Retired from the force, ex-cop Leonardo Tanzi (Maurizio Merli) now makes a living editing crime novels. That is until he is ambushed in his apartment by assassins sent by an old criminal adversary, Luigi Maietto (Tomas Milian) a.k.a. The Chinaman. Newspapers report Tanzi's death but it is all a ruse. Relocating to another town, he continues his one-man war on crime as a two-fisted vigilante. Between rousting robbers, pounding porn-peddlers to a pulp and bedding hooker-turned-informant Nadia (Gabriella Lepori), Tanzi unearths info about the Chinaman's shaky alliance with hotshot new American mob boss Frank Di Maggio (John Saxon). He sets out to lure both into a fatal trap.
While macho moustachioed Maurizio Merli clearly embodies the titular 'fist' it is less clear which of his fellow Euro-crime icons, John Saxon and Tomas Milian, is meant to be the cynic or the rat. Judging from the fine interviews featured on the Blu-Ray release from 88 Films, neither director Umberto Lenzi, co-star Milian nor genre expert Mike Malloy, director of solid documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s (2012), are any the wiser on that front. Il cinico, l'infame, il violento/The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist was the second in Lenzi's trilogy of poliziotteschi action-thrillers, hot on the heels of Rome Armed to the Teeth (1976) which also featured Maurizio Merli as badass cop Inspector Tanzi. A character all but indistinguishable from Inspector Betti, the other badass cop portrayed by Merli in Lenzi's Violent Naples (1976) which was book-ended by Marino Girolami's Violent Rome (1975) and A Special Cop in Action (1976). In this instance however the script, co-written by Lenzi along with Dardano Sacchetti and Ernesto Gastaldi (who between them seemingly penned every B-movie in Italian cinema!), shifts Tanzi away from a Clint Eastwood-Dirty Harry clone into a Charles Bronson style vigilante a la Death Wish.
Despite the usual rousing action sequences and polished direction by Umberto Lenzi that counters his later reputation as a talentless horror hack, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist is over-familiar stuff. Talky, meandering and casually nonsensical, the plot interweaves Tanzi's cathartic vigilante antics with complex power-plays and counter-ploys between rival scum-bags Maietto and Di Maggio, keeping the chief antagonists apart largely because behind the scenes Merli and Milian were not exactly the best of friends. The story never really adds up but throws in the odd memorable action scene (a gunfight in a porn studio, an ambush on a subway train, a chase through a supermarket) en route to a shoot-'em-up climax that wraps things up yet proves distinctly unsatisfying. Along with his shift into blatant vigilantism, Tanzi exhibits an alarming callousness in common with his criminal quarry as he slaps Nadia around, steals a car from some poor innocent woman and teams up with a comical ex-con who "accidentally murdered his wife" (?!) for a laughable heist wherein red string stands-in for an infra-red security web.
The film features the usual tiresome misogyny and abuse of hapless, under-characterized female characters although Gabriella Lepori's makeup remains ridiculously impeccable even after getting slapped silly by sleazy criminals and righteous cop hero alike. While The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist takes vicarious pleasure in having the mighty Merli belt seven kinds of shit out of wayward delinquents and odious gangsters, paradoxically it also betrays a grudging admiration for the suave villainy of Tomas Milian. The film makes of point of mentioning Frank DiMaggio is American as a means of drawing a distinction between foreign corporate criminals and 'lovable' local scoundrels, the sort-of cop-out bullshit that renders Euro-crime thrillers, for all the enthusiasm of fans like Quentin Tarantino, far less effective than the more complex sociopolitical thrillers of Francesco Rosi. And yet few of Rosi's films are available on Blu-ray. Maurizio Merli and Umberto Lenzi would complete the trilogy with From Corleone to Brooklyn (1979).
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.