Luc Merena points pistol in The Violent Professionals.

The Violent Professionals / Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia (1973)
Running time: 104 mins.
Directed by: Sergio Martino. Produced by: Luciano Martino
Cast: Luc Merenda, Richard Conte, Silvano Tranquilli, Martine Brochard, Bruno Corazzari, Chris Avram.

Sergio Martino helms this crime drama about a maverick cop (Luc Merenda) taking on Milan’s organised crime after the brutal street execution of his colleague (Chris Avram).

At 104 minutes, THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS feels slow and padded, with the goodies not arriving until well past the halfway point. Already the opening credits with stone-faced Luc Merenda driving around the empty streets of Novara is drawn out, and most action scenes could have been tightened. The most trying are the dialogue scenes, though.

The Story Prolific scribe Gastaldi, who’s written many a film for producer Luciano Martino, delivers a one note-story, suffering from poor dialogue and weak characterisation. Neither the law nor the mob come across as more than cardboard cutouts, thus robbing the frequent violent deaths of their impact. In the opening sequence, a duo of escaped convicts flag down a passing car. The man at the wheel taking his girl back from school is given such trite dialogue it’s hard to give a shit if he gets pumped full of lead. Now, stylised violence is perhaps the biggest selling point of Italian genre cinema, but it’s really dampened here by a crap screenplay and some sloppy staging.

Direction. Martino, who’s a more than able action director (see 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK), doesn’t feel at home with the material here. A brilliant genre film director, he’s clearly allergic to any sort of „message“ in his well-crafted commercial offerings. Here he treats the grave subject matter with about as much consideration as he does his sex comedies. Some of the action scenes come across fairly sloppy and unconvincing, like something of a Demofilo Fidani dime western. The shootouts look more chaotic and fake than usual. The approach to violence here is neither brutal realism nor comic book exaggeration.

The Visuals. Cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando, who had signed Martino’s most visually sumptuous works, delivers an uncharacteristically drab film with THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS. This Milan-set crime tale looks dreary for the most part, with plenty of wobbly closeups and unbalanced compositions (Chris Avram’s stroll through Milan is the worst offender). Either they had a novice cameraman or else else a drastically short shooting schedule, as a lot of shots look like first takes.

The Cast With a weak story and evident budget problems, a strong protagonist could help anchor the film. A hard-bodied, chisel-cheeked Luc Merenda sure looks the part of the rogue cop. His character could be the identification figure but, saddled with some crap moralising monologues, often comes across as a dullard. He’s either standing around stiffly, voicing his indignance at the country’s justice system or behaves like a smug sociopath in his attempt to bring the baddies to justice.

The version under review here is the Italian-language one. All comments on dialogue quality and vocal performances relate to the Italian audio track.

It’s the opening half-hour of the film that feels especially out of balance. Afterwards the plot tightens and dialogues get somewhat punchier as Merenda’s inspector goes undercover posing as a getaway driver. Female characters are generally ill-served by westerns and crime films. THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS is no exception, with only Martine Brochard (THE MAN WHO DIDN’T WANT TO DIE) making a favourable impression among the generic wives, daughters and sex workers.

THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS evidently aims at delivering some social commentary along with its car chases and punch-ups but the resulting film has about as much to say on the topic of justice as MAD FOXES does on the topic of rape. This is far from Martino’s best work but there’s just about enough goodies here to warrant at least a cursory viewing. Ernesto Gastaldi’s writing lacks depth and insight, and Martino’s assured but superficial direction exposes the story’s emptiness all the more. The cinematography is a lot less careful than elsewhere and the action scenes come too late to save the whole from crumbling into boredom. Luc Merenda’s fans will get their money’s worth, though. Seasoned Eurocrime aficionados will no doubt be happy to see a score of genre favourites in supporting parts, such as Luciano Rossi and Bruno Corazzari.

THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS takes a while to get going and addresses its themes in a half-hearted fashion. Luc Merenda does deliver the goods in his fight scenes, though.

Reviewed by Alex Bakshaev in November 2020.