May 2, 2011

Emergency Squad (1974) Squadra volante

Over the past few years I've become a huge fan of the Italian exploitation sub-genre referred to in some circles as, poliziotteschi. I discovered the genre a few years ago through the genius of Enzo G. Castellari. From Castellari I discovered the early work of other great genre directors like Umberto Lenzi, Fernando Di Leo and Sergio Sollima among others. EMERGENCY SQUAD was my introduction to the work of Stelvio Massi and quite the introduction it was. First it should be noted that Massi started as a cinematographer and it shows. This film is filled with incredible and clever camera shots from all sorts of angles that just make the film a feast for the eyes, even when the flow of the movie runs a bit dry in parts.

The great Tomas Milian (ALMOST HUMAN) stars as Ispettore Tomas Ravelli, a interpol cop. Ravelli’s wife was killed years ago during a robbery and he's never quite got over it and time has only made him hungrier for revenge against the men who killed her. When a similar robbery takes place in the city, Ravelli is convinced the men responsible are the same ones that killed his wife, due the similar circumstances of both cases. From there the hunt is on and Ravelli will risk his job to get his revenge.

 The film also stars Gastone Moschin (MILANO CALIBRO 9) as the main baddy, Marsigliese and dare I say it--he almost steals the show from Milian. Moschin is not very menacing to look at first, but as the film goes on and we see Marsigliese's dark side surface more and more, the character becomes mesmerizing. As the film goes on you wonder who is truly the star of the film, Milian or Moschin. On a side note, Moschin may not come across as leading man material, but if you’ve ever seen MILANO CALIBRO 9, you know his leading man credentials are legit.

Ray Lovelock is also in the film, but in a very small part--he dies within the first 35 minutes (that's not a spoiler as it's not a key plot point, the purpose of the scene is to show how Marsigliese gives two shits about his gang). At this point in his career I don't think Lovelock had quite found his stride, he was used more for his looks than his acting ability, but that would change with his role in Umberto Lenzi's ALMOST HUMAN released the same year as EMERGENCY SQUAD, which also starred Tomas Milian.

Compared to the poliziotteschi films of Lenzi and Castellari, EMERGENCY SQUAD is heavier on the drama than the action, but just like gore isn't needed for a good horror movie, non-stop action doesn't necessarily make a good poliziotteschi film either. So I would not complain about the level of action (as it makes up for that with some great moments of intensity), but I may complain about the lack of depth of Milian's character. All we know is he's basically a good cop that has been in a melancholy haze after the death of his wife. He's a father and his sister basically raises his kid--and that's all we know. A little more back story would have been helpful in making Ravelli a more endearing character, which is why I think Moschin's bad guy character steals the show as we get to see more of his personality throughout the film. He's a bit of a puzzle as he generally is an unscrupulous character, but yet he seems to be generally in love with his dimwit girlfriend, Marta, played by Stefania Casini. Both characters are very two dimensional, but a least Moschin's character creates sort of an enigma where you never know what he's going to do or what he's capable of.

The score is by Stelvio Cipriani and it's another one of his classics. At first I wasn't that smitten by it, but by mid-movie I was humming along with it. I enjoy the work of Cipriani, but he does have a slight tendency of being hit and miss (granted mostly hit)--his score here is a definite bullseye. I think it ranks up with Cipriani's scores for RABID DOGS and TRAGIC CEREMONY (two of my favorites of his).

Beyond the performances of the actors and the great score, this one's all about Stelvio Massi's direction. In the hands of a lesser director this movie could have been a king-sized snoozefest, but Massi manages to keep the flow going throughout the film and as I mentioned previously, there are some dry moments of dialogue, but Massi keeps your eyes entertained with clever camera shots.

The final showdown between Milian and Moschin is straight out of a spaghetti western and is wonderfully acted by the two actors and masterfully shot by Massi and not unlike a lot of westerns, the showdown makes the whole film worth your time. If the whole film could have been as perfect as the ending then the film would have been a masterpiece, but it's still a damn fine entree in the sub-genre none the less.

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