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Colt 38 Special Squad

Director: Massimo Dallamano
NoShame Films

Coming from the philosophically subversive, uncompromising imagination of Massimo Dallamano, the director who gifted the giallo with one of its sleaziest yet scathingly intelligent jolts in WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?, COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD is a hard-hitting powerhouse of bleeding bullet wounds, rage-stained hearts, and revenge. While the level of fetishistic violence and subversive nature of the themes aren’t surprising, considering their source, the self assured direction savvy and intelligence which Massimo Dallamano brings to this gritty, naturalistic fable of amorality is. This un-blinking celebration of justice through injustice features tough streets and tougher men. A white-knuckled feast of urban sprawl and men pushed beyond the limits of duty and sanity satisfies the conventions of the genre while mature characterizations lend such exploitative measures a thoughtful context upon which to hang the violence. This poliziotteschi stretches the visual and thematic limits of this particularly Italian form. Exploring familiar tropes with fresh vigor, COLT 38 combines explosive moments of outrage and gritty surface action without bowing to the mainstream instinct of moralization. Whereas many films of this ilk look for conservative ideas of morality with which to justify (and make less harsh) their violence, bowing to the ignorant hypocrisy of censors who idiotically demand that violence not be gratuitous (as if any violence can truly be healthy or acceptable!), Massimo lets the bullets fly without pretense. Although rage and hopelessness mirror the onscreen bloodshed, these emotional triggers are stripped of their sentimentality and revealed as organic, everyday expressions of men who seeped in everyday violence. Vigilante cops and corrupt politics are just a few of the mean-street motifs pumping the heart’s blood, and revenge, the focal point.

This powerful tragedy focuses on psychological isolation and cultural alienation. More importantly, particularly for those seeking nothing more than action, Dallamano packs a moist amount of back alley sprawling, fist-fights, and killing in this black-and-blue bit of celluloid. Revolving around a simplistic if universally applicable plot device, Vanni (Marcel Bozzuffi), a police captain, goes on a rampage when his wife becomes the newest victim of a Marsellis crime lord (Ivan Rassimov). Seeking a justice that the mechanics of the law deny him, Vanni works outside his capacity as a cop, secretly forming a secret squad of rogue cops, each of whom have personal reasons to want to settler their score with criminals, and each of which is armed with an unlicensed (thereby untraceable) 38 Colt revolver. Securing their own forum of justice, Vanni and his vigilante squad make sure crime pays… with a bullet! In the meantime, provoked, Rassimov lets loose a barrage of crime and decadence in the street. With nothing between them but blood and hate, these two machines of violence will soon meet, and everyone will pay.

The physical atmosphere of this noir-inspired film is mirrored by, and lends emotional effect to, the establishment of a dominant internal atmosphere. Physical debauchery symbolizes the deeply felt moral outrage. Despair bleeds from minds as much as they do from bullet-riddled corpses. In this COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD is an ideal marriage of sentiment/internal conflict and physical symbolism. The plot, the performances, and the subversive direction speak directly to viewers while provoking secret well-springs bloodlust. Following in the emotional/philosophical tradition of this specialist Italian sub-genre, violence is depicted graphically and without the polite dilution of cutaways or ‘fluff’ sentiment of American thrillers. More intriguing -- and one of the thematic elements that make these films so important -- Dallamano, like Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino, capture the waste, destruction, shame, and basic nastiness of violence. While death is focused on honestly, it is not glorified. Indeed, it is presented as a horrible, painful waste for all concerned.

This sense of realism extends to characters as well, which are honest-to-god characters, not the simplistic caricatures so often depicted in action films. Vanni, and to a lesser extent his opponent Rassimov, are living, breathing personas complete with emotional histories and reasons for their actions. While both admittedly symbolize an archetypal essence of Hero and Villain, these characters are more remarkable in that they each mirror a bit of the other’s psyche. Twin sides of the same coin, they are neither completely good or evil. This moral ambiguity lends what could have been an otherwise routine ballet of bullets and bad-asses deeper thematic resonance. Rassimov and Bozzuffi are fire and ice in their only cinematic stand-off together, and a great supportive cast provides occasional comic relief and eccentricity. While this film doesn’t do for the crime thriller what SOLANGE did for the giallo, lacking the uniqueness of story or final polish of style necessary for a film to rise above its respective genre, it does entertain with its rough devotion to violence, amorality, and realistic depiction of men living in a murky, deadly cross-roads between right and wrong, murder and justice. Dallamano’s feel for drama, and his ability to suggest more than what is said outright, is reason itself to purchase this DVD.

COLT 38 SPECIAL SQUAD is presented with a great deal of respect, a fact immediately noticeable by the fine quality of its presentation. Uncut in all its knuckle-busting violence, the elements have been restored to original aspect ratio, presenting the film anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1. The Italian audio is crisp and clean, allowing the beautiful soundtrack of Stelvio Cipriani to be heard without distracting muffling, and an English language track is also included, as are optional English subtitles.

Extras are generous and informative, going far beyond the obligatory trailers of many larger, less caring DVD companies. Not content to slap their supplements haphazardly together, NoShame should be congratulated for structuring their material so as to provide historical continuity and aesthetic context for their films. On disc one, along with the feature film, is a brief but personable introduction by Stelvio Cipriani. This is followed by “Always the Same Ol’ 7 Notes,” a retrospective examination of the same. “A Tough Guy,” yet another interview, this time with editor Antonio Siciliano, is surprisingly intimate. Next is a photo gallery and the original Theatrical Trailer. Of course the pinnacle of this splendid gift to crime fans waits within disc (2), which features LA BIDONATA (aka THE RIP-OFF), the extremely rare film by Luciano Ercoli of Giallo infamy (which went un-shown after its producer was kidnapped). Never before released, this title, shot by Sergio D’Offizi (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), has been restored from “the only existing positive 35mm print,” and features a host of legendary cult actors, including Walter Chiari, Susan Scott, and Ettore Manni. While certainly not in the same class as COLT 38, this uneven crime caper invests a routine kidnapping plot with quirky characters and a bizarre sense of humor. While it works as an early ‘buddy’ movie, and as a satire of the action formula, its comedic intentions robs it of any lasting emotional effect. More interesting as an intriguing footnote in Ercoli’s career than a film of any lasting originality, the human warmth of the action and playful atmosphere recommends it as a curiosity. A fitting, generous supplement that rounds out an impressive DVD package!
(William P. Simmons)