Jack Palance is coolest of them all.
When it comes to the poliziotteschi genre, Fernando Di Leo is king. Other directors weaved their way through Italian crime sagas, but none had quite the grasp for making them work as well as Di Leo often did, with Rulers of the City being a sterling example.
Harry Baer stars as the lowly thug of an equally lowly crime boss, who meets another thug in the employ of a promising new mob boss on the rise, Mr. Scarface. The two concoct a plan to rip off Scarface, one that soon has virtually the whole of Italy’s criminal elite on their tails, but we soon discover that money may not be the sole motivator for one of the two…
The star here is Di Leo’s direction, which - give or take a shaggy hippy or two - remains thoroughly modern to this very day. Di Leo clearly had a huge influence on every who made crime films thereafter, everybody from Scorsese to Woo to Tarantino, and his surefooted direction is above even the largely-competent work of his contemporaries. The action comes plentifully and quick, as the film is often interrupted by various fistfights, chases, shootings, and one memorable moment where one of our heroes uses the front wheel of a motorcycle to punch a goon right in the face.
The cast is also up to the task, although I was far more taken by Baer’s charming scoundrel than Al Cliver as his stoic partner-in-crime, Ric. Also a tad disappointing was Jack Palance as the Mr. Scarface of the alternate title, although that disappointment comes more from his little screen-time more than anything else. Like many actors of his class, Palance was apparently completely okay with taking a vacation to Italy to make whatever those crazy Italians had cooking up for him. As a result, Palance gets sadly far too few scenes, although when he is on screen, he’s as electric as always (I don’t think Palance could be boring if he tried). Still, those who sign up primarily for the pairing of Di Leo and Palance are sure to have the wind taken out of their sails just a bit.
But fortunately, they also get one of Di Leo’s very best in the process.