There's a commotion going on in downtown Rome, where a gunman has gone to the roof of this tall building and started to take shots at the passersby below. Luckily he hasn't hit anyone yet, but the police are taking no chances and prepare to kill him with a sniper rifle - that is until Inspector Rizzo (Bud Spencer) appears and tells them no. He climbs the stairs to the roof, distracts the gunman enough so that he has emptied his pistol, and gets into a fight with him to subdue the man. All in a day's work...
A Fistful of Hell was the English language retitling of the first instalment in Spencer's four movie Flatfoot series, or Piedone as they were known in their native Italy. Spencer was at the height of his popularity in the seventies, but both he and his frequent screen partner Terence Hill found they could be just as successful apart as they were together, hence Spencer finding his own franchise which he could busy himself with when not paired up with Hill. The gimmick, such as it was, in these was that Rizzo never used a gun - he simply used his fists.
This led to many scenes of the star doing what plenty of his fans wanted to see him do, namely beat the shit out of the bad guys, and there were certainly a sufficient number of sequences here doing that to satsify those adherents. But this was not a straight comedy as many of Spencer's vehicles could be, as it was more in the vein of the police movies that were most in demand in Italy during this decade, so there was more to this that was serious than there were the jokes. There was an element of humour, that was for sure, but director Steno never let us forget there was a lot at stake here.
The plot Rizzo gets into involves drugs, and although in the early stages this looks to be a pretty episodic in framework, it all does come together as the threads are tied up fairly neatly. So that sailor chap Jho (Jho Jhenkins) we saw going crazy at the beginning was not some throwaway bit of action, he does show up again as the reason he'd gone crazy was that he'd partaken of the narcotics, and he's so grateful to Rizzo that he assists him later on with his buddies when they go to investigate a ship Rizzo believes is smuggling drugs into the country, but cannot work out how. Cue a lengthy brawl where frozen fish are the weapon of choice.
Which was sort of funny, and intended to be, but did not eclipse the sincere anti-drugs theme. Rizzo is meant to seem more approachable than his pen-pushing superior or his fellow officers, which is conveyed in his leniency towards the petty end of the criminal spectrum, so he's friend to the less harmful rogues, but protector of the weak as well, including as they do some of those criminals lower down the scale of evildoing. A few genuine laughs emerged, such as the scene where Spencer is visiting a nightclub and gets into - you guessed it - a fistfight which all the patrons stop their dancing to watch, then when the bad guy is subdued and Rizzo looks up, they all immediately start dancing again. But mainly this is by the numbers stuff, perfectly watchable and diverting while it's on as Spencer was dependable as always, but not especially memorable otherwise. Music by Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis.