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Tough Ones, The
Grindhouse Releasing // R // July 9, 2019 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
"One of the gunmen was wearing a black glove on his left hand, so there's a good chance it was our friend Savelli. Yeah, I know what that makes you think. We shouldn't have left him go the other day."
"Don't be silly. Cops were murdered, but we went by the book that day. That's what's important."
- Caputo and Tanzi, The Tough Ones
"Don't be silly. Cops were murdered, but we went by the book that day. That's what's important."
- Caputo and Tanzi, The Tough Ones
Exactly. Because playing it by the book has accomplished such wonders for the crime-riddled streets of Rome. Inspector Leonardo Tanzi (Maurizio Merli) arrests a couple of teenage scippatori that he sees snatch a woman's purse from their Vespa. A sympathetic juvenile counselor strongly recommends their immediate release, so they're out practically the next day, robbing a pensioner. A thug that Tanzi brings in for questioning swiftly guns down several cops as part of a bank robbery gone awry. At least the inspector was able to bring them in, however briefly; shadowy crime lord Ferrender remains frustratingly elusive. Those few who know more – such as sadistic, calculating hunchback Vincenzo Moretto (Tomas Milian) – either aren't talking or are shot dead before they have the chance. Tanzi hears the city's fevered cries for justice, and to rid Rome of the scourge of Ferrender and his ilk, the inspector can no longer let himself be shackled by the ineffective anchor of the law.
An underground casino. Savage rape. Endless theft. Bank robberies. Heroin enslavement a la Thriller: A Cruel Picture. A whole hell of a lot of murder. Rather than bothering with a tightly plotted story, The Tough Ones instead plays like a series of brutally intense vignettes, with Tanzi fighting relentlessly against the riptide of a Roman crimewave. Director Umberto Lenzi knew full well why his audience was shelling out 10,000 lira for a ticket back in the mid-'70s, and the execution of these bite-sized segments remains startlingly intense more than forty years later. It's an onslaught of breakneck car chases and rooftop pursuits. Tanzi's embattled girlfriend is trapped by thugs in a car that's lifted by a junkyard crane, dropped into a crusher, and is next in line to be grinded down to scrap. These aren't sequences meticulously choreographed over the course of months and filmed on closed streets. They aren't faked with stuntmen, stand-ins, or visual effects. Hell, one of the most frequent touchpoints throughout this colossal special edition's extras is that Milian really was kicking the living shit out of Merli in one key sequence. This infuses The Tough Ones with a rarely rivaled intensity and urgency. There's the unnerving sense that anything can happen...that no one is safe, that nothing is off-limits. After watching The Tough Ones' many extras, it's kind of surprising that no one was killed during production.
I mean, Tanzi force-feeds Moretto a bullet, and that's hardly the last we see of it. An overentitled rapist gets his head smashed through the glass of a pinball machine. Tanzi asks a thug for a light, the guy turns around, and wham! – cold-cocked. To stop a robber dead in his tracks, Tanzi plows his car head-on into the bastard's motorcycle. I don't care that there isn't much of a throughline connecting all of this chaos. It doesn't matter that Tanzi is effectively devoid of a personality, especially given Tomas Milian's infectious lack of restraint as a machine gun-toting hunchback. The Tough Ones is unrelentingly visceral – a 94 minute adrenaline rush. (And, yes, this is an unrated, uncensored cut of the film.) It's Dirty Harry off its meds and in a 42nd St. grindhouse theater. No one's going to mistake The Tough Ones for high art, but damned if it isn't spectacular just the same. More impressive still is this special edition from Grindhouse Releasing – their first title in several years, and one long in the making. Brace yourself for a 3,500 word explanation why The Tough Ones has earned this site's highest possible recommendation. DVD Talk Collector Series.
In a word...? Gorgeous.
