After nearly 50 years in relative obscurity, Sergio Sollima’s hard-hitting thriller receives the special treatment it deserves as a new 4k restored print arrives courtesy of Eureka Classics.
Having failed to make much of an impact upon its initial release outside of Italy—due in part to poorly managed marketing and lazy perceptions of dubbed films as ‘trash’—Revolver, starring Oliver Reed and Fabio Testi, is a film seen by few but loved and respected by many.
Reed plays Vito Cipriani, a respected prison warden living in Milan with his new wife Anna (Agostina Belli). Following a political assassination, kidnappers snatch Vito’s wife and demand the release of an inmate, Milo Ruiz (Testi) as ransom. Vito orchestrates Milo’s escape and subsequent capture himself as an insurance policy, but events quickly escalate as the two become embroiled in an intricate web of conspiracy that will involve Sicilian thugs, Gallic henchman, Milanese rock stars and a clandestine organisation at the rotten heart of it all.
Revolver – released in the UK as Blood In The Streets – was yet another of the poliziotteschi genre of gritty crime thrillers that was proving popular with Italian audiences at the time, and were boosted by the success of films like Point Blank, Get Carter and The French Connection.
What sets Revolver apart however – and what the film does so well – is to gradually strip away the normal conventions found in many such thrillers, and with it our expectations of where we think the story is heading. What at first appears to be a simple story of rescue and revenge, morphs into a pacy buddy movie and then into a political thriller before ending as Greek tragedy. Along the way, Sollima finds time to attack the institutions of corruption that riddled all stratas of Italian society, as Vito pits himself against ever more mysterious foes and finds the lines between right and wrong becoming increasingly blurred.
The standard heroic character arc seems less important to Sollima as do the forces that determine human behaviour in stressful situations, and its this that makes the film so memorable. How easy it would have been to cast Reed as the hardman tearing through a gang of Eurotrash like a ticking time-bomb of macho mayhem ala Taken for instance. What we get instead is a complex portrayal of a man who’s certainty of the situation, and of himself, slowly ebbs away the closer to his goal he approaches.
The director was well known for taking this more layered, nuanced approach to story-telling, having made a triptych of socio-politically charged spaghetti westerns in the 1960s which included The Big Gundown starring Lee Van Cleef. To Sollima outlaws and lawmen were never simply defined by the clean lines of audience expectation, as he often saw bandits, the poor, and the exploited as the heroes. While Vito may at first seem like the hero of Revolver, it’s Milo that begins to elicit our sympathies as he shows a more complex emotional range – caught as he is between the gang out to get him and the lawman intent on using him as bait. As the film progresses, Vito and Milo realise that their brand of masculine posturing—and the brute force that often accompanies it—are useless against an unseen higher authority capable of leading the two of them into an orchestrated trap from which there is no escape.
On his endlessly fascinating audio commentary, the ever dependable film critic and writer Kim Newman makes the salient point that to the church, damnation was a penalty just as equal to the debt owed, suggesting that the downbeat ending is in fact a moral one seen through this religious lens (Revolver is, after all, an Italian film). By the film’s end, Vito may have survived and been reunited with his wife, but he will forever be haunted by his actions and the inescapable fate he felt helpless to avoid.
Both Reed and Testi are superb, as are the supporting cast including Frédéric de Pasquale as suave henchman Michel and Paola Pitagora as people-smuggler Carlotta; strong in her political ideology and wide-awake to the dangers which Vito and Milo seem either too blind or too ignorant to see.
Ennio Morricone is on ever-dependable form although key passages of his score seem to have been lifted wholesale for use in Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables 15 years later.
The disk includes the aforementioned audio commentary by Kim Newman, interviews with film scholar Stephen Thrower and Fabio Testi plus original trailers and radio adverts.
Blu-Ray Now Available at