An innocent little girl shot dead in a violent robbery leaves doting dad David Vannucchi (Henry Silva) devastated. Unable to locate the gang, the police, led by caring but ineffectual Inspector Bertone (Raymond Pellegrin), further frustrate David as he struggles to console his grieving ex-wife Vera (Luciana Paluzzi). Knowing his daughter saw the distinctive scorpion bracelet worn by the killer, David turns to a sleazy private eye who unearths an important clue. Only to be gruesomely murdered. Meanwhile, confronted by vandals, rapists, thieves and thugs running rampant, David grows enraged with the sorry state of crime-ridden Seventies Italy. Whereupon he is approached by Mieli (Claudio Gora), a right-wing prosecuting attorney, with an offer to a so-called Civic Self-Defense Unit: a secret group of outraged citizens determined to exact justice by any means necessary.
Just as John Wayne and director Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo (1959) in response to Gary Cooper and Fred Zinnemann's more left-leaning High Noon (1952), Euro-crime specialist Umberto Lenzi mounted Manhunt in the City a.k.a. The Manhunt as his riposte to Street Law (1974), the Enzo G. Castellari-directed vigilante thriller with Franco Nero. Yet the ideological divide between both Italian-made crime movies is not so clear-cut. Driven by Nero's impassioned performance, Street Law insists vigilante justice is a dead-end, depicting its everyman hero as fatally consumed by an insatiable lust for vengeance. Yet the film is also a showcase for Castellari's crowd-pleasing skill with spectacular slow-mo mayhem.
Conversely, coming from the future director of Violent Naples (1976), one might expect Manhunt in the City would be the more reactionary film. Lenzi certainly plays to the gallery, laying on the moral outrage extra thick: an angelic child dies whimpering for mama and papa, sneering street punks steal, rape and kill in flagrant defiance of the law, while the police are more concerned with keeping decent citizens like David in check (after David has his car vandalized and is brutally beaten, a cop cites him as a public nuisance) than risking their necks taking on organized crime. After enduring such indignity little wonder Mieli's opportunity for payback seems an attractive offer. And yet David not only turns him down, at least at first, but is clearly sickened at the concept of a right-wing death squad similar to those he heard about in Brazil. Lenzi draws a direct parallel between the vigilantes in their black klan-style hoods and the legacy of fascism that continues to haunt Italy to this day. Furthermore the film's climax, though it goes easier on David in a manner seemingly in line with a right-wing point of view (and, according to Lenzi, upset the Italian censor), underscores the message that vigilante justice is ultimately self-destructive.
Indeed Lenzi may be guilty of laying a sense of futility on too thick. Co-written by genre-hopping Italian exploitation stalwart Dardano Sacchetti, Manhunt in the City argues the law is impotent, the press are vultures (although Silvano Tranquilli provides a sympathetic ear as David's journalist pal), liberal social reforms do not work, right-wing politicians only exploit our fears for their own ends and fighting back only makes things worse. If the situation is all truly hopeless then Italian viewers at the time may have wondered why were they watching this movie? Of course both Manhunt in the City and Street Law live in the shadow of the grand-daddy of all vigilante movies: Death Wish (1974). Interestingly enough some plot twists here foreshadow the course of events in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) which has a similarly grim conclusion. Unusually plot heavy for Lenzi, the film is more thoughtful and sedate, confining action largely to the last fifteen-to-twenty minutes or so. While a car chase and junkyard battle prove somewhat familiar for seasoned Euro-crime fans, the scene where thugs besiege David and Vera's house is well staged and suspenseful. Even though it reduces the latter to a hysterical wreck. As per regrettable Euro-crime tradition, the film calls on former Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi to do little more than weep and whine while Henry Silva tells her to shut up, though for once keeps the inevitable rape scene off-screen. Which may not sound terribly progressive but within this deeply misogynistic genre one takes what they can get. That said scenes where Silva roughs up a whimpering transvestite, whose criminal cohorts later viciously assault with a candle, prove tough viewing. Less convincing as a cheerfully smiling family man than a grim-faced, gun-toting avenger, Henry Silva is on top form throughout, selling us on Lenzi's admittedly antiquated, very Seventies, very Italian notion of lawlessness leading to the emasculation of the modern male.
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.