Sure, 4K scans are becoming more and more common, but the majority of cult titles wind up having their remastering work finished at a lower resolution. The Tough Ones, meanwhile, looks to be a true end-to-end 4K remaster. That additional investment in time, effort, and cost are rare, and the end result is astonishing: in the running as the most impressive Techniscope film on Blu-ray. Speckling is kept to a bare minimum, and there's no perceptible wear or damage to speak of whatsoever. This is as filmic a remaster as I could hope to see, with a fine sheen of grain that hasn't been filtered away, benefiting further from an exceptional encode free of any distracting artifacts. Definition and detail are outstanding. Even with as inky as The Tough Ones' blacks are, fine detail is never devoured by shadows or the frequently dark wardrobe. Its colors are as robust as could be hoped for – striking, yet still very much in-step with a gritty, urban action flick of this era. As high as my expectations were going in, Grindhouse readily eclipsed them. Simply extraordinary.
Since we're talking about a special edition that'll take you from sunrise to sundown to explore in its entirety, it probably goes without saying that both of the Blu-ray discs in this set are BD-50s. As if the screenshots scattered throughout this review hadn't already clued you in, The Tough Ones is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1.
It's remarkable that Grindhouse Releasing is able to seamlessly support both Italian and English audio; given how many different cuts of The Tough Ones are out there, a significant effort was surely required to align things so skillfully for this unrated, uncensored version. Both monaural tracks are delivered in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio.
As was generally the case at the time, everything you're hearing was looped in post-production regardless, so there isn't a canonical track; whichever language you prefer is every bit as valid as the other. Personally, given that the film's setting of Rome is effectively a character in its own right, I watched The Tough Ones in its entirety in Italian and sampled a few sequences in English afterwards. For anyone interested in hearing a couple of comparisons:
Note that these are recordings rather than audio extracted directly from the disc, but the method of capture is the same in all cases. The Italian track is a touch louder than its English equivalent, and that's especially felt in Franco Micalizzi's score. The English dialogue also sounds a bit cleaner and clearer, but really, both tracks are comparable in quality and leave precious little room for complaint. The typical laundry list of concerns – dropouts, intrusive background noise, hiss, pops, clicks, and the like – are nowhere to be found. The only abberation I noticed was some brief, infrequent warping in the Italian soundtrack. Note how uneven the Italian example below sounds shortly after the 1 second mark, while that doesn't occur in the English version:
By no stretch of the imagination is this any sort of dealbreaker, but nitpicking is part of the job description. And, honestly, I'd readily take that couple of seconds' worth of slightly off music, given how much I prefer the Italian dub to the more exaggerated English-language performances. That exceedingly minor issue doesn't dim my enthusiasm for the audio here. It seems like half of my reviews anymore revolve around monaural Italian soundtracks from the '60s and '70s, so when I say that these lossless tracks are significantly above average, I am coming at this with a pretty strong point of reference.
Optional English subtitles are provided, and it's appreciated that they translate the Italian dialogue rather than merely transcribing the English track. It's not an SDH stream, incidentally. Owners of constant image height projection setups should note that the subtitles do spill over into the letterboxing bars.
With right at eleven hours of extras spread across The Tough Ones' three discs, the term "special edition" doesn't seem quite special enough. In twenty years of reviewing and somewhere north of 4,000 titles having passed through my hands, I can only think of a tiny handful of releases offering anything remotely close to the wealth of interviews and retrospectives that Grindhouse Releasing has assembled here. Better still, it's hardly a matter of quantity trumping quality; every last one of them is phenomenal. This labor of love was produced over the better part of a decade, and it's all the more meaningful given that we've lost Umberto Lenzi and Tomas Milian since these until-now-unseen interviews were produced.
- Audio CD: Thunderous, full-bodied, and reproduced with such fidelity that it sounds as if it could've been recorded last Tuesday, I cannot get over how incredible the jazz-funk fusion of Franco Micalizzi's score sounds. And hey! It's in stereo to boot. These 17 tracks clock in right at a half hour in all. Also of note is that the CD arrives in its own cardboard sleeve rather than snapping inside the keepcase. If you're still driving a car with a CD deck, that's pretty convenient.
