The 1976 film, Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man, takes place during the Christmas season.
We know this because the film opens with a man dressed like Santa Claus standing on a street corner in Rome and impotently watching as a woman is dragged behind a motorcycle by two men who were attempting to snatch her purse. When she doesn’t let go of her purse, one of the men hops off the motorcycle and proceeds to kick her in the face until she stops moving. Suddenly, two other men — our heroes, as it were — came driving up on a motorcycle of their own. A chase ensues, through the streets of Rome, during which a blind man’s dog is graphically run over. The chase which, it must be said, is very well-shot and directed, lasts for over 10 ten minutes and it ends with the two thieves being executed by, once again, our nominal heroes.
A lot of people are executed over the course of Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man. That’s because Detectives Fred (Marc Porel) and Tony (Ray Lovelock) have been given a license to kill anyone who breaks the law. The film is a bit vague on just how exactly the license works and why, apparently, it’s only been given to Fred and Tony. One major set piece features several dozen cops all waiting outside a house, powerless to get the three criminals within, until Fred and Tony arrive. Fred and Tony, of course, solve the problem by killing everyone. Why couldn’t the other cops have done that? The film doesn’t really make that clear.
Admittedly, Fred and Tony aren’t the first movie cops to get results through unorthodox means. The French Connection was a popular film in the 70s and it inspired a whole genre of Italian rip-offs, of which Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man is a definite example. What sets Fred and Tony apart from cops like Popeye Doyle and Dirty Harry is the amount of joy that Fred and Tony seem to get out of killing people. Early on, they show up at a party and proceed to set all of the cars on fire. They also set two criminals on fire, with Fred doing a happy little dance as the two men go up in flames. It’s disturbing but there’s also a strange integrity to the film’s shameless embrace of violence. Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than satisfying the vigilante fantasies of its audience.
And indeed, it should be considered that Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man was released during the so-called Years of Lead, when a combination of political terrorism and open crime had made violence an almost daily part of Italian life. When you’re living day-to-day with the knowledge that you could be blown up at any minute by the Red Brigade, the Ordine Nero, or the Mafia, I imagine that there would be something appealing about watching two young men who are perfectly willing to just shoot anyone who appears to be up to no-good. It’s easy to imagine that, for audiences in 1976, the random violence of this episodic film mirrored the random violence of everyday life. Though Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man was obviously inspired by The French Connection, it perhaps has more in common with the original Death Wish, with the main difference being that Live Like A Cop’s vigilantes are officially sanctioned.
The film also places a good deal of importance on just how close Tony and Fred are supposed to be. They live together in a ramshackle flat, they apparently spend all of their free time together, and, towards the end of the film, the only thing that keeps the two of them from taking part in a threesome is the sound of someone else being shot. Unfortunately, Ray Lovelock and Marc Porel did not get along in real life and, as a result, there was never a Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man Part II. Live Like A Cop would also be director Ruggero Deodato’s only stab at the polizieschi genre. He went on, of course, to direct Cannibal Holocaust and The House on the Edge of the Park. (Interestingly, Tony and Fred’s relationship is mirrored, to sinister effect, by the relationship between the characters played by David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice in House On The Edge of the Park.) Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man has gone on to become a bit of a cult film and, as offensive as some will find it to be, it’s also so over-the-top in its violence and its celebration of officially sanctioned bad behavior that it becomes rather fascinating to watch. It’s so without shame or apology that it’s hard to look away from it, even though you may want to.