Colt 38 Special Squad Review
If you are unfamiliar with the poliziesco (also known as poliziotteschi) movement of Italian genre cinema, I recommend reading my reviews of Enzo G. Castellari's Street Law, The Big Racket and The Heroin Busters.
Colt 38 Special Squad
NoShame Films' double-disc release, Colt 38 Special Squad, is sold primarily on the merits of the 1976 poliziesco of the same name. The plot centres around Inspector Vanni (Marcel Bozzuffi), a driven cop whose wife is savagely murdered by a gangster known as the Black Angel (Ivan Rassimov), whose brother was killed by Vanni in a shoot-out. Determined to make the Black Angel pay for his wife's death, Vanni forms the Colt 38 Special Squad, an elite quartet of plain-clothes officers with advanced firearms training, placed under Vanni's control. The squad comes under criticism when their heavy-handed tactics result in the death of a suspect, and shortly afterwards the authorities shut it down. When the Black Angel ramps up his campaign of terror, however, Vanni decides to secretly reform the squad and take the law into his own hands.
It's a very traditional poliziesco revenge/vigilante justice plot, and should be familiar to anyone with experience of Enzo G. Castellari's collaborations with Fabio Testi and Franco Nero. What should make this film of interest, however, is that it was helmed by Massimo Dallamano, an underrated filmmaker who cut his teeth working as the cinematographer of celebrated Westerns such as Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Dallamano is arguably best known to fans of European genre cinema, however, as the director of the highly regarded giallo What Have You Done to Solange? He was killed in a car crash in 1976, leaving Colt 38 Special Squad behind as his final film.
With its stark nihilism, the film is most similar in look and feel to Dallamano's earlier What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, and indeed, comparing the visuals of the two films and their general sense of pacing, it's clear that they are the work of the same person. A grance at the credits also reveals that both films share a number of key crew members - editor Antonio Siciliano, composer Stelvio Cipriani, writer Ettore Sanzò. The camera roves around, courtesy of cinematographer Gábor Pogány, the man responsible for the photography of Aldo Lado's bleak Night Train Murders, capturing the various chase sequences through the streets of Turin in an exhilarating manner, while the central performances of Marcel Bozzuffi and genre regular Ivan Rassimov are powerful without going over the top. True, Bozzuffi lacks the sheer intensity of Franco Nero in his best poliziesco roles, but he is believable as the dedicated officer whose personal loss drives his quest for vengeance. He is, however, too cold a character to be particularly sympathetic, especially given that we are given little chance to see him prior to his wife's death. Rassimov, meanwhile, was never really given much of an opportunity to show of his range, typically cast as a sinister and demented villain, but it's a role he is extremely comfortable with, and his performance here can't be faulted.
Ideologically, the movie is, like so many of its kind, very ambiguous, in that it's unclear precisely where Dallamano's sympathies lie. The police are clearly presented as extremely brutal in their methods to catch criminals and extract confessions from them, many of which, it is noted by one said criminal, contravene the Geneva Convention, but at the same time you get the impression that the filmmakers believe these actions to be justified, and that the criticisms of the public are an irritance rather than a valid grievance. More than anything, this is what gives the poliziesco its sting, separating it from the more traditionally black and white values of American crime films of the period.
Colt 38 Special Squad is ultimately a fairly minor work both in Dallamano's canon and when compared to the efforts of regular poliziesco directors like Castellari. It's well-paced and at times exhilarating, and the excellent photography shows that a professional is behind the lens. It's unremarkable, however, and of the various films by Dallamano that I have seen, this one made the least impression on me.
Hastily shelved after producer Nicolò De Nora was kidnapped and held to ransom (the narrative similarities being too obvious to ignore), La Bidonata (which translates as "The Rip-off") was to have been the final film from producer-turned-director Luciano Ercoli, who earlier in the 1970s made a minor splash in the giallo pool with three enjoyable, chic thrillers starring his wife, Nieves Navarro (also known as Susan Scott). (The pair inherited a large amount of money and Ercoli retired from the business, while Navarro's movie appearances became less frequent, before eventually stopping altogether.)
It may be packaged with the poliziesco Colt 38 Special Squad, but La Bidonata is no thriller. More of a slapstick comedy with crime elements, it tells the story of a curmudgeonly ganster's attempts to pull off "the heist of the century", but the bulk of its running time is of the "farting Italian comedy" variety described by Kim Newman and Alan Jones in their audio commentary for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Nothing is taken particularly seriously, and the bulk of the gags are comprised of people screaming at each other and rotund men being hit on the backside by doors unexpectedly bursting open, all set to a wacky honky-tonk piano score by Gianni Ferrio.
Ercoli seems to have been a very workmanlike director, merely going through the motions and not trying to experiment or innovate in any way. He was, after all, originally a producer, and as such probably had his eye more on finance than artistic expression. And yet, running through all of his films is a sense that everyone involved was having a whale of a time. None of the performers can be described as even remotely apathetic, and, although I wasn't particularly impressed by the film, I did at times become caught up in the palpable enthusiasm. The highlight, unsurprisingly given her appearances in Ercoli's other films, is a cameo by Navarro in the role of a dominatrix, who, as usual, steals the show and, while on screen, temporarily makes the film more electrifying than it otherwise would have been.
Although it has met with a number of positive reviews, I have never been particularly impressed with the output from NoShame's US offices. Their initial transfers were botched PAL to NTSC standards conversions, while their later efforts have traded ghosting for a noticeable stairstepping effect on diagonal edges and an overall lack of definition. Colt 38 Special Squad is no different, looking rather soft throughout and with some noticeable jagged edges. Also, flesh tones at times look a little too magenta, but this may be reflective of the photography itself rather than the transfer, while, towards the end of the film, a few shots are excessively grainy, suggesting that they were either shot on a lower grade of film stock or, for this DVD, spliced in from a source different than what was used for the rest of the film.
La Bidonata, meanwhile, looks considerably worse. It's soft and suffers from noticeable artefacting, as well as what look almost like tape drop-outs. Obviously, since the film was never released theatrically, good quality prints must have been hard to come by, but I find it hard to believe that it was, as the packaging claims, "culled from the original 35mm negative".
Both films offer Italian audio tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, with optional English subtitles. Colt 38 Special Squad also features an English track, which, judging by the actors' lip movements, was the language in which it was shot, so it will probably be the preferred option for most viewers. (The cast of La Bidonata are clearly speaking Italian, so the lack of an English dub is not really a problem here.) All the tracks are generally serviceable, taking into account their age, although the English track provided for Colt 38's Special Squad drifts noticrably out of sync for some time in the last 20 minutes.
Annoyingly, you can't change subtitle or audio options on the fly, and disabling subtitles for the film also disables them for the (Italian-only) extras. Surely it's not too much to ask to be allowed to turn subtitles on and off with one's own remote control?
Both films come with their own set of special features, with Colt 38 Special Squad receiving the lion's share. First up is a brief Introduction by composer Stelvio Cipriani, which plays at the start of the film. Cipriani returns again for a 26-minute interview entitled "Always the Same Ol' 7 Notes". Here, Cipriani - who plays samples from various scores on pinio and talks about his experiences working with Grace Jones on the film, and also meeting Ringo Starr and Ray Charles on other projects. Discusses his work with Dallamano and the requests the director made for the score, notably that he compose romantic music for all the characters, even the villains. But this is a more general overview of Cipriani's career, so only a small amount of the interview specifically relates to Colt 38 Special Squad. As with all of NoShame's interviews, it could have done with some tightening, as Cipriani tends to ramble (making this a career retrospective rather than something more focused was probably just an excuse for them not to have to spend any time on editing!), but it's interesting enough, and it's nice to finally put a face to the man behind the distinctive music that has given flavour to so many Euro-cult releases.
This is followed by , a 9-minute interview with editor Antonio Siciliano. Siciliano, who edited many of Dallamano's films, credits the director with giving him his big break as an editor on What Have You Done to Solange?. Full of praise for Dallamano, whom he describes as "the Italian Humphrey Bogart", he credits the fact that he was a cinematographer-turned-director for the fact that he understood about composition and continuity, and as a result always provided excellent material to work with in the editing room. Particularly interesting is his discussion of the editing of Colt 38 Special Squad, which he describes as quite a challenge due to the lack of a clear narrative towards the start, which resulted in a lot of trial and error in order to create something coherent. At 10 minutes, this featurette is just the right length and serves as an affectionate tribute to Dallamano.
The original theatrical trailer complete's Colt 38 Special Squad's package.
La Bidonata, meanwhile, opens with an Introduction by cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi, similar to the one provided by Cipriana on the other film. The cinematographer returns again for "Back to Life", a 9-minute interview in which he discusses the reasons for the film being shelved, and praises Ercoli for his knowledge of cinema and the friendly atmosphere he maintained on set, as well as reminiscing about after-dinner parapsychology sessions held by star Maurizio Arena that he attended with Ercoli and Navarro.
Colt 38 Special Squad's release is arguably overshadowed by the inclusion of the elusive and never before seen La Bidonata, although it has to be said that the latter is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. NoShame's 2-disc release is of their usual mediocre standard, although their continued commitment to releasing obscure (in this case very obscure) titles is to be applauded, and many fans will undoubtedly be eager to pick up this very reasonably-priced double bill some of the most little-seen efforts from two Euro-cult regulars.
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Last updated: 02/05/2018 20:24:59