The Film: Super Fuzz (1980)
The Principles: Sergio Corbucci (Co-Writer/Director). Terence Hill, Ernest Borgnine, Marc Lawrence, Julie Gordon, Salvatore Borghese
The Premise: A Spaghetti superhero predecessor to the popular buddy cop films of the 80s, and also one of the films I think of when someone mentions Ernest Borgnine.
Is It Good: Technically no, just like the equivalent Italian made westerns. With a few exceptions, most of them had mediocre acting with bad sound dubbing, over the top fight choreography and an in your face score. Couple that with a comedic look at superheroes and what you have is some weird sort of cinema gold.
I originally watched this in the theater when I was seven years old, and this became a film that shaped many a play sessions. Years that passed brought similarly themed shows that often made me think they were trying to keep the character alive. Television introduced an almost plagiaristic show with an unexpected super hero and a grumpy cop named The Greatest American Hero just one year later, though the lead was not a cop but a school teacher. 6 years later another slapstick cop show, Sledge Hammer! featured an unintelligent, zany but violent blond headed lead cop. Super Fuzz never achieved the fame it deserved, and after some time on the earlier years of HBO, it fell into obscurity. Until it was re-released on DVD in 2007, I had forgotten the name, but always remembered this movie as the one Ernest Borgnine floated above the city on a bubble from a single piece of bubble gum.
The movie begins with a flashback and one of a few short voice over narrations. Our narrator explains that he is about to be executed again. This time they were going to use the electric chair because a firing squad and a lynching had both previously failed. This sets the tone instantly as a film that is not going to take itself too serious. We then flash back to the required origin that involves our rookie cop using a rowboat to navigate to the totem pole of a Native American with a parking violation. When he fires a warning shot at a boat stealing alligator, he detonates a non-explosive, top secret, experimental NASA rocket, showering him and the surrounding area with red plutonium. This plutonium is what grants our hero his powers.
I’ve been avoiding what powers our super cop has, because I don’t think the writers ever figured out what they actually wanted to give our hero. They did what I do at a pizza place, instead of choosing they added everything. Telekinesis, invulnerability, clairvoyance, X-ray vision, super speed, flight, hypnosis, water-breathing and animal communication to name a few of the powers shown here. His only weakness is he can’t look at the color red, and he never thinks to buy a pair of emerald colored glasses so that he would never have a single weakness. The powers and the slapstick humor bestowed to our Italian actor playing a U.S. Cop take center stage but we are never far removed from the over acted side story.
Ernest Borgnine over acts here more than I ever noticed in any other film. He plays a lovable but obsessed stalker with a hatred of anything other than what is in his comfort zone. He treats Hill as though he is a burden that he is stuck with. When the rocket explodes at the beginning, he says Hill’s Dave Speed character wasn’t that good in the academy, and he was only an ok rookie. What doesn’t get mentioned is how far back their history goes, as Super Dave is the boyfriend of Borgnine’s niece, so there is more of a backstory than is shown. Borgnine steals every scene he is in, whether wearing his sergeant uniform and using his bigger than life expressions, or greasing his hair and wearing a suit to “dance like Fred Astaire” with his infatuation. Most film historians identify 48 Hours as the movie that revitalized the buddy cop genre for the 80s, but looking at the release date and Borgnine’s role in this make me question whether Walter Hill had used a little of Borgnine’s role in the construction of Nolte’s grumpy attitude (though the comparison ends there).
The film doesn’t always maintain a strong narrative and often appears to stumble between the action beats. As with most spaghetti westerns, the action beats are extremely plentiful and are used instead of heavy dialogue to progress the plot. Close to 40 minutes into the film we had met the big bad yet had no clue as to why he was the very obvious big bad and how our cops would get tangled up with him. We are mostly spared the getting to know your powers crutch most superhero films insist on, and instead find out our guy is immediately a master of all except when the color red is around.
The tone of the film walks a very thin line between The Three Stooges slapstick and Batman and Robin corny (but still never as bad as the latter). One scene even goes so far as to have three goons placed into a circle by our rookie, who instructs them to attempt to hit each other for a sobriety test. As one swings, the target ducks and the punch hits the third, this continues until they get into a knockout ending continuous punchfest. The plot is excessively full of holes, and the grumpy old sergeant teamed with the naive and careless rookie would not have made this film work, but when you combine the superpowers and physical comedy you wind up with something that looks horrible on paper but sticks together well enough to be enjoyable.
I wouldn’t give the film justice if I didn’t mention the theme song that borders on Flash Gordon’s infamous action accents. As our hero accidentally runs through a 20 story window and lands safely below on his feet, we hear “Super Duper Snooper” play over a snippet of Euro-synthed music. We get a similar deflated sound every time the color red appears. The music plays a role in the film just as much as almost any other character.
Is It Worth A Look: I wondered this last night as I began to rewatch it. I had the nostalgia of my childhood, but that didn’t mean it was good. I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the rewatch. I think I saw this near 20 times after school in my pre-teen years, but never since.
If you have any respect for the Spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. The voices don’t always match up with the lips, the ambient sound is sometimes very unbalanced and almost all the acting appears to have been projected for the stage and not the screen. All the negatives of the westerns and as with so many of them it overcomes them by presenting something crazy enough that the end product embraces the problems and goes so far over the top that you can accept them.
I cannot recommend this enough as Borgnine at one of his most memorable roles. This character stuck with me through my youth, though I saw him in a ton of legendary films(McHale’s Navy ,Dirty Dozen,The Wild Bunch,Escape from New York,Posiedon Adventure and the tv show Airwolf just to scratch the surface of his 61 year career). He played better roles and in better films, but this has him in a way that makes him stand out as a genuinely fun presence that always made an impact on every film he was in. Ernest Borgnine was a screen legend, and one that will be sorely missed.
Super Fuzz has also been known as Super Cop, Super Snooper and Poliziotto Superpiu
Terence Hill was born Mario Girotti to his German Mother and survived the World War II bombing of Dresden, Saxony, Germany.
Sergio Corbucci directed the original Django(1966) with Franco Nero
The finale has our hero using his powers to ride a plane to the ground. The plane has very visible red stripes that apparently do not affect our hero like all the other red items in the film.
Cinematic Soulmates: Superman III, Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, The Three Stooges, Super Troopers, Sledge Hammer, Greatest American Hero