Sunday, July 11, 2010

EMERGENCY SQUAD (Squadra Volante, 1974)

Stelvio Massi's film must have set the template for star Tomas Milian's later series of "Squadra" films starting with The Cop in Blue Jeans in which he plays a tough, sardonic slob of a lawman. This one has more of a sting to it, a more ambiguous conclusion than many of Italy's more manichean cop films. It's a showdown between Milian's widower Inspector Ravelli and Gastone Moschin's robbery gang leader, "the Marsigliese." Ravelli's investigation of a bloody robbery, perpetrated by the gang disguised as a movie crew, becomes personal when he learns that one of the victims was most likely killed by the same gun that killed his wife, an innocent bystander mowed down during the Marsigliese's escape from an earlier heist.

As Ravelli, Tomas Milian has an easy time envisioning an event he never witnessed; his wife's death by accidental drive-by.

As Ravelli gradually closes in, the gang starts to fall apart, and Marsigliese intends to keep all the loot for himself and split with his Marilyn Monroe-obsessed girlfriend Rita (Stefania Casini burdened with a dubbed dumb-blond voice). Ravelli nearly nabs them in a helicopter-vs-car chase, but Marsigliese outwits them inside a tunnel, abandoning his vehicle (and one of the gang) and carjacking another going the other way. That sets up a Desperate Hours style hostage situation while the cops await a fresh lead, before Marsigliese lights out on his own. But before he can run off with Rita he has to deal with another rival criminal, and by the time they're done with that, Ravelli and a small army of cops have them tracked on the dock.

This is where Squadra Volante takes its own peculiar stand. Seeing himself hopelessly outnumbered, Marsigliese throws down his weapon and surrenders. Then Ravelli appears with damning evidence against him, only to announce, "I'm not a cop anymore." At this point, I wondered how Massi and his three co-writers wanted their audience to feel. Ravelli wants revenge; is he entitled? Marsigliese has been a betraying scumbag for most of the picture, but he's shown resourcefulness rescuing Rita, and she's shown bravery and loyalty to her man. Ravelli proposes to kill Marsigliese in cold blood in front of a loved one. If he'd had a chance to take his man down in battle, in the kind of climax more typical of Italian cop films, there'd be no ambiguity about the justice of his revenge. Confronting an unarmed man is a different story -- to me, at least. To spoil the ending, Ravelli opens fire, every shot intercut with flashbacks of his wife's death. To him, presumably, this equalizes things. But as we leave Rita weeping over the Marsigliese's corpse, should we feel that Ravelli did the right thing? Did Italian audiences think so? How about cop-film fans elsewhere? All I know is that The Cop in Blue Jeans, a do-over of the Ravelli character template, makes things much simpler for viewers.

Emergency Squad is a dynamic, efficient story dominated by its two male leads. The revenge angle makes Milian a more interesting cop than he'd play later, and Moschin brings some of the same power he brought to Milano Calibro 9 to a less sympathetic role. As always, the music of an Italian genre film is of interest. The culprit this time is Stelvio Cipriani, and he contributes a jauntily melancholic main theme, adding rock elements to it as the story builds momentum. It gives the movie an incongruously romantic, sentimental quality. That happens often with Italian films, but it works particularly well here because it creates the sense that Ravelli approaches revenge as if it's the consummation of a longterm passion.

You'd be unhappy, too, if Gastone Moschin pulled your car over.

The screencaps come off an English-only copy that's part of Pop Flix's Big Guns Collection. For a cheapo public-domain (?) edition it looks pretty good. The Italian trailer comes from YouTube, uploaded by trailersdaculto, and features toplessness, sacrilege and hippies.

1 comment:

venoms5 said...

Great review as always, Sam. I gave you an award here...