Friday, 14 September 2012

Colt 38 Special Squad (1976)

Country: ITALY

Quelli della calibro 38

Thus far on every occasion that a film directed by Massimo Dallamano has crossed my line of sight and made it to the screen, I’ve generally been impressed by the results. I say generally because his 1969 take on Venus in Furs left me cold, unimpressed, and most damagingly of all; bored! But since that fateful afternoon where I lost ninety minutes of my life to that asinine garbage, the films of his I have screened have had me reaching for the superlatives. The giallo double of What Have They Done to Solange? (1971) and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) were remarkably consistent examinations of not only corrupted innocence, but also how a mask of innocence and youth can conceal all manner of perversions. The former totally outgrew the Edgar Wallace pot-boiler which it took tacit inspiration from, and the latter injected some of the high octane action strategies of the Polizio/Euro-crime cycle into its formulaic gialli narrative. It is this fusion of elements which points forward to Dallamano’s inevitable full blown entry into the Polizio/Euro-crime cycle with the fast paced thriller Colt 38 Special Squad. He seems far more confident amongst the chase sequences, shootouts, fistfights, and vengeful violence of this cycle than the muted atmospherics of the passable The Night Child (1975), the rather dry and forgettable horror flick that preceded it. One of the great tragedies of popular Italian cinema was that Colt 38 Special Squad would be Dallamano’s last picture; certainly on the evidence displayed here Dallamano could have made a number of vital contributions to the cycle, and would no doubt have further enriched a variety of generic soil.

The screenplay was written by Mr. Dallamano in conjunction with three others (Franco Battari, Marco Guglielmi and Ettore Sanzó) and in addition to a swift pace which rarely drags its feet, the screenplay gives an equal amount of weighting to the good guys and the bad guys. It doesn’t attempt to give the characters any depth, but it certainly develops individual motivations. The hero of the piece is Inspector Vanni (played efficiently and robustly by French actor Marcel Bozzuffi) who is exercising a vendetta against The Black Angel (Ivan Rassimov) with extreme prejudice. Vanni is the archetypal frustrated detective, who is constantly reminded of the red tape and bureaucracy that stands between him being able to rid Turin of criminal scum like The Black Angel. It seems that even the equipment issued to the police is ineffectual, as Vanni discovers when his pistol misfires seconds after he has shot The Black Angel’s brother. The ringleader manages to flee, and his first port of call is Vanni’s home where he ruthlessly despatches the Inspector’s wife in front of his son’s uncomprehending eyes. From this point onward the film becomes a tale of vengeance as Vanni does everything in his power and within the law, and sometimes even beyond the law, to bring The Black Angel to justice. As far as the Angel is concerned their account has been settled, and after fleeing to France, and having cosmetic surgery to change his appearance, he returns to Turin with a new destructive purpose.

In light of the death of Vanni’s wife, he is finally giving permission to form an elite squad of officers, who are proficiently trained in the art of firing the Colt 38, and operate outside of the law. The only member of this squad who is given a role of substance is Nico (Riccardo Silvano); the other three skilled shots merely spout clichés, but provide much excitement by haring up and down the streets of Turin on high powered motorcycles. Nevertheless despite the noble aims of the Special Squad they are in effect a vigilante outfit, able to access areas of criminal society normally out of bounds to them, and able to dispense their own form of rough justice. Although Vanni has trained them to shoot for the knee and below, the realisation that the Special Squad are using ‘Dum-Dum’ bullets that fragment on entry comes as a massive shock to him. What is most surprising though is that the Special Squad are not a particularly effective unit. They certainly have no trouble dealing with riff-raff and minor low-life scum, but their efforts to thwart a recent spate of explosions in very public and heavily populated areas suggests they are more incompetent than effective. Indeed it is largely down to Nico’s solo investigation that Vanni and his crack squad discover that The Black Angel is behind the crimes, but by now his blackmail plot has been fully unveiled. Throughout the film the police are consistently flailing in the shadows, and by contrast The Black Angel is extremely efficient in carrying out his plans.

These plans have the appearance of terrorist attacks, which adds an unspoken, but nevertheless fairly obvious political dimension to the proceedings. The result is a fairly subversive message which indicates that even when operating outside the law, and using strong arm vigilante tactics, the police are still unable to defend the innocent people who get blown to smithereens. The film intentionally lacks a moral core; even the hero of the piece Vanni has an entirely selfish motive! And the only character to struggle with the moral weight of the violent milieu of Turin is assassinated! This moral vacuum opens the films up to some surprisingly grim and grotesque imagery; an informant is blown up with dynamite, a fleeing criminal has his fingers chopped off by a car door, and most notably the lingering way Dallamano’s camera explores the aftermath of the explosions. The first is in a busy railway terminal, the second at a bustling marketplace. Dallamano’s attitude is unflinching as he shows broken limbed children and blood covered corpses. The finale is very similar to the conclusion of Dirty Harry (1971), but along the way Vanni enjoys one of the most bizarre car journey’s to ever grace the cinema screens; in his desperation to reach the airstrip that The Black Angel has chosen he even drives over a moving train! Colt 38 Special Squad is a great little film, populated with enjoyable and entertaining performances, and some of the finest stunt sequences to feature in a Euro-crime movie. The subversive tone is a great bonus, as is the ever dependable musical contribution of Stelvio Cipriani.

© Shaun Anderson 2012


  1. We are seriously going to disagree about Venus in Furs, but then again I have a serious love for the Euro-erotica of the time. As to the film at hand- it is indeed a neat entry into the genre. Dallamano is one of my favourite directors in Italian genre film and I am biased.

  2. My favourite Dallamano movie is The Secret of Dorian Gray. But then I loved his Venus in Furs so maybe my recommendation should be treated with caution!

  3. @ Nigel - Dallamano has a remarkably consistent body of work, and I look forward to exploring it fully. I may return to VENUS IN FURS, I haven't seen it for quite a few years, so perhaps it's ripe for a reappraisal, though I suspect my view on it won't alter significantly.

    @ Doom - I still haven't got around to DORIAN GRAY, but I recall you championing it on another Dallamano film I reviewed. The only others I currently have to hand are the aforementioned VENUS IN FURS, BANDIDOS, and THE NIGHT CHILD.

  4. This is, to me, one of the better movies to come out of Italy's 'Violent Cop' crime cycle although it generally gets forgotten about in the midst of Merli and Nero's entries. There's a sequel to this film. I haven't seen it, nor do I know if it's directly related to this movie. I'm sure Nigel can elaborate on it.

    It's also interesting that this film reuses the covert vigilante syndicate plot device seen in EXECUTION SQUAD (1972) and makes it a faction independent of, but secretly sanctioned by the police. Bozzuffi also did a similar movie to this one called STUNT SQUAD in '77 that's worth seeing; although it lacks the gorgeous photography that makes .38 SPECIAL SQUAD look like a much bigger movie than it is.

  5. There is a sequel indeed. But as with a lot of these things it is not really an official sequel but more of a cash-in. The title is: Ritornano quelli della calibro 38.


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