- Audio Commentary: Mike Malloy (Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s) contributes an exceptionally engaging commentary, charting the history of the poliziottesco and how The Tough Ones' director, composer, and stars collectively are responsible for so many of the genre's best films. He delves into Eurocrime stock elements that find their way into this particular movie, the irony of largely communist film crews making such fascist crime flicks, and how truly plagued by crime Italy was in the '70s. Whether it's the rarity of vengeful vigilantes in these films, a list of who's dubbing the key actors, drawing parallels with For a Few Dollars More, pointing out action footage recycled elsewhere, the different cuts of The Tough Ones the world over, or the surprising number of sequences set in seafood restaurants, Malloy deftly tackles it all.
- All Eyes on Lenzi: The Life and Times of the Italian Exploitation Titan (84 min.; HD): Grindhouse Releasing's special edition of The Tough Ones is a double feature (and, arguably, a triple feature, but that's a story for later), thanks to this feature-length documentary about filmmaker Umberto Lenzi. Interviewed here are cult cinema historians Calum Waddell, Rachael Nisbet, Dr. Mikel Koven, John Martin, and Manlio Gomarasca, filmmaker Scooter McCrae, actors Danilo Mattei and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, and, of course, Lenzi himself.
I'm fighting the urge to pen as comprehensive a writeup as I would've if All Eyes on Lenzi had landed a standalone release, but this review's long enough as it is. The documentary takes care to place Lenzi's work in context. Though acknowledging that while he wasn't in the same tier of genre cinema as Bava and Argento, it honors Lenzi as an underappreciated, cinematic chameleon who refused to settle into a comfortable rut, changing with the times and seizing hold of every conceivable genre along the way.
The documentary delves into what sets his gialli apart and how his work in this style is more groundbreaking than is generally acknowledged. All Eyes on Lenzi then explores his poliziotteschi: his unrivaled skill at directing chase sequences, inadvertently causing a massive wreck in front of police headquarters, and how all the vehicular havoc wrought on-screen is real. No visual effects, no permits, no blocked off streets, and...hell, no planning. There's also some insight into the politics of Eurocrime films, which are generally thought of as being fascist in nature, although Lenzi's work is meant to be more ambiguous – or at times on the other end of the spectrum entirely – in its sympathies. This is followed by Lenzi's invention of the cannibal film, from his groundbreaking Man from Deep River to the, errr, financial obligations of Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. The Ferox discussion is outstanding: Radice seething with revulsion about being associated in any way with the film or Lenzi, his character's penis getting lopped off (which, y'know, factors into Radice's disgust), working with locals who didn't speak a lick of Italian, assembling the skewered breast suspension rig, and what sets Lenzi's most infamous flick apart from that other guy.
A tremendous amount of attention is directed towards Nightmare City, one of my all-time favorite zombie flicks, despite the fact that there technically aren't any zombies in the damned thing. Its longstanding influence, political subtext, such scale being realized on a miserly budget, and cleverly stolen shots of planes landing are just a few of the highlights here. All Eyes on Lenzi draws to a close by touching on the director's later films, among them Ironmaster, Ghosthouse, and Nightmare Beach.
This is such a phenomenal documentary, leaving me with a greater appreciation for Lenzi and his work...along with regret for not having imported 88 Films' Blu-ray release of Eyeball until now. You sold me, All Eyes on Lenzi!
- Music for Mayhem (33 min.; HD): In this lengthy conversation between director Umberto Lenzi and composer Franco Micalizzi, the two talk more about the films themselves rather than the music featured within them. This includes Medusa Film's love/hate relationship with the name "Rambo", Maurizio Merli and Tomas Milian despising each other to the point that they were filmed completely separately for Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, the improvisational bent and groundbreaking camerawork in Napoli violenta, and how the poliziottesco could never exist in film today. Micalizzi's comments on his music are largely centered around The Tough Ones, appropriately enough, including its mosaic structure, composing a score to match its movement and shockingly violent action, and its incorporation into a hip-hop musical (!) he's writing.
- Città Frontale (22 min.; SD): The first of several extras carried over from NoShame's Italian DVD release is this comparison of how the streets of Rome have changed over the past few decades, taking care to match shots from The Tough Ones as precisely as possible. This includes visiting what's left of the wrecking yard. Beyond its visual appeal, "Città Frontale" showcases narration that explores how the poliziottesco is propelled by the same urban mythology and dialogue with the city as neorealism several decades earlier, the debt these films owe to noir, their frenzied pace distinguishing them from the more deliberate Eurowesterns they reinvented, and how truly unsafe the streets of Rome were in this era.
- Sybil Danning's Action Videos Intro (2 min.; SD): Dressed like a crop-topped Frank Bullitt which...sure, why not?, Sybil Danning provides a hard-boiled intro from her mid-'80s Adventure Video line.
- Home Video Trailer (1 min.; SD): Sybil Danning pops up briefly in this 33 second trailer as well. As you'd probably expect from a VHS-era clip, it too is 4x3 and in standard-def.
- International Trailer (3 min.; HD): This English-language trailer arrives in HD, under the title of The Tough Ones.
- Grindhouse Releasing Previews (HD): Rounding out the extras on the 'Feature' disc is a set of trailers spanning Grindhouse Releasing's DVD and Blu-ray catalog.
- Umberto (56 min.; HD): The first interview on The Tough Ones' dedicated disc of extras is this hour-long conversation with director/co-writer Umberto Lenzi. This compelling and far-reaching conversation is peppered with excerpts from many of Lenzi's films, including his early documentary work and even the lost Mia Italida stin Ellada. The filmmaker speaks about tackling such a staggering variety of genres, his frustration with Italian film critics blinded by politics and bullshit, techniques learned from the masterful likes of Raoul Walsh, an American distributor who effectively stole Cannibal Ferox, and the death of Italian genre cinema. This is such a wildly entertaining conversation, whether it's Lenzi detailing the endless parade of problems plaguing Raw Wind in Eden or being asked to throw together La montagna di luce since he was already in Singapore, right as a civil war was breaking out. The Tough Ones is discussed as well, including its packed premiere and the tumuluous relationship between its two stars.
- The Rebel Within (89 min.; HD): Commentary aside, the longest of The Tough Ones' extras is this feature-length conversation with Tomas Milian. This retrospective spans the entirety of Milian's life, one that itself would make for an extraordinary film: growing up in privilege in a pre-revolutionary Cuba, suffering at the hands of a frigid mother and a tyrannical father (who would later shoot himself in front of a young Tomas), abandoning the only world he'd known to pursue his dream of acting...in another country with scarcely a cent to his name, and the many hurdles and prejudices he'd have to overcome to join the ranks of New York's legendary Actors Studio. When the conversation turns towards Milian's extensive work in film, he speaks about Visconti, the many Westerns he made (The Big Gundown among them), Orson Welles swearing vengeance against him on the set of Tepepa, getting stiffed $80K for Sonny and Jed, some imagery from Corbucci's Il bianco, il giallo, il nero that really hasn't aged well, and how there truly is part of that hunchback lurking inside him. The interview draws to a close as Milian discusses starting again from scratch by leaving Italy in favor of New York, along with listing some of his more recent Hollywood films (Traffic and Amistad among them).
- Back Story (6 min.; HD): The spotlight is again directed towards Tomas Milian for a second interview, this time focusing specifically on The Tough Ones. Among other topics, Milian speaks about how the hunch was his idea (in both concept and execution!), how his tendency to invent backstories for his characters came in handy when he'd forget a line, and addressing the concerns others have shared throughout this collector's edition about kicking Maurizio Merli in The Tough Ones' climax.
