Poliziotteschi (a combination of the word "Poliziotto", meaning "Policeman" and the plural form of "esco" meaning "related to" or "esque") films trace back to the mid to late 60's with Carlo Lizzani's Svegliati e uccide (Wake Up and Die, 1966) and Banditi a Milano (Bandits in Milan aka The Violent Four, 1968). These films have more of a faux-documentary feel than a straight up narrative, with the characters being followed around in almost newsreel type footage. Other early Polizio films include Romolo Guerreri's Detective Belli starring Franco Nero (more of a police procedural) and Sergio Sollima's Violent City with Charles Bronson (more of a revenge film - with one of the greatest car chases I've ever seen). Damiano Damiani also had an early crime film, though more of a drama, with 1971's Confessions of a Police Captain, also starring Franco Nero. But widely considered to lay the template for the many films to come in the genre was La polizia ringrazia (aka Execution Squad) directed by Stefano "Steno" Vanzina.
Execution Squad stars Enrico Maria Salerno as Police Commissioner Bertone. He is at odds with the way his city is being overrun by violent crimes and how the criminals have more rights than the innocent. He frequently seeks out the advice of retired police chief (Cyril Cusack) and also receives help from his reporter girlfriend (Mariangela Melato). After a robbery ends in murder, the robber takes a young woman hostage and goes on the run. But he has more to fear than the police when a group of mysterious vigilantes begin executing criminals. It's then up to Bertone, against public opinion. to ensure that these vigilantes are stopped.
Featuring many of the staples of the Poliziotteschi films, including high speed chases, violent shoot outs, vigilantes, police corruption and a downbeat ending, Execution Squad is an expertly crafted, action film which sets the genre off on the right foot. Salerno, though seeming a little old for the part, does a great job of trying to ensure the law is followed, no matter what the outcome. The film has a few shocking moments and a great supporting cast (also including Italian cult regulars Laura Belli and Mario Adorf). Overall, a fine film to start with if you're unfamiliar with the Italian cop films of the 70's.
Fun Facts -
-This film was released the same year as Fernando Di Leo's Polizio classics Milano calibro 9 and La mala ordina (both of which also feature Mario Adorf).
-This was one of Steno's only Italian crime films and the first time he was credited with his full name. He was better known for Italian comedies, many of which star Italian "Prince of Laughter" Toto.
-La polizia ringrazia was released on Italian PAL VHS under the Calibro 9 label with an accompanying booklet.