Poliziotteschi

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Poliziotteschi (Italian pronunciation: [polittsjotˈteski]) films constitute a subgenre of crime and action film that emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s. Poliziotteschi films are also known as poliziottesco, Italo-crime, Euro-crime, poliziesco or simply Italian crime films.

Etymology of the noun[edit]

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. Recurring elements in poliziotteschi films include graphic and brutal violence, organized crime, car chases, vigilantism, heists, gunfights, and corruption up to the highest levels. The protagonists were generally working class loners, willing to act outside of a corrupt or overly bureaucratic system.[1] 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.

History[edit]

Although the subgenre has its roots in heist films of the late 1960s, such as Bandits in Milan (Banditi a Milano, 1968) by Carlo Lizzani, it was strongly influenced by such rough-edged American police thrillers of the early 1970s as Bullitt, Dirty Harry, The French Connection, and Serpico, the increase of cynicism and violence in French crime films, and, more generally, by Italian real life crime and unrest in the 1970s (kidnappings, assassinations, bank robberies, political violence, international and domestic terrorism, impending oil crisis and recession).

Just as American police and crime thrillers 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, labor unrest, 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 (i.e. the Red Brigades) and far right ( i.e. 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 period of 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 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 for exploiting conservative fears of rising crime and political upheaval while containing "reactionary," pro-violence, or even quasi-Fascist ideological elements in their overarching message, critiques 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] 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, cathartic, or emotional purposes rather rather than to promote particular political agendas.[1][8] The film Caliber 9 (1972), for instance, features protagonists of both right-wing and leftist ideology 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 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 aloft position on these themes. Though poliziotteschi films have been viewed by some leftist 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.[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[edit]

Actors include[edit]

Selected Films[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]