- The Merli Connection (45 min.; SD): Though Maurizio Merli passed away before DVD extras were a glimmer in anyone's eye, his memory lives on in his son, in cult cinema historian Antonio Tentor, and in filmmakers Ruggero Deodato and the Manetti Bros., all of whom contribute to this terrific retrospective from NoShame's special edition. Discussed here are how Merli's resemblance to Franco Nero was both a blessing and a burden, his iconic stature in a truly Italian subgenre (despite poliziotteschi drawing so much inspiration from American movies), and the immediacy, spontaneity, and significance of place of these films.
- Beauty and the Beasts (30 min.; HD): Maria Rosaria Omaggio chats about being too young by half for the role of a juvenile court counselor, the line of the dialogue she finds most affecting, the transformative effect The Tough Ones had on her career, and winding up with her share of bruises throughout the course of filming. And, yes, that really was her in a car, dangling in the air from a scrapyard crane! This interview is wall-to-wall highlights, including Umberto Lenzi's cringeworthy award ceremonies, originally being offered a role in which she didn't die in Nightmare City, Tomas Milian being indirectly responsible for her success in Spain, and the Rossellini film she turned down to star here.
- Corrado Armed to the Teeth (45 min.; HD): Actor Corrado Solari has much to say about the talent on both sides of The Tough Ones' camera: learning his part on The Manhunt in Lenzi's car on the way to the set, the improvisational Tomas Milian explaining why guzzling vodka helped to keep him in character, the elegance of Biagio Pelligra's violence, and the masterful precision of the since-departed Riccardo Petrazzi's stunts and driving. Of particular interest are the impossibly rapid pace of filming the junkyard sequence, how intimidating the gold Citroën Pallas was, the cast and crew scurrying to steal donations from a Red Cross warehouse, and his silent divorce from Lenzi that the two were unfortunately never able to resolve.
- Brutal City (14 min.; HD): Maria Rosaria Riuzzi delves into a number of the films she was a part of – including the original Scent of a Woman and Salon Kitty – and even those that she wasn't, such as missing out on Le farò da padre since nudity and being underage didn't play together so well. Along with many comments about Tomas Milian, Maurizio Merli's endless primping, and The Tough One's premiere, Riuzzi discusses the filming of the intense and painful rape sequence.
- The Rebel and the Burgeois (19 min.; HD): Sandra Cardini devotes most of her interview to speaking about co-star Tomas Milian, who, incidentally, was responsible for her landing the role of his on-screen wife. Among the topics of conversation are the artistic tension between Milian and Lenzi (hence the title of this feature), Milian's insistence on being dubbed by the same actor that Pacino used for Serpico, Cardini dubbing her own voice, and her work in the years since for both stage and screen.
- Vodka, Cigarettes, and Burroughs (40 min.; HD): Dardano Sacchetti unleashes one brilliant story after another: penning the screenplay for another Umberto Lenzi project over a weekend despite not having anything more than a title to work with, neither he nor Lenzi being aware that the other was working on Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, and how Lenzi was among the few famed directors with whom he didn't have a difficult relationship. Sacchetti explains why he considers The Tough Ones to be a minestrone – not a soup, no, but an assemblage of disconnected blocks – along with highlighting some of the key influences behind the film. The conversation revolves heavily around his admiration for the relentless Lenzi, and although parallels are frequently drawn between the poliziottesco and the Eurowestern throughout the set's extras, the comparison he makes with Milian's Il trucido e lo sbirro and the Trinity series is especially intriguing.
