1969 brought a nearly two decade reign of terror in Italy known as the Anni di piombo, the Years of Lead, during which both far left and far right terrorist groups(supposedly supported by the Soviet Union and US respectively) carried out bombings, assassinations, homicides, arson, kidnappings, intentional maiming, and executions against police officers, journalists, government officials, innocent people, and each other. The near-constant violence and bloodshed making the headlines had an impact on filmmakers of the time who were also seeing vigilante cop films coming out of the United States like Bullitt, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry. This led to the creation of a new subgenre of film, the poliziotteschi.
The 1972 release of Execution Squad is generally considered the start of the poliziotteschi movement, and it’s a good place to start if you have any interest in Italian renegade cop movies. The chief protagonist, Commissioner Bertone, is doing his best to fight crime and bad press in a country hounded by thievery, prostitution, organized crime, and murder. When a couple of punks gun down a lady in a smash and grab robbery gone wrong, he orders his officers to try and track them down. But as other high profile criminals go free, the stress of the job begins to get to Bertone, and he finds himself fighting with his own superiors, even arguing with the attorney general after one of the punks kidnaps a girl and uses her as a hostage to escape police custody.
Then, to further complicate matters, criminals start winding up dead. A mafia member is electrocuted to death at a power plant. A thief is tied to a wall and executed by firing squad. A prostitute is strangled and left on the side of the road. As he tries to investigate, Bertone begins to suspect that there is a renegade band of vigilantes, possibly even cops, who are carrying out the killings. When his own men begin to voice support for these killings and a wanted murderer turns himself in for protection but ends up poisoned, Bertone knows he’s got a fight on his hands. Sure enough, the last punk turns himself in to Bertone personally, and the vigilante cops come after both of them.
While Execution Squad is not over the top with action, it provides its fair share and paints an excellent portrait of a good cop trying to stick to law and order as society crumbles around him, both from above and below. The ending is understandable yet ballsy, perhaps not as much as To Live and Die in LA but in a way that I respect; I don’t want to ruin it for you if any of you ever take an interest in the Italian cop and crime films of the 1970s. If you do, this is definitely one to watch.
Also, I really love the theme to this movie for some reason.