I have an abiding love for Italian exploitation cinema. From the moment when I was about 12 and turned on the TV to see Steve Reeves destroying a temple in HERCULES, I was hooked. I watched heaven knows how many “Sons of Hercules” movies as a teen (Sample dialogue exchange: “I am Machiste!” “Say, doesn’t that mean ‘Born out of rock?'”) The late sixties found me discovering Spaghetti Westerns. The late seventies (and the wonders of Necon) saw me embracing the horror films of Argento and Fulci. The DVD revolution of the eighties and nineties got me watching giallos, murder mysteries usually involving a black-gloved killer.
All these genres overlapped in popularity, muscle man films giving way to westerns, which then faded as the mystery/horror films took hold. The next genre to gain popularity was the “police action thriller,” the Italian answer to DIRTY HARRY and DEATH WISH. I’ve seen far fewer of these films (maybe 10 or 11) than the earlier genres, but I’m always up for something new.
This led to a night when I was home alone, browsing Amazon Prime, and discovered THE CYNIC, THE RAT, AND THE FIST.
Now this is a movie. Not necessarily a good movie, but a film that is wildly entertaining. It starts Mauricio Merli, who was in a bunch of these things, and who also manages to out-cool Clint Eastwood (no easy feat.) Merli plays a former police captain turned thriller writer, but he still has a way with his guns and his fists.. And the actual police let him get away with just about anything.
The bad guys are Thomas Milian, playing one of those handsome psycho killer parts he was so good at, and John Saxon, who basically plays John Saxon, but an evil John Saxon!
The plot is incoherent, even though it had Ernesto Gastaldi, one of the best of the Italian giallo screenwriters, as co-author of the script. The movie jumps from one action set-piece to the next, with plenty of macho posturing alongside the shooting of guns and flashing of fists. And it has a really cool jazz score, which helps the film a lot. The film is directed by Umberto Lenzi, a fellow who made just about every genre imaginable (including spy thrillers. How could I forget about spy thrillers?) and directs this movie at about 90 miles an hour. Parts of this film made no sense at all, but I wasn’t bored for an instant.
I discovered immediately after watching this film that I had another unwatched Umberto Lenzi movie in my collection, a giallo/mystery called SPASMO. A movie called SPASMO? How could I watch anything else?
This film shares the not-quite-coherent qualities of CYNIC, but in SPASMO, they fit perfectly with the plot.: Two adult brothers, one very successful, the other “troubled,” have something not-quite right in their past. And as should be a surprise to no one who watches these things, people start dying in various violent and colorful ways. Except, as people die, the film reveals that most of them were hiding their true identities! And did I mention that the movie is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator?
Because of (or perhaps despite) all this, the movie comes together at the end and actually makes sense, after a fashion. Which is all I could possibly ask from an Umberto Lenzi film.
I was going to add a poster from one of these fine films, but my google link is acting peculiar, so instead, here’s another look at the wonderful cover to my latest, which is almost ready for purchase. Any day now, I swear.