- The Godfather of Rhythm (36 min.; HD): Composer Franco Micalizzi charts his life in music, from touring in a jazz combo across Europe to his work in film. Micalizzi speaks about a number of the movies he made with Umberto Lenzi – among them Il grande attacco, Da Corleone a Brooklyn, and Scusi, lei è normale? – as well as the method behind their collaborations. The Tough Ones is discussed at length as well, of course. After speaking about rhythmic tension and precise melodies, Micalizzi touches on rearranging his work for a 17-18 piece orchestra as well as the influence he's had on hip-hop and the influence that hip-hop in turn has had on him.
- Still Gallery (HD): The Tough Ones' promotional material is divided by country into four galleries: Italy, Spain, Germany, and the U.S. There are around 45 images in all – posters, lobby cards, newspaper clippings, and...hey! the premiere in Rome. I especially appreciate how the U.S. gallery zooms into various sections of the poster, as a vertically-oriented one-sheet is tough to fully appreciate on an HDTV. There's also a separate gallery of nine other images, revolving around video releases and Beat Records' soundtrack, the latter of which was licensed for the CD in this set.
But Wait! There's More
- Easter Eggs (HD): If you fiddle around with the arrows on your remote enough, there are several hidden bells and whistles.
On the first disc is an introduction from NoShame's DVD release in Italy (6 min.; SD), delving into the sociopolitical context behind The Tough Ones and the transformation of the Italian film industry over the past few decades.
The bulk of the Easter eggs are lurking on disc two, the highlight of which is the 17 minute "Vita a mano armata: La leggenda del Gobbo del Quarticciolo". Another NoShame production, this featurette explores the life of hunchback Giuseppe Albano, who fought against the German occupation of Italy. Supposedly having slain more than a hundred fascists with nothing more than a knife, this prompted the Germans to arrest all hunchbacks living in Rome at the time. Along with an impassioned introduction to this freedom fighter, "Vita a mano armata" also includes a tour of several locations in Rome associated with Albano, including the Ardeatine Caves, Via Calpurnio Fiamma, and the former headquarters of Unione Proletaria. Franco Micalizzi provides a warm tribute (4 min.; HD) to the late Sage Stallone, with whom the composer collaborated on the short film Vic. Grindhouse Releasing's other co-founder, Bob Murawski, gets a nod from Tomas Milian (1 min.; HD). There's also another trailer for the film itself, this time under the title Assault with a Deadly Weapon (3 min.; HD).
While not technically an Easter egg, both discs open with one of my all-time favorite FBI piracy warnings.
The three shiny, five inch discs in this collection are exceptional, and The Tough Ones boasts packaging to match:
The first 2,500 copies include a hefty .30 caliber inkpen. I feel guilty pointing out how indescribably amazing this is since the limited part of this edition looks to be sold out everywhere – or, at least, at Diabolik and Grindhouse Video.
As gorgeous as the cover art is on the slipcase, it's even more striking embossed like this. The cover art isn't recycled on the interior either. The default cover is an Italian one-sheet, and it reverses to reveal the Assault with a Deadly Weapon poster from these shores. The enclosed booklet showcases unique artwork and a fourth title (Brutal Justice) on its cover, along with a terrific essay by Roberto Curti (Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980). As many hours upon hours of extras as The Tough Ones includes, Curti offers context and cinematic/sociopolitical insight that aren't echoed elsewhere.
It's also very much worth noting that The Tough Ones is an all-region release.
The Final Word
The Tough Ones may not have invented Eurocrime, but it certainly perfected the genre. Much the same could be said about this long-in-the-making Blu-ray release. The concept of a special edition obviously didn't originate with Grindhouse Releasing, but from the quality of the film itself to its top-shelf presentation to a full weekend's worth of extras, I can't fathom a more impressive package than this. There's no need to grade on a curve here. The Tough Ones isn't simply an extraordinary release of a poliziottesco, cult cinema in general, or, hell, Blu-ray as a format. Maybe you'll roll your eyes at this as hyperbole, but I mean every word of it: what Grindhouse Releasing has delivered with The Tough Ones ranks among the most exceptional editions in the history of home video. DVD Talk Collector Series.