Nico Giraldi (Tomas Milian) was once one of Rome’s top thieves. He stole handbags and briefcases and he sold them through a network of underground sellers. Now that Nico has grown up, he’s turned over a new leaf. Though he still bristles at authority and is just as quick to break the rules, Nico is now a member of the Rome police, assigned to the anti-mugging squad. He’s a tough cop who has no problem beating the Hell out of a mugger after he captures him. However, Nico knows that arresting the muggers is only half the job. To Nico, the real enemies are the sellers who employ the muggers. Nico wants the men at the top of the criminal food chain, men like the mysterious Baron (Guido Mannari) and the sadistic American crime boss, Richard Russo (Jack Palance).
It’s not just his background that’s unconventional. Dressing like a slob and sporting an unkempt beard, Nico is a strong contrast to his more conventional co-workers. Nico even carries a mouse named Captain Spaulding in his front shirt pocket. The ladies, of course, love Nico. His girlfriend (played by the beautiful Maria Rosaria Omaggio) is a literary agent who is hoping the publish a manuscript that is being smuggled out of Russia. The Russians try to sabotage her efforts by switching a briefcase. It’s a pretty good thing that Nico still remembers how to pull off the perfect mugging.
Though Nico is obviously based on Al Pacino’s performance in Serpico, The Cop in Blue Jeans has little in common with Sidney Lumet’s classic. Instead, The Cop in Blue Jeans is a mix of action and comedy. The action comes from Nico’s attempts to capture the members of Russo’s gangs and Russo killing anyone who displeases him. (A scene in which Russo has a man suffocated in a car is far stronger than anything you would ever see in an American comedy.) The comedy comes from Nico being such a slob that even his fellow police officers often attempt to arrest him. Nico insults everyone and everyone insults Nico. It’s actually not that funny but I liked how every fight turned into an elaborate brawl and Tomas Milian, who was always well-cast as scruffy iconoclasts, gives a good performance as Nico. Add to that, it’s always entertaining to see Jack Palance play the bad guy, even if this was clearly just a film that he did to pick up a paycheck.
The Cop in Blue Jeans was a big hit in Italy and, coming out a time when Milian’s career was struggling after his early Spaghetti Western successes, it helped to revive his career. Milian went on to play Nico in ten sequels before then establishing himself as a character actor. (The role that most modern audiences know him from is as the corrupt Mexican general in Traffic.) Milian died in 2017 and today would have been his 87th birthday. The Cop in Blue Jeans features him at his best and shows why he was a star for such a long time.