Whereas Westerns films now and again contained social commentary and sly digs at Italian life and the politics of the late sixties, and the main message of the Gialli was 'boobs and slow motion lesbian scenes with Rosalba Neri are cool', the Poliziotesschi were set mainly in the real world: that of a corrupt Italy where the laws protect the criminals, kidnapping and ransoming are endemic, politicians and the police are regularly bribed, students and unions are suppressed and the public are at the end of their tether.
Although some of these films are Dirty Harry rip-offs, others (like Enzo Castellari's Street Law) show the public having to take the law into their own hands, or mobsters themselves trying to escape the life of crime (like Duccio Tessari's Tony Arzenta). These films were successful in the mid-seventies until being frowned upon as right-wing (usually the films involving rogue cops blowing away everybody) and condemned by Italian directors themselves, like Michele Soavi, for instance. Like the gialli, however, they never really died out totally. In fact, they seem to have a bit or resurgence in TV series form lately.
Execution Squad is a film I wasn't familiar with but added to my never ending list of Italian films to watch anyway. I was quite surprised to find it a fully formed, politically charged thriller with an amazing performance from Enrico Maria Salerno. Nice! The ever-weary looking Salerno plays inspector Bertone, head of homicide in Rome, and the first time we see him he's reluctantly released a smug mobster for the umpteenth time. Making matters worse is a double murder by two young guy that leads to the kidnapping of a young lady.
Growing pressure from the public and the press leads Bertone to give a demonstration to a bunch of journalists as to how the police have their hands tied, including Merlin's Law, which explains why whenever you see a hooker or a rent boy in an Italian movie, they are standing out on the streets! Bertone's woes increase as he's falsely accused of assaulting the smug mobster, and even his retired predecessor cannot reassure him that everything's going to be alright.
Things take a turn into darker territory when the plot changes to focus on a sinister bunch of vigilantes who appear halfway through the film and start executing some of the criminals mentioned above. Bertone's priorities change and it seems he's the only one out to give the criminal are fair chance at a trial, no matter how heinous their actions are. Maybe the straight laced Attorney (Mario Adorf in a much more subdued role than Milano Calibro 9) isn't so much of an obstacle after all, but who knows how deep the corruption runs, or how much people support these vigilantes
I was really impressed by Enrico Salerno's turn as the crippled gunslinger in Bandidos, and in this film he brings that same kind of resigned melancholy to a contemporary role. He seems to know how things are going to end up, but does it anyway as he believes everyone should face the law. His character is a policeman who is wiser than everyone else, but that wisdom comes with the knowledge that wisdom is futile in the face of mob mentality.
Even with all the politics, Steno doesn't skimp on the action. Plenty of car chases, gunfights and such like to keep you going. Poliziotesschi films somehow manage to raise the bar in the violence stakes too, and this one is no different. I winced at the scene where one character is pushed under a speeding police car.
There are better Poliziotesschi out there, but I wouldn't miss this one either.