Much like seemingly every city in seedy Seventies Italy, Naples is a cesspool of crime. Dogged Police Inspector Belli (Leonard Mann) and his special task-force - including part-time taxi driver and Maurizio Merli look-alike Guidi (Jeff Blynn) - try their hardest to uphold the law, battling bank-robbers, thieves and murderous mafiosi. But the situation escalates even further out of control when ice-cool, shark-faced new kingpin Santoro (Henry Silva) breezes into town. He pulls off a string of brutal robberies between bumping off any cops and gangsters that cross his path. All while under the protection of local godfather Don Alfredo (Tino Bianchi). It falls to Belli to take Santoro down, but his war on crime claims a few innocent casualties.
A superior Euro-crime or poliziotteschi thriller from Mario Caiano: the dependable genre-hopping craftsman behind Eye in the Labyrinth (1972), The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1972) and Nightmare Castle (1965). All solid examples of their respective genres. Set in crime-ridden Naples - previously the stomping grounds of poliziotteschi icon Maurizio Merli in Violent Naples (1976) - Napoli Spara! (literally: Naples Shoots!), also known by the international title: Weapons of Death, mounts a very similar mix of sadism, social commentary and sentimentality. Amidst a relentless parade of bloodshed and brutality the story's emotional core hinges on caring cop Belli's affection for little Gennarino (Massimo Deda): a would-be adorable street urchin who mounts various money-making scams when he ought to be in school. Caiano devotes a lengthy sequence to Gennarino's attempted theft of a race-car that actually pays off later when the kid rides in to help Belli out of a tight spot. One imagines a Seventies Italian audience found much to empathize with the 'lovable' scamp, but contemporary viewers may find their patience tried by the charmless brat. Which undercuts the emotional punch of the heavy-handed tragic ending.
Nevertheless Weapons of Death functions successfully on a number of dramatic levels. The oddly respectful relationship between cop and criminal prefigures the code of honour themes later mined by Hong Kong action maestro John Woo. At different points in the story each spares the other's life out of some ambiguous sense of professional courtesy. However this leads Belli's superiors to suspect he is in Santoro's pocket, forcing the cop to resort to ever more reckless measures to prove his dedication to the job. Co-writers Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino craft a fragmented but interestingly complex plot wherein cop and criminal alike try to manipulate a bad situation to their advantage but with mixed results. While Santoro tries to put one over on Don Alfredo to steal and murder with impunity, Belli has his men pose as crooks to rip off a mob-owned casino and donate the money to charity.
As with many poliziotteschi movies Weapons of Death adopts a scattershot approach trying to portray a lawless city through a series of grim vignettes. Occasionally this betrays a lack of focus as we jump from shootout to shootout with various anonymous crooks, or else linger on atrocities like a child kidnapping, graphic castration (see also Ricco the Mean Machine (1973)), and a queasy scene where an angry mob beat a pedophile to near-death. However Caiano manages to draw together these seemingly disparate threads with some skill. He does not break any new ground but, unlike say Umberto Lenzi, keeps a tighter hold of his themes and definitely crafts a much punchier thriller. Indeed the film features some of the most spectacular widescreen car stunts in the genre along with some crowd-pleasing gory (a biker gets messily decapitated) and sexy moments (real-life American male model-turned-restaurateur Jeff Blynn has a steamy albeit pointless encounter with a French sexpot (Kirsten Gille) seemingly averse to clothes). Leonard Mann, a hit or miss leading man in multiple Italian genres, is actually a solid presence here. He is thoroughly convincing as the tough cop trying vainly to keep his city from sliding down the sewer. Mann also proves his mettle performing some impressive stunts. Most notably scrambling across a speeding truck in a breakneck car chase - a sequence worthy of the legendary Jean-Paul Belmondo. Kudos to you, sir. All that plus a mobster delivers the immortal line: "In the words of Al Capone: 'Everybody screws his enemies but nobody f**ks a friend.'" Too true.