Blue Underground // R // $24.99 // October 24, 2002
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted November 15, 2002
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Graphical Version

Warden Vito Caprini (Oliver Reed) is forced into releasing prisoner Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi) when his wife is kidnapped and held by crooks demanding her in exchange for the low level criminal. Vito must go it alone or risk losing his wife. Milo is perplexed at who would bail him out. As the exchange deal goes sour, the panicked, desperate, and enraged Vito must turn to Milo for help in tracking down the mystery behind the kidnappers and their connection to the charismatic crook. The two men find themselves allied and wanted by both sides of the law. As they unravel the mystery of the kidnappers, both men begin to change, the casual criminal looking for redemption and the law abiding warden forced to go to extremes to get back his wife.

I still have hundreds of videos. Despite upgrading to DVD, I have tons of stuff that I have amassed over the years that hasn't made it to DVD yet. One genre oddly absent is the poliziotteschi/Italian crime exploitation films of the 70's. I'm still holding onto well-worn copies of Day of the Cobra, Blazing Magnum, Mister Scarface, and High Crime to name a few, starring the likes of actors such as Franco Nero, Thomas Milan, Fernendo Di Leo, and Maurizio Merli. Italy being perhaps the greatest cinema exploiter in the history of the world, 70's Italian crime was a trend inspired by the new wave of gritty urban crime films like Serpico, Dirty Harry, and Death Wish. They were films that got down into the alleyway muck with sneering criminals and even more sneering cops. From low level thugs to mob bosses, from anti-hero cops to hard-bitten average joes, it was a manly genre driven by violence and desperation.

Revolver (1973, aka. Blood in the Streets), like Citizen Rebels, is a prime example of the "average man on the edge" kind of Italian crime. Certainly when compared to other films in the genre it is more heavy in character and precision and lets some scenes play out, lacking the wham!-bam! rhythm of a Enzo G. Castellari or Umberto Lenzi flick. Revolver is more of a weighty drama than a rumble tumble action/thriller. By the end as it gets into unraveling its dense plot, a convoluted conspiracy and a frame-up, this pacing is somewhat to its detriment because it is unable, for me anyway, to sustain the tension of the first half. But, it is still an engaging film and a good example of a great genre and an interesting, appropriately grim, morality play.

Like many established actors at the time (Kirk Douglas in The Master Touch), Oliver Reed took on an Italian crime role and he was perfect for it. I an a huge fan of what I call "angry man" actors and films. As an actor it is a great trait to have- this ability to let loose with volcanic rage. Certainly it is an emotion many actors cannot express. Really, as good as they may be, does anyone think Cary Grant or William Hurt could convincingly portray the blind fury like George C. Scott did in Hardcore or the spittle spewing bullheadedness of Nick Nolte in The Thin Red Line? In Revolver, Reed turns in a great "angry man" performance, not just one of teeth gnashing rage, but of hurt and bleary-eyed despondence. Testi and Reed make a great duo, a nice balance between Testi's more feminine (but handsome) delicate demeanor and Reed's burly manliness. This was the first time I've seen the film, and it has now risen to the top of my list in terms of favorite Reed roles.

Director Sergio Sollima was a typical Italian popular genre trends follower, first as critic, then as a writer of some Hercules pictures in the early 60's. By the mid-60's Sollima was directing the Agent 353 spy films and Spaghetti Westerns like Face to Face and The Big Gundown, then in the 70's crime films like Violent City and, of course, Revolver. Sollima loosely reworked the plot of Face to Face in Revolver. Both are about men who each seemingly fit into the stereotype of "the good guy" and "the bad guy", yet as they work together those definitions become gray as they rub off on each other and their peculiar situation steers them onto unknown paths. Massimo De Rita co-wote Revolver along with many other poliziotteschi/Italian crime films like Citizen Rebels and The Heroin Busters, as well as the Spaghetti classic Compeneros.

The DVD: Blue Underground

Picture: Anamoprhic Widescreen 1.85:1. Looks fantastic. For a film of its era, grain and wear is within acceptable shape and the print is free of any dirt or erosion. Contrast, sharpness and color are all distinct, deep, and full. No major transfer glitches other than some extremely minor and passable edge enhancement.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, English dub. There is some slight hiss throughout the track, but overall the dialogue and Ennio Morricone score overwhelm it. It is an odd dub, with the usual muffle dubbed films tend to have. But it is especially peculiar in that Reed is dubbed- the man was known for his distinctive, potent voice. However, I found that Reed was powerful enough in looks alone that I got used to the dub and it didn't hinder my enjoyment of his performance too much.

Extras: 26 Chapters--- Extensive Talent Bios and Filmographies for Fabio Testi, Oliver Reed, Sergio Sollima, and Ennio Morricone.--- US and International Trailers.--- Radio Spots--- Huge Poster and Stills Gallery containing both b&w and color stills, as well as various posters and lobby cards.--- Revolver: Calling the Shots mini-doc (14 mins). This new doc features Sollima and Testi recounting the making of the film, working with Reed, ideas behind the film, how Testis background as a stuntman helped, and general feelings about the picture.

Conclusion: Fans of the genre will be very pleased with Blue Underground's transfer. The film delivers as a very good example of 1970's Italian Crime. The DVD looks great and has fine extras. If you are curious about the genre, while a bit slower and more deliberate than other films of the period, this is still a good place to start.

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