Shoot First, Die Later (1974)

Written and directed by Fernando Di Leo

Within the first 20 minutes of Shoot First, Die Later, Fernando Di Leo’s madcap story of gangsters and cool guy cops, you’ll have witnessed a savage beatdown, machine-gunned kneecaps, a tense jewelry store robbery, and a lengthy car chase that’s perhaps even more of a thrill today than it was almost 50 years ago. 

Straddling this rearing stallion of a film is Luc Meranda as cop Domenico, a Don Johnson prototype with a sordid secret (to success). Armed with what appears a license to kill and catch criminals by any means necessary, he’s the cause of much of the carnage as he opts to let his fists do the talking, whether it’s beating up thugs or stroking the cheek of lusty news reporters who want to profile him. 

He’s a bit of a hero, but only with some illicit help, and like most deals with the devil, there’s hell to pay, and as the consequences ripple out and threaten Domenico’s father, his idol, he must make a choice.  

Director Di Leo has a lot of ideas, all seemingly conceived in his boyhood bedroom and concerned with one thing: delivering over the top, gratuitously violent entertainment. It’s full throttle from the opening shot, and Amedeo Giomini’s editing is akin to cinematic ADD, cutting from scene to scene, shot to shot even, with such vigor that it’s as if he fears any moment to breathe will break the spell.

Di Leo attempts a little smidgen of commentary regarding the social spiral Italy is caught in due to its laissez-faire attitude to a little corruption. What some might see as simple greasing of the wheel is really laying down the tracks to hell, and by the time things start slipping, there’s no reigning it in. As much of a hero Domenico’s father is to him, he’s also someone who brought moral wriggle room into Domenico’s life, learning at his father’s knee the easy temptation of a payoff in return for a blind eye. The sins of our fathers… 

It’s never more than narrative gristle, however, with Shoot First, Die Later a film more concerned with thrills over thoughts as a purebred Italian answer to the exploitation cinema overflowing from the U.S. with excitement and titillation the main course. The good news is Di Leo proves every bit of an equal to the cultural import, so even if there’s less sex (but some amore instead) there’s no shortage of spectacle and breathless action. Yes, its characters are cartoony, and its plot seems leaked from the pages of a pulp novel, but when there’s this much assured swagger and hellbent entertainment on offer, you get swept up in the committed energy of things.

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