Director: Sergio Sollima
Cast: Oliver Reed, Fabio Testi & Agostina Belli
Language: English (optional Italian audio with English subtitles)
Runtime: 109 mins
Release Date: 16th May 2022
Jamie Havlin takes a look at a violent and action-packed Eurocrime thriller starring Oliver Reed.
Nobody could deny that Oliver Reed’s career in cinema included some remarkable moments. He acted in films by Joseph Losey, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Nicolas Roeg and Terry Gilliam, as well as once being heavily touted to replace Sean Connery as James Bond. Never keen on Hollywood bullshit, he turned down some big studio opportunities himself, including the chance to play Quint in Jaws.
Today, though, he is likely remembered more for his hell-raising antics rather than his appearances onscreen, which is a pity. During the 1970s, with the British film industry undergoing a slump in production, Reed made his way to Italy as that country experienced a boom in the giallo and poliziotteschi genres.
Politically, the country was in a volatile state, with regular clashes on the streets between the far-right and far-left; terrorist atrocities were increasing, as were kidnappings. Not surprisingly, with their gangsters, corrupt cops and shady politicians, gritty poliziotteschi crime dramas that reflected the turmoil struck a chord with an increasingly large audience.
Tough guy actors were in high demand and several Italian directors were keen to lure Reed to star in their movies. In 1973, he appeared in two examples of the genre. Dino Risi’s Dirty Weekend came first and wasn’t great. Then came Revolver.
Here Reed plays Vito Cipriani, the vice-governor of a Milan jail. After a stressful day’s work, where he has to disarm a blade-wielding prisoner threatening to kill himself, he returns home hoping to relax with his wife Anna (Agostina Belli). Instead, he receives an anonymous call telling him that she has been abducted. Her kidnappers demand that Vito must let an inmate escape from his prison in exchange for her release. That inmate is Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi), a small-time crook and former French Legionnaire.
There’s a twist. Milo has genuinely no idea who would go to the trouble of helping him break out. In a second twist, once he’s outside, he himself is held hostage by Vito.
Vito fears that with Milo out of jail, the kidnappers might decide that it’s safer just to kill his wife, so Milo in his hands could act as a deterrent against this. Milo, meanwhile, begins to suspect that the men behind Anna’s abduction might be foes wanting to murder him. Maybe it would make sense for the two men to join forces to discover who is holding Anna.
Revolver is marginally too long, but in its favour, it is constantly intriguing and never predictable. Sollima’s direction is solid and he handles the action superbly, even choreographing his own fight scenes, devising different styles of brawling for each character to reflect their personalities. Ennio Morricone’s score is at times gorgeous, while at other times it ramps up the tension masterfully. One highlight, Un Amico, was later ‘borrowed’ by Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds.
Fabio Testi makes the most of one of his best-written parts, but Reed is an absolute revelation. You wouldn’t guess that he was drinking so heavily on the set during the shoot. It’s been said that he was capable of holding it together early in the day, but by late afternoons, he would become increasingly erratic and difficult to work with. Testi had to repeatedly humour him to behave himself.
The drinking bouts might even have had one advantage: in the latter stages of the film, with his character becoming more disillusioned by the day, Reed does look utterly frazzled. On the downside, for actress Paola Pitagora anyway, his reckless driving as they filmed the scene where they had to speed out of the petrol station to avoid the cops caused an accident that gave her a black eye, which explains why she spends so much time in sunglasses. In Tough Girl, a featurette that comes with the release, she still manages to remember Reed fondly, but others weren’t so enamoured. Angered by his antics, Sollima suspected that some of the crew might seek revenge at the end of the shoot. They were told that Reed would finish four days later than he was actually required to avoid any potential reprisals.
As Revolver’s end credits rolled I immediately wanted to see more of Reed’s work and more poliziotteschi movies too.
Special features include a limited edition O-Card slipcase [2000 copies]; a highly recommended new audio commentary by critic Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw; a new interview with film scholar Stephen Thrower; an archival interview with actor Fabio Testi and a limited edition collector’s booklet featuring two new essays by author Howard Hughes, and an extensive piece on Ennio Morricone’s Eurocrime soundtracks.
For more on the release, click here.
All words by Jamie Havlin. Jamie has written a couple of short films screened on British TV and at international festivals and he regularly contributes to the glam rock fanzine Wired Up! More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.