In the wake of 1971’s The French Connection, the Italian film industry came up with their own stamp on gritty, police dramas. This genre became known as poliziottesco and were infamous for their depiction of Italy’s criminal underworld. Enzo G. Castellari would become the director best known for making this type of movie. One film specifically, The Big Racket, stands as one of his best crime films.
Inspector Nico Palmieri (Fabio Testi) is eying members of a local gang. This group is muscling money from local shop owners for “protection.” While spying on the gang during a meeting with their boss, Rudy (Joshua Sinclair), Nico is found and badly beaten. From then on, Nico takes a more direct approach with the gang, asking for the assistance from the shop owners as well as local thief, Pepe (Vincent Gardenia).
With the pushback, the hoodlums become more vicious. They rape one man’s daughter. They burn another man’s wife alive. Demanding retribution, Nico unites those wronged by the gang under his leadership and they bring the fight to them. This leads to a gruesome gunfight climax, littering a warehouse with bodies.
Compared to the level of violence in other Castellari films like The Heroin Busters and Street Law, The Big Racket is much more extreme. The actions committed by the criminals may be too much for some audiences. Unlike Death Wish II, the misdeeds by the bad guys aren’t so bad that any act of revenge by the protagonists isn’t satisfying. The bad guys are rotten, but they’re not too bad given what’s shown on-camera.
Another contrast to either Heroin Busters is that the action sequences are more spread out instead of reserved for the third act. One notable scene is a botched police assault that is built up and executed with panache. The climatic gunfight has a lot going on, but its easy to place characters in relation to one another.
Fabio Testi cements his reputation as a tough guy actor. In one scene, the camera is mounted on the hood of his car and focused on Testi through the windshield. The car Testi is in is rolled down a hill with the camera still on Testi. Seeing the shot look right side up yet everything flying around, glass and dirt, made for surreal, almost Giallo-style shot. A shot like this makes a great case for more practical effects instead of glossy effects.
Joining Testi is a number of Italian film regulars. Joshua Sinclair enjoys playing the gang leader. Keep an eye out for Massimo Vanni as one of Rudy’s henchmen. Character actor Gardenia gets some laughs as a comical thief. Romano Puppo plays a reluctant ally to Nico.
If you felt that Heroin Busters was lacking in violence and action, The Big Racket may be more to your liking. Fabio Testi heads a tried and true group of veteran actors. The action is more hard-hitting. The film itself is easy to find and represents one of Castellari’s stronger film efforts.