Ancora più... Cinici infami e violenti – Guida ai film polizieschi italiani degli anni '70, Bloodbuster Edizioni, 2010, ISBN 978-8890208744.

External links

Almost Human (1974 film)

Almost Human (Italian: Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare) is a 1974 Italian poliziotteschi film directed by Umberto Lenzi. This film stars Tomas Milian, Henry Silva, Ray Lovelock and Anita Strindberg. The film is also known in English language markets as The Kidnap of Mary Lou.

Bruno Corbucci

Bruno Corbucci (23 October 1931 – 7 September 1996) was an Italian screenwriter and film director. He was the younger brother of Sergio Corbucci, and wrote many of his films. He was born in Rome, where he also died.

The vast majority of his directorial efforts are lowbrow comedies. He also directed I figli del leopardo, a parody of Il gattopardo. His biggest success came with the long-running "Nico Giraldi" series, which starred Tomas Milian as a foul-mouthed Roman policeman.

His 1971 film Io non spezzo... rompo was shown as part of a retrospective on Italian comedy at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

Enzo G. Castellari

Enzo Girolami Castellari (born Rome, 29 July 1938) is an Italian director, screenwriter and actor.

Execution Squad

Execution Squad (Italian: La polizia ringrazia) is a 1972 crime film directed by Steno and starring Enrico Maria Salerno. Set during Italy's tumultuous anni di piombo ("Years of Lead"), the film obtained a great commercial success.

Flatfoot in Africa

Piedone l'africano (internationally released as Flatfoot in Africa, Knock-Out Cop and The K.O. Cop) is a 1978 Italian "poliziottesco"-comedy film directed by Steno. It is the third and penultimate chapter in the "Flatfoot" film series.

Flatfoot in Egypt

Piedone d'Egitto (internationally released as Flatfoot in Egypt and Flatfoot on the Nile) is a 1980 Italian "poliziottesco"-comedy film directed by Steno.

It is the fourth and last chapter in the "Flatfoot" film series.

Free Hand for a Tough Cop

Free Hand for a Tough Cop (Italian: Il trucido e lo sbirro / The Numbskull and the Cop), also known as Tough Cop, is an Italian poliziottesco-action film directed in 1976 by Umberto Lenzi. In this movie Tomas Milian plays for the first time Sergio Marazzi a.k.a. "Er Monnezza", a role that he later played several more times, in Lenzi's Brothers Till We Die (1978, a sort of sequel of this movie), in Destruction Force by Stelvio Massi (1977) and, with slight differences, in Uno contro l'altro, praticamente amici by Bruno Corbucci (1980) and in Francesco Massaro's Il lupo e l'agnello (1980).

Gang War in Milan

Gang War in Milan (Italian: Milano rovente, lit. 'Scorching Hot Milan') is a 1973 Italian poliziottesco film directed by Umberto Lenzi.

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Italian: Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore) is a 1976 Italian poliziotteschi crime film, directed by Ruggero Deodato and starring Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino said the film is "one of the greatest titles of all time, and it lives up to its name!"

Massimo Dallamano

Massimo Dallamano (April 17, 1917 – November 4, 1976), sometimes credited as Max Dillman, Max Dillmann or Jack Dalmas, was an Italian director and director of photography.

Romolo Guerrieri

Romolo Guerrieri (aka Romolo Girolami)(born 5 December 1931) is an Italian film director and screenwriter. He directed 17 films between 1961 and 1992. He was born in Rome, Italy.

Sergio Sollima

Sergio Sollima (April 17, 1921 – July 1, 2015) was an Italian film director and script writer.

Stelvio Massi

Stelvio Massi (26 March 1929 – 26 March 2004), sometimes credited "Max Steel", was an Italian director known for his "poliziotteschi" films.

Steno (director)

Steno, the artistic name of Stefano Vanzina (19 January 1917 – 13 March 1988) was an Italian film director, screenwriter and cinematographer. Two of his films, Un giorno in pretura (1954) and Febbre da cavallo (1976), were shown in a retrospective section on Italian comedy at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

Street Law (film)

Street Law (Italian: Il cittadino si ribella, lit. "The Citizen Rebels") is a 1974 poliziotteschi film. It stars Franco Nero, Barbara Bach and was directed by Enzo G. Castellari.

Syndicate Sadists

Syndicate Sadists (Italian: Il giustiziere sfida la città) is a 1975 poliziotteschi film directed by Umberto Lenzi It stars Joseph Cotten and Tomas Milian.

The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist

The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Italian: Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, lit. "The Cynic, the Infamous, the Violent") is an Italian poliziotteschi crime action thriller directed in 1977 by Umberto Lenzi. The movie is the sequel to Lenzi's 1976 The Tough Ones, with Maurizio Merli reprising the role of Commissioner Leonardo Tanzi.The title of the movie inspired the book Cinici infami e violenti (2005), written by Daniele Magni and Silvio Giobbio, a book guide about "Poliziotteschi".

Violent Naples

Violent Naples (Italian title: Napoli violenta) is a 1976 poliziottesco film directed by Umberto Lenzi. It starred Maurizio Merli, John Saxon and Barry Sullivan.

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