Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger is special, too.
Two of the great all-time European badasses go mano a mano.
If the painstaking efforts of quality-minded niche DVD distributors like Blue Underground and NoShame are any indication, Italian action is hot. Gialli, thrillers, melodramas, poliziotteschi…if it is obscure, Italian, and from the 1970s, it is worth seeing. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just see the damn thing and you'll like it. For the most part, that formula has worked and worked well. But every once in awhile, a poliziotteschi comes around that bucks the trend by being rather pedestrian and forgettable after the fact.
Facts of the Case
Vanni (Marcel Bozzuffi, The French Connection) is your typical hard-driving police captain. He and his squad of machine-gunning, grenade-throwing cops are mowing down bad guys in a box-infested warehouse when they slay the brother of a notorious crime lord (Ivan Rassimov, Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key). Marseillaise retaliates, and Vanni becomes obsessed with his capture.
Vanni gathers a team of crack cops, trains them the hard way, and issues each of them an unlicensed .38 revolver. With his team of borderline vigilantes in tow, Vanni stops at nothing—nothing, mind you—to bring Marseillaise to justice. Meanwhile, some dude threatens to blow up a bunch of cars if he doesn't get money. Also, there are petty crooks sporting fly '70's clothes.
Read that summary. Vanni already has an entire squad of cops with machine guns and grenades, and they're so good that they mow down entire fleets of bad guys. So what does Vanni do when he hunkers down and really gets serious—he grabs a handful of misfits and arms them with revolvers? Am I missing something here? Give me the fleet of cops with grenades, please. I'll make do with those.
That's essentially the problem with Colt 38 Special Squad. The reason for the Special Squad is simple: to provide a cool overhead shot of the special squad taking the handles of their revolvers in some kind of rogue cop initiation ceremony. That's the coolest thing they do, unless you count dirtbike racing. Yes, Colt 38 Special Squad is about style over substance, imagery over plot.
To give you an idea, I tried to write this review a week or so after I watched the disc, and I literally could not come up with the plot in my head. It had that scene with Fabio Testi smiling and gunning down bad guys, right? No…that was The Heroin Busters. It had Edwige Fenech, perhaps? Sadly, no. I actually had to watch Colt 38 Special Squad again half way through to remind myself of the basics.
Rewatching it reminded me that Colt 38 Special Squad isn't bad, per se, it just…is. It has bad guys because poliziotteschi need bad guys. It has a driven cop because the genre demands such. Car chases? Check. Funky street dudes? Gotcha. Hot women? I don't recall. There were gunfights, though, and at least one explosion. I will say that the score lives up to what you expect from these thrillers. Italy cornered the market on composers that are better than they should be given the material.
The defining moment is a race against the clock when Vanni must beat Marseillaise to the airport. I don't want to ruin it for you, but he does some outrageous things with one of those teensy European cars and makes it in time. Those things are as cool as they are highly improbable. The shots are fantastic, though.
NoShame bundles this nondescript thriller with a little flick called The Rip Off. This heist/farce was directed by Luciano Ercoli, but never shown. DVD enthusiasts love watching movies that never saw the light of day; I'm always up for such an adventure. The movie is highly uneven, with charismatic leads embarrassing themselves through poorly executed slapstick comedy. I was just about to turn it off for good when Nieves Navarro shows up as a bawdy, sensual hooker. The wife of Ercoli, she benefits from his loving familiarity. I was captivated for every minute of her screen time, which only heightened the relative failure of the rest of the movie.
While Colt 38 Special Squad's transfer is in line with NoShame's usual fine work, The Rip Off suffers from its banishment for all of these years. The print seems offset, as though two copies of the film are slightly mismatched on top of each other. The soundtrack is as robust as you could hope for from an old stereo track, with the score being the shining jewel. NoShame includes a handful of interviews to go along with their primary extra, The Rip Off. Of these, I most enjoyed composer Stelvio Cipriani's discussion of using out-of-tune pianos to capture the seedy side of the city.
NoShame does DVD right, but Colt 38 Special Squad could use a little more shame. Come on, make it hurt. Oh, and in case you're wondering about the tagline "Two of the great all-time European badasses go mano a mano:" Heat this is not.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• Introduction by composer Stelvio Cipriani
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