In the Italian countryside, a small-time criminal, Milo (Testi) buries his gut-shot friend by a river. In Paris, an Italian industrialist is assassinated. Anna (Belli), the wife of Milanese deputy prison warden Vito (Reed) is kidnapped.
The kidnappers tell Vito to spring Milo from jail. But why? What do the kidnappers want? The volatile and increasingly desperate Vito and the more laidback Milo enter the criminal underworld to get Anna back. But a struggle of allegiances ensues when it becomes clear that Milo’s death is the price for Anna’s life.
Co-writer/director Sollima had form with using characters’ and viewer’s fluctuating emotional allegiances to deepen the impact of a story. He deployed this to good effect in the classic spaghetti westerns The Big Gundown, Face to Face and Run, Man, Run.
Times changed and, after westerns and ‘giallo’ psycho-thrillers, it was the turn of police and action thrillers to be popular with both domestic Italian audiences and abroad.
Revolver is not a particularly good example of the trend. It is less like other ‘poliziotteschi’ films and more like the euro-thrillers that became standard (and even high-profile, for example Wim Wenders’s The American Friend) towards the end of the 1970s.
The fraught relationship between Milo and Vito is at the heart of the film, and what is at stake – over and above Anna – becomes clear in the last third, when a lawyer character describes the murdered industrialist as “an enemy of his class”. Milo’s related outburst a few minutes later makes the hard point: do you ‘do the right thing’ by looking after your family, your career and your class interests? Or by exposing corruption and facing the consequences?
The film’s shelving for several years before US release suggests that this hard question was not one that distributors wanted the public to ponder.
It is a sign of how much movies have changed that Sollima’s attempt to popularise the political dilemma of the ages, which was probably seen as a cliché back then, seems like a striking dramatic concept today.
Elsewhere, there’s an admired Morricone composition, Un Amico, which features as both sweeping orchestral score and song. Sollima isn’t given to visual operatics at all, but the film looks clean and well made; and there are some striking misty night shots during the Milanese section.
Oliver Reed is really good here, sweaty and belligerent, which sets off the cooler Testi well. In one of the extras, Stephen Thrower makes a good case for calling Reed’s performance here “brave”, in that he isn’t afraid of coming across as a bully and a c*nt. There’s also a commentary by Kim Newman, which I didn’t listen to yet, but he is always extremely knowledgeable and good fun to listen to.
Having just watched Arrow Films’ Years of Lead poliziotteschi box set, I’d say that Revolver has a dramatized political element that is sadly missing from that offering.
Action film fans who want a flavour of how Italian cinema responded to the amoral and violent American cop films of the early to mid-1970s should check out Revolver.