This piece of cinematic dynamite from Enzo G. Castellari is often credited, along with Stefano Vanzina’s La polizia ringrazia / Execution Squad (1972), with kick-starting the poliziotteschi cycle. It's also one of the best. Franco Nero is Vice-Commissioner Belli, a frustrated straighter-than-straight cop trying to rid the city of Genoa of organised crime once and for all.
After narrowly avoiding being killed in a car bombing, Belli heads straight to old-time mafia boss Cafiero (Fernando Rey of both French Connection films – utterly perfect in this role) who reveals that there’s a new, nastier criminal element in town, with connections that go right to the top. Belli’s every attempt to get to the truth is scuppered by one brutal gangland murder after another, culminating in the death of his superior, Commissioner Scavino (U.S. character actor James Whitmore – also brilliant here), on his way to deliver a dossier of evidence to the D.A., and finally of Belli’s estranged daughter (played by Castellari’s daughter Stefania Girolami).
Nero’s future as an action star was secured with this film – and quite rightly so. Although he could be (and has been) easily accused of over-acting here, it can’t be denied that that his supremely stressed-out performance supplies much of the driving force of the movie. And even in this near-apoplectic state he still remains one of the coolest actors who ever lived. Period.
An excellent supporting cast includes Sylvano Tranquilli as a corrupt captain of industry, Duilio Del Prete as his degenerate brother and Baba Yaga’s Ely Galleani as the latter’s shrewd moll. Also memorable in a non-speaking role as a particularly despicable hitman, is one (uncredited) Walter Patriarca – actually a busy art director, costume designer and production designer by trade, but also a familiar face to gorehounds as ‘Dr Dreylock’ from the opening scenes of Zombi Holocaust (1980). Also familiar to zombie-lovers will be the name of long-time Fulci collaborator Vincenzo Tomassi, whose snappy editing, along with a career-best soundtrack from Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, elevates La polizia incrimina… to another level entirely.
The film successfully tapped into the anger, fear and confusion of the Italian public at a time when car bombings, kidnappings, shootings and all manner of atrocities (some of which, it transpired, being actually state-sponsored) filled the national newspaper headlines – and was a huge success prompting a slew of imitations as a result. Nero's next film with Castellari would be the equally high quality Il cittadino si ribella / Street Law in the following year.