Director: Stelvio Massi
NoShame Films

Distinguishing itself with bold interpretations of political, cultural, and personal corruption when most crime thrillers were content to depict Good and Evil as over-simplistic symbols without believability or emotional challenge, the Italian crime genre combined its exploitative emphasis on gritty violence and bloodshed with characters seeped in amorality. Exchanging the diluted, toned down surface action of American police fare for exploitative violence, sexuality, and viscera, Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ were also quicker to depict the squalor of urban living -- physical and emotional environments seeped in anger, helplessness, and alienation. More importantly, these films, at their best, questioned the traditional conservative assertion that the world was easily divided into two camps: the ‘good guys’ and ‘the bad guys.’ This childish conceit, so long jammed into the mass media by governments and censors, was only beginning to be openly challenged by the arts during the 1970s, and these Italian hard-boiled hybrids were partially responsible for ushering in a new age of brutal realism and scathing philosophy into the standard formula of crime capers.

While a bit cliché by now, having been revisited countless times (and as a consequence drained of effect) at one time these bold refutations of expectation were celluloid outlaws. Philosophically provocative, their scathing stories of revenge and naturalistic photography questioned the moral and legal boundaries that separated criminal from cop, law from crime. Often we found that such lines were frail at best, at worst illusory. The best examples of this form expose cops with the violent urges of murderers, and criminals possessing traits of surprising humanity. Nothing is as it first seems, and justice, often belittled by the very law sworn to uphold it, was often secured by bullets and renegade lawmen -- not the courts! Rare is the Italian crime flick that doesn’t describe society (and the larger world) as an amoral pit of savagery, abuse, and psychosis, where law is an empty word and justice -- most often represented in these movies as another term for revenge -- is earned by the breaking of the very law that it’s servants are sworn to defend. Ah, the Italian crime thriller -- the stuff of both high tragedy and ass-kicking action!

Responsible for both the furiously paced, amoral blood-and-bullet fest EMERGENCY SQUAD and the tragic drama of THE LAST ROUND, genre specialist Stelvio Massi created in CONVOY BUSTERS a larger-than-life noir-inspired action thriller as big on brains as it is on brawls. Continuing the grand tradition of its ancestors, it treats violence and sexuality uncompromisingly. Injecting stylistic integrity and emotional fervor to a formulaic plot, Massi’s mix of manic anger and stylistic verve is fresh, angry, and exciting. The plot, while simplistic, is energetic in its expression. Booted off his hard-earned stint at homicide for arresting a diamond smuggler with political connections, nose-to-the-grindstone Olmi (Maurizio Merli) is a cop loosing faith in the system (and unsure of his place within it). Maurizio, star of VIOLENT NAPLES and THE CYNIC, THE RAT, AND THE FIST, is perfectly believable as Olmi, and the heights of passion and confusion which he summons in this performance rivals those of his previous features. When Olmi joins Rome’s emergency squad, his extreme behavior and subversive tactics make him a target not only of the press but the mob. Accidentally killing an innocent man (as his superiors and the media were afraid he would do), he transfers himself to a low-heat beat on the Adriatic coast where he finds romance with a schoolteacher. Hoping for a life of peace, Olmi’s haven is shattered when a fishmonger-cum-smuggler awakens his old cop instincts. Zipping his fly up and taking his .45 snub-nose out, Olmi brings hell to a gang of gun runners.

A fetishistic ode to bitch-slapping and slit throats, this macho-man blend of bad-asses and anguish is as full as internal conflicts as its more accessible moments of on-screen adrenaline. Resonating with male charm and an oddly likeable brutality, the principle characters are neither good or evil; they are simply human, and this connection with average folks makes them easier to empathize with. While far from an intellectual film, director Stelvio Massi layers plenty of moral and thematic conflicts beneath the action sequences. Olga Karlatos is tasty and competent in her performance as Merli’s fondle-interest, although she has little more to do than pose as decorative flesh-scenery as he abuses lowlifes. Intensity heightens in what less capable hands may have been little more than a generic crime story, and this same sense of excitement sweats off onto the audience. While not a pinnacle of the form, CONVOY BUSTERS is an intriguing addition to a genre unjustly abused by critics.

NoShame delivers another admirable transfer with CONVOY BUSTERS, featuring the picture in anamorphic (1.85.1) widescreen. The colors are sharp and bright, and despite some evidence of grain and compression, the image is remarkably clean. If there is minor print damage discernible on occasion, it’s not distracting enough to worry about. It is evident that much pride and craftsmanship went into restoring this DVD. Audio is certainly up to par, featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks in both Italian and English with optional English subtitles. Of the two, the Italian track is the cleanest. Both tracks do the job though, free of the hissing and background distortion so often hampering the quality of foreign releases.

Knowing that we’re dealing with NoShame, no one should be surprised with the diversity of supplements. First off is "Merli On Merli," an interview with Maurizio Matteo Merli, son of the late Maurizio Merli, the star of the film. This featurette is both informative and intimate, with nostalgia lending an additional touch of human interest to the son’s remembrances of his father. These extras, encouraging further interest in not only the film but its general context, continues with an Eolo Capacci interview, a journalist who discusses Merli’s prominence in Italian Crime cinema in "A Star Is Born." The third interview weighs in with actor/friend Enio Girolami. Offering a comprehensive, fresh interpretation of the actor, Girolami is candid and fun to listen to. The interviews continue with "ER Prota," which features Enzo Castellari, a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to crime, having directed such classics as STREET LAW. "Bullet In The Closet," an interview with Ruggero Deodato, has nothing but good things to say about Merli, his enthusiasm matching Castellari’s. These introspective interviews are complimented by the theatrical trailer, as well as a trailer for "Cop On Fire" (a new film), and a poster/still gallery. Most unique in this package is "Crime Story: The De Falco Connection," a 16 page color comic by Maurizio Rosensweig and Diego Cajelli. A graphic ode to European crime, this illustrated story is a refreshing change from the usual liner notes, and captures the extravagance and exploitative fever of the genre. A fitting end to what can only be described as an innovative tribute to the Italian crime film! (William P. Simmons)