Maverick cop Mark Terzi (Franco Gasparri) wields a big gun in his war against crime on the mean streets of Milan. His number one target: mob boss Benzi (Lee J. Cobb) who controls the local heroin trade beneath a respectable facade, smuggling drugs inside children’s toys. In his search for a witness, Mark latches onto traumatised junkie Irene (Sara Sperati) whom he shelters at his apartment and forms an emotional attachment perhaps too close for comfort. Meanwhile, in a bid to cover his tracks, Benzi manipulates an array of lesser villains including a corrupt cop (Lucio Como) and psychotic German ex-con Gruber (Carlo Duran), into eliminating other players on the scene until only Mark stands in his way.
Screened in American theaters as The Narc, Mark il Poliziotto was the first in a trilogy of films directed by cinematographer-turned-action specialist Stelvio Massi starring handsome Franco Gasparri as the titular cop. Gasparri was a former child actor who found fame as a model in fotoromanzi strips that made him a hit with young women. His career took off with the Mark films including Mark Shoots First (1975) and the most acclaimed of the run, The .44 Specialist (1976), but came to an untimely end in 1980 when a motorcycle accident confined him to a wheelchair until his death in 1999. Lean and lanky, boyish and soft-spoken compared with your usual brawny, hot-tempered poliziotteschi protagonist, Gasparri stills cuts an athletic dash and broods charismatically but emerges a distinctively compassionate cop. He nurses junkie Irene back to health in his own home, defends the downtrodden against the jibes of his cynical colleagues, and waxes philosophical alongside his slobbering St. Bernard dog named Whisky. In short, Mark is a good egg, even if he does make time to blast bankrobbers with his .44 Magnum or (minutes afterwards) have sex with a grateful blonde damsel-in-distress whom he then ditches after his morning coffee.
Even though Stelvio Massi always seemed to prize a cracking car chase, punch up or shootout above the sort of sociopolitical commentary favoured by fellow action auteurs Enzo G. Castellari and Umberto Lenzi, Mark il Poliziotto musters its share of moral outrage over the rotten state of mid-Seventies Italy. It is less hectoring and more empathetic than the likes of, say, Violent Naples (1976) albeit in some instances just as ideologically muddled. A visibly ailing Lee J. Cobb essays the stock role of American mobster lording it over ordinary Italian folks and lesser gangsters. For all their talk of social deprivation and governmental incompetence, the unwritten rule in these films seems to be it is always America’s fault.
Scripted by Dardano Sacchetti, writer of many popular zombie splatter films for Lucio Fulci, from a multi-authored story including input from Massi, this lifts set-pieces from Magnum Force (1973), namechecks Serpico (1973) in reference to its hero’s unorthodox methods and looks to The French Connection (1971) for large chunks of its plot. Like a lot of Sacchetti scripts it juggles multiple plotlines that gradually coalesce but do occasionally prove confusing and/or frustrating. The film spends a lot of time trailing one character seemingly set up to be a major villain before Mark bumps him off with surprising ease, while the whole corrupt cop subplot arrives and disappears just as abruptly. Although Irene’s saga is suitably tragic, her syrupy almost-romance with Mark is like something from one of Gasparri’s old fotoromanzi strips and the film suffers an excess of unfunny comedy, including Benzi’s wife failing to deduce what her husband is really up to and a scene where a forensic scientist uses his lab to develop pasta dishes his wife won’t cook him at home. More amusing is a scene wherein a criminal escapes after a well-meaning priest bludgeons scruffy-looking Mark unconscious. While the action is more sporadic compared to the full-throttle Castellari films, Massi orchestrates some exciting set-pieces. Smooth grooves supplied by the ever-reliable Stelvio Cipriani.