Saturday, November 6, 2010

COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD (Quelli della calibro 38, 1976)

Cops in Italian poliziotteschi films from the 1970s are always griping about the need to escalate police powers in order to counter the escalating arsenal of organized crime. Massimo Dallamano's film -- the last for the cinematographer turned director -- escalates the urgency of the argument to an apocalyptic pitch by granting the cops extra powers early, yet having them instantly outclassed by criminals who are terrorists in all but name. Quelli della calibro 38 leaves you wondering whether something -- censorship or plain fear -- kept Dallamano from identifying his villains as political terrorists. Nevertheless, this film raises the stakes to life or death not only for the cops, but for all the people of Turin.

Though thousands of people are imperiled, the conflict boils down to a feud between Inspector Vanni (Eurocrime stalwart Marcel Bozuffi) and "The Marsigliese" (Ivan Rassimov), a symbolically foreign crime boss. Vanni kills Marsigliese's brother during a raid; Marsigliese escapes and takes revenge by murdering Vanni's wife in front of her son.

Marsigliese got away in the first place because Vanni's firearm failed. That inspires the creation of the Special Squad, armed with the title weapon, equipped with motorcycles and given "just a little extra freedom of action." Just how little is shown when Vanni's superiors learn that his men are using fragmentation "dum-dum" bullets on criminals.

Inspector Vanni didn't take this man's fingers, but if justice demanded it, who knows?...

While Vanni faces a reprimand, Marsigliese acquires a massive stash of explosives and embarks on a terror campaign of bombings, starting with an unlucky informant before moving on to cars and public places. The object of holding the city hostage is to get millions in diamonds and a clean getaway. He has the jump on the cops by tapping into their scanner frequencies, and his mobile remote-control detonator system for the bombs seems to make Marsigliese untouchable.

There may be a weak link in his plan, however: Sandra (Carole Andre), a nightclub owner and girlfriend of Marsigliese's lieutenant Guido whom the boss uses to deliver unwittingly a bomb that kills several people. She's also an acquaintance of Nico (Riccardo Salvino), the Special Squad member with the nearest thing to a personality. With Marsigliese determined to destroy weak links as quickly as possible, Vanni has to piece the evidence together to track the bombers down before more innocent people die....

Colt 38 Special Squad has the momentum of a horror film as Marsigliese's bombings take an increasing toll and the police fail repeatedly to stop him. Dallamano sometimes portrays the film's violence in cartoonishly grotesque fashion, as when the informant blows up and when a crook gets his fingers chopped off by a slamming car door. But the bombing scenes are shot with the gruesome grandeur of the tracking shot of the train-robbery massacre in Dallamano's spaghetti western Bandidos. They give Colt 38 an exploitation epic quality above and beyond the normal scale of police-film violence.

The film is a triumph of style over substance by default, since it's not exactly character driven. Beyond the two principal antagonists, we learn that just about everyone else in the film is expendable as potential relationship storylines disintegrate before our eyes. This only adds to the horrific quality of this effort from a director perhaps best known for his giallo films. As for style, Colt 38 has that in spades, from Gabor Pogany's cinematography for rare night-time car chases and vivid nightclub scenes to one of Stelvio Cipriani's best scores -- including a song by Grace Jones, of all people.

Dramatic night-time stunt work and large-scale widescreen cinematography are highlights of Colt 38 Special Squad.

Thriller may be the best label for the film, and on that level Colt 38 largely succeeds as a thunderous, terrible climax to the poliziotteschi genre -- terrible in the sense of inspiring, if not actual terror, a kind of awe.

Here's the trailer from noshamefilms:

No comments: