The lure of the impulse buy is a hard one for the film geek to resist. We’ve all fallen prey to those cheap box sets filled with forgotten Spaghetti Westerns, Kung Fu Films, Horror or whatever 35mm print someone found in their garage and was able to license for 3.97. Most of the time these films sit unviewed on the shelf, still in their shrink wrap. Cheap License Theater is a weekly trip dedicated to exploring these cinematic backwaters of the not-quite-public-domain.
What’s The Film? The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist (1977)
Who Licensed It On The Cheap? The Mafia Kingpin Collection
Cool Trailer? Si.
Worth Watching? My original plan for this column’s introduction to the Euro Cop subgenre (Policier if you’re French, Poliziotteschi if you’re Italian and enjoy triple checking your spelling) was to watch The Cop In Blue Jeans, which promised both Jack Palance and titular dungaree sporting peace officer. Unfortunately lovely as that title is, it could not hope to contend with The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist, with which it shares a disc and is the kind of stuff that exploitation dreams are made of. In all fairness few titles can hold up to The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist. I am seriously considering petitioning that Beethoven’s 9th be renamed The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist, perhaps The Birth Of Venus as well, though this may cause undue confusion.
Anyway, the law of inverse grindhouse expectations states that the better the title or trailer the worse the actual film. Happily The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist jukes this trend, providing an agreeably slimy and dynamic exploitation film. Even if I’m somewhat mystified as to whom two of the three nouns of the title refer to.
A notorious gangster, nicknamed The Chinaman for no reason I could discern, (I watched the film before realizing it is actually a sequel to Rome Armed To The Teeth, made the previous year, so maybe they covered it there) escapes from prison. A cop he has a grudge against (Maurizio Merli, the poor man’s Franco Nero, he’ll be showing up in this column a lot) fakes his own death in order to manipulate The Chinaman and an older, more conservative gangster (played by John Saxon in all his deadpanned, mustachioed glory) into a war.
Exploitation films live or die on the strength of their set pieces and The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist provides some good ones thanks to the lively direction and questionable taste of Umberto Lenzi, best known for gifting the world such charming films as Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive (or Mangiati Vivi! if you want to get fancy). Whatever cinematic sins Lenzi may be guilty of, lack of gusto is not among them and he puts together several lively sequences, particularly a shoot out in a pornographer’s lair that has a pop art flair, a part where John Saxon gets to feed someone to the dogs, and a somewhat deranged turn into Mission Impossible territory at the hour mark. Lenzi wisely allows for very little downtime to accrue between such scenes.
Despite Lenzi’s reputation The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist manages to walk a fine line, offering sleazy exploitation thrills without crossing the line into truly repellent. Even a scene where a woman has acid thrown into her face is surprisingly low impact. This may seem like dubious praise, but after spending enough time watching films that promise cheap thrills one cannot help but appreciate a movie that actually bothers to deliver them.