Oliver Reed And Fabio Testi Fight Each Other And The Clock In The Exceptional 1973 Poliziotteschi, “Revolver”


Reed and Testi Are Sporting Serious Outerwear!

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.

“Il Grande Racket” Is Director Enzo Castellari’s Nastiest Poliziotteschi

Big Racket Testi

Testi and Gardenia Talk Shop In “Il Grande Racket”

In the late 1960s, there had already been many American crime films that were able to let the blood and filth flow to show the true stories reflected in the current wave of rapidly growing street crime. Even the subgenre of the serial killer film saw its birth during this time as the American public was finally ready to hear about real life mass killers, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck in the underrated Leonard Castle film released in September of 1969, “The Honeymoon Killers.” It only makes sense that the public was up for it as the Zodiac Killer was making his murderous way around San Francisco, and the Manson Family had tried their best to start Helter Skelter in March of 1969. The stories that had dominated the evening news in the states were finally allowed to be given the Hollywood treatment in such a graphic way that even the brutally shocking 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, “Psycho,” had not been able to get away with showing. As far as organized crime was concerned, we had always made gangster films here, but they rarely showed mobsters as they truly were. Even Coppola’s superb 1972 film, “The Godfather,” as violent as it was, still gave the mob a style and even an elegance in the carrying out their wrongdoings that definitely sent the wrong message out to future crime lords living on the East Coast on what the day to day of an organized crime boss was like. Trust me, as an Italian-American growing up in Philadelphia when the Godfather came out, more of my classmates wanted to grow up to be a Michael Corleone than a Richard Nixon.

In Italy during the late 1960s, especially in the south and Sicily, organized crime and the corruption that traveled with it was akin to our street crime in that it was everywhere, especially in urban areas. So during this robust period of the high art films of Antonioni, Fellini, and Pasolini, when the extremely popular genre cinema of the Spaghetti Western was filing box offices in Italy and soon after in the US, the Italians were crafting another genre, The Poliziotteschi, crime films that were reflecting Italy’s growing concerns with the brutality and growth of organized crime that were made without the nostalgia of many of the French New Wave’s low budget crime films. The Poliziotteschis as well as the Spaghetti Westerns took their cues from the new wave of American crime films as far as their brutality was concerned, but it was the realism of the American police films that made the poliziotteschis so intense when it came to revealing the corruption and savagery of organized crime in Italy. As the 1970s rolled in and the Spaghettis started to repeat their plots and even characters (how many Django films were there anyway?), many of the directors of that genre began to also work on the crime film. Such was the case with Enzo Castellari. As far as Italian genre cinema goes, Enzo may be the king with Macaroni Combat films, Spaghetti Westerns, a Giallo here and there and yes, many many Poliziotteschis.

Castellari had scored big with two Poliziotteschis, “High Crime” (1973) and “Street Law” (1974) both starring the original Django, Franco Nero. Franco carried a lot of presence to any film he starred in, but as he was in such high demand, Castellari had to look for another lead for his next entry into the genre, and that actor would be rising international star, Fabio Testi. By 1976, Testi had a few leads in Poliziotteschis, starring in “Blood In The Streets” with Oliver Reed, and “Gang War In Naples” with Jean Seberg. In contrast to Nero’s smoldering sensuality and intensity, Testi was an almost too pretty and brooding actor of the Daniel Day Lewis variety. An accomplished actor, Testi brought a real sadness and empathy to any of the righteous characters of he would play in Italian crime dramas.

In 1976s “Il Grande Racket” (The Big Racket) Testi plays Nico Palmieri, a straight and narrow Rome detective who while witnessing a gang crime is violently attacked and is thrown off a cliff while still in his car in one of the more visually impressive scenes of action in this film. Nico survives, but his righteousness goes into overdrive while in the hospital as he becomes obsessed with taking down this gang who almost did him in and who is also shaking down every local business in the area for protection money. This gang in question, led by an English gangster named Rudy (Joshua Sinclair) is almost surrealistically brutal, almost past the point of most villains in poliziotteschi films, as evidenced in one early scene where a restaurant owner goes to Palmieri to become a prosecution witness after being leaned on for protection. It only takes one cut for the gang to be in possession of the restaurant owner’s young daughter who they gang rape to death in a grotesque scene clearly inspired by the gang rape at the beginning of the American film, “Death Wish.” In a later scene where an Olympic skeet champion aids Palmieri with some shotgun fire during an ambush, Rudy’s gang shows up again to rape and incinerate his wife.

After the gang skips through the judicial system again, Palmieri realizes that he has no ability legally to get Rudy and his posse, so he reaches out to a con friend, Pepe, played by veteran American character actor Vincent Gardenia, the detective in “Death Wish.” The casting of Gardenia is clearly the strongest nod to that revenge film, which was very popular in Italy at the time. He enlists Pepe and Pepe’s nephew to pull a few jobs and guarantees that there won’t be any police interference in order for them to be recruited into Rudy’s gang. When that fails due to some snitch high up, Palmieri is fired from the police force and decides to grab another hood from jail, who is a contract killer, a conman/club owner who had been screwed over by Rudy, the restaurant owner whose daughter had been killed, and the Olympic skeet shooter who lost his wife to form a killing team to wipe out all of the bosses and their henchmen in one spree. As the theme of overall corruption from government, police, and industry is key to many of Castellari’s poliziotteschis, “The Big Racket” has as its final location a manufacturing plant owned by the bosses.

Il Grande Racket Original Trailer

The final scene is done with an immense amount of gunplay, punctuated with the individual revenge fantasies of all of Palmieri’s group. There may not be a better payoff for a revenge film made during the entirety of the Italian crime drama genre. It is a glorious ending to a no holds barred, one hundred minute blast of a movie that for me, goes down as one of the nastiest poliziotteschis. Castellari’s film was indeed a box office hit in Italy, and inspired by the success of this crime film he would reunite with Testi a year later in 1977 and direct, “La via della Droga” (The Heroin Busters), another intensely violent and satisfying poliziotteschi.

Somewhere in between filming “The Big Racket” and “The Heroin Dealers,” Castellari would once again enlist Franco Nero and he would make the last great spaghetti western, “Keoma,” which needs mentioning because as I write this in the summer of 2015, Castellari has announced that he will start filming “Keoma Unchained,” a new Spaghetti where he has enlisted not only his favorite leads, Nero and Testi but also a virtual who’s who of Spaghetti Western royalty: Bud Spencer, Thomas Milian, and American actor John Saxon, the star of one of Castellari’s earliest Westerns, 1968’s “The Three That Shook The West.” Just like Detective Palmieri in “The Big Racket,” no matter what happens, there seems to be no loss of the fight inside Castellari. From Macaroni Combats, Giallos, and post-apocalyptic action films, give the man a genre, and he will crush it no matter what.