If you regularly read my reviews of lost 1970s films, you may have noticed that only two months ago I already reviewed a poliziotteschi (Italian crime film) called “The Big Racket,” and that one also starred Fabio Testi. So, why, you may ask, am I reviewing another film within the same genre so soon?
Most importantly, I really love the early spaghetti westerns of director Sergio Sollima, who sadly passed away back in July at the age of ninety four, so I thought to re-watch some of his best films. High on my list of his work in the spaghetti genre are “The Big Gundown,” “Face To Face,” and “Run Man Run,” all back to back from 1966 to 1968 and all starring the steely-eyed Cuban-born actor Thomas Milian. Director Sollima was never as epic in scale or poetic as Leone or as gruesome as Corbucci; no, what distinguished a Sollima western was the cold solemnness that set him apart from many of his peers. I loved taking a second glance at his work these last few months and was even more motivated to watch his 1973 poliziotteschi, “Revolver,” aka “Blood In The Streets,” the Sollima work with the brooding talents of Fabio Testi, who at the time had just scored a hit in the crime genre with “Gang War In Naples,” and the legendarily erratic and intense English thespian, Oliver Reed. With both actors also ranking high on my wife Lily’s list of 1970s male film star crushes, there was a lot riding on this watch between Lily’s love of Reed and Testi, and my adoration for both actors and Sollima’s films. Luckily “Revolver” delivers on both of our expectations.
“Revolver” opens in the dead of night where Milo Ruiz (Testi) is carrying his partner in crime who is badly wounded after a security guard shoots him during a burglary attempt. Milo clearly cares deeply for his accomplice in crime who is not going to make it and asks Milo for his dying request to bury him secretly and to keep his dead body out of the hands of the coroners. Milo obliges and he sadly buries his friend in a riverside ditch. After the burial, we cut to the next scene where you have the very Anglo Oliver Reed playing (brace yourself) Vito Cipriani, a tough prison official who spends his nights in the arms of his ridiculously gorgeous wife Anna, played by the luminous Agostina Belli. Everything is all well and good, which based on the genre you know won’t last long, until one day Vito gets a call that his wife has been kidnapped. When the abductor calls, he only asks for one item in return of Vito’s wife, and that is the unofficial release of a prisoner being held in Vito’s jail named Milo Ruiz. As Vito loves his wife dearly, he immediately descends on the prison cell of Milo and begins an intense round of questioning and a bit of beatdown on our wisecracking felon who appears to not be in on the kidnapping and has no ideas who his “friends” are who are stealing wardens’ wives to barter for his freedom. After a few more face slaps and armed with the prospect of early freedom, Milo breaks out with the help of Vito and they begin a Walter Hill/”48 Hours” style relationship of putdowns and punches to the head as they race against the clock to try and rescue Anna. Neither Vito nor Milo knows why they want Milo as their ransom, but, as the movie progresses, we start to realize that Milo may be as innocent as Anna in all this, and that his arrival to these mobsters may mean his own demise.
This plot so far sets up Vito as the classic poliziotteschi protagonist in that he is a by the book official who does everything he can legally, but he even must break the law in order to fight the forces of evil. As corruption was rampant in Italy, the poliziotteschi mirrored Italian’s frustration with a system that could not represent or protect them adequately. The unique twist in “Revolver” is the chemistry that forms between Vito and Milo or should I say Reed and Testi? As Sollima would say in his interview for Blue Underground, Testi was cursed by being so damn “good looking” as no one ever asked him to really act. Testi was a fine actor as evidenced by many of his films during his long career, most notably in Andrzej Żuławski’s brilliant 1975 melodrama, “That Most Important Thing: Love.” Reed was quite possibly the finest English speaking actor of the 1970s, an actor who was most noted for his intensity but was also capable of heart wrenching tenderness as evidenced in Ken Russell’s 1969 film “Women In Love” and 1971 film, “The Devils.” You can see a real friendship developing between Reed and Testi, which translates into their characters, Milo and Vito, who must make hard choices as the plot deepens between the care for a friend, the love of a woman, and ultimately their own self-preservation. Unfortunately, as it was the case for many Euro-crime dramas of the 1970s, both actors’ voices were dubbed into English (why does an English actor like Reed need to be dubbed anyway?) in that same fake American-English accent that sounds like Mel Gibson’s suicidal cop in the “Lethal Weapon” films. Still, Reed and Testi carry so much pathos with just their eyes and gestures that it should be shown to young film actors.
Given the talents of the leads’ ability to handle whatever their roles demand, the plot can and does become quite complex and much credit has to be given to Sollima who co-wrote the screenplay with Massimo De Rita, and Arduino Maiuri. This isn’t a simple plot of revenge as was the case with the other Testi film I wrote about back in August, “The Big Racket,” which was an interesting view if only for its sheer level of brutality and non-stop action. No, with “Revolver” Sollima, De Rita, and Maiuri have created a complex plot and a set of characters that carry very different agendas, which propel the story towards a much unexpected ending. Further solidifying “Revolver” as one of the finest Euro crime film ever is the score by Morricone which in my opinion ranks amongst the best of his 1970s work. It is a bold majestic score that seems more designed for a Leone film, but, given the dark nature of “Revolver’s” plot, the music is an excellent counterbalance in tone that pushes the dramatic hit of more than a few small scenes.
Adding to the majestic nature of “Revolver” is the daring cinematography by Aldo Scavarda, who a decade earlier had lensed Michaelangelo Antonioni’s masterpiece, “L’avventura.” Scavarda does very well with the action scenes, especially taking some odd angles with the driving sequences, but he really shines when he focuses on the intimacy between actors. When I set out to write this review, I immediately recalled the first moments of Reed and Agostini on screen which establishes their character’s love for one another via a long, low-level tracking shot of Agostini, in knee high yellow socks, walking around her apartment on the tops of Reed’s bare feet. I also think of a two-shot of Reed and Testi briefly holding hands for a few seconds after they escape an almost deadly encounter: these are simple visual ideas that make this crime drama into an emotionally immersive experience as opposed to just another standard Euro shoot-em-up.
International Trailer for “Revolver”
Based on the interview conducted with Sollima for the DVD release, “Revolver” flopped at the box-office, not because of bad reviews, but for his producers and distributors having foolishly spent all of their ad money when the film was expected to be released in Italy in the fall of 1973 but was not due to unclear delays that pushed the release into spring of the next year. The film was released in the U.S. the following year and was marketed to take advantage of the runaway success of Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” but never found an audience here either. Thanks to Blue Underground for releasing “Revolver,” an exceptional film loaded with exceptional acting by two of the finest acting talents that decade, an excellent score and visuals, and one of the last great films by the late Sergio Sollima.