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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blazing Magnum (1976) review


Stuart Whitman (Captain Tony Saitta), John Saxon (Sergeant Matthews), Martin Landau (Dr. George Tracer), Tisa Farrow (Julie Foster), Carole Laure (Louise Saitta), Gayle Hunnicutt (Margie Cohn)

Directed by Alberto De Martino (as Martin Herbert)

***WARNING! This review contains one image of nudity***

The Short Version: One of the most outrageous of the Euro crimer's is this co-pro with Canada that is half Giallo, half Violent Cop actioner. Whitman's Crazy Tony Saitta makes Eastwood's Dirty Harry look like a school crossing guard--roughing up suspects and getting the bad guys while never letting things like pedestrians or collateral damage get in his way. Comically over the top, the triple tranny free-for-all throws any seriousness straight out the window; while the pinnacle is reached with a near 8 minute car chase where the two dueling vehicles do everything but pirouettes all over the streets of Montreal. The big reveal at the end is as much of a  shocker as the scene that follows it featuring Saitta and his magnum versus a helicopter. 

While Captain Tony Saitta is gunning down a car full of bank robbers his sister Louise is playing a practical joke on her secret lover, Dr. Tracer. Moments later she's poisoned for real by party, or parties unknown. With a handful in her circle being possible suspects, Saitta is hellbent on finding out who did it and why. Relentlessly pursuing clues, the trail leads him to a myriad number of individuals, corpses, and shocking revelations that all have one thing in common--a valuable, stolen, oriental black pearl necklace.

The 1970s was a decade full of tumult and crime; a time period that was just as ripe for celluloid exploration as it was exploitation. Nihilism in film took hold and stories of stoic heroes were often replaced by caricatures whose sense of right and wrong was diametrically opposed to traditional archetypes. Among the most popular of these neo-heroes were found in modern day cop thrillers like Don Siegel's DIRTY HARRY (1970) starring Clint Eastwood. Over in Europe, filmmakers exploited their own societal chaos in a few hundred crime pictures of their own. Many of them were genuinely well crafted movies and a great many more were exercises in sadism. BLAZING MAGNUM is somewhere in between.

For Alberto De Martino's BLAZING MAGNUM (1976), Stuart Whitman was one of the few non-European actors to headline one of their cop movies. A co-production with a Canadian company and shot in Montreal, BLAZING MAGNUM contains numerous plot twists and wildly over the top action sequences that are far too extreme for the simplicity of the actual crime that has been committed. While privy to the destruction of public and private property, Saitta's immediate reaction afterward isn't to place the suspect under arrest but to state in the most casual tone imaginable, "I need some information"

Whitman, among the old school lineage of rugged Tough Guys still with us, is very believable in the role of the weathered, tired police captain who is determined to find his sister's killer. The seriousness of the role (and the film itself) is occasionally distracted; particularly in the film's three major highlights described below....

When a cross-dresser turns up as ground beef in a rock crusher, Saitta seeks out some of his/her associates. What follows is one of the more peculiar sequences in the annals of exploitation movies. Bewilderingly, Saitta enters the apartment by force. When one of the roommates slings a bottle at him in defiance he responds with, "take it easy, I want some information". Right after a retort of, "I'll give you a mouthful of information", the man-girls immediately begin the Brawl In Montreal--a three-on-one battle royale with bodies flying across the room, crashing into furniture, and kicked through glass windows. Culminating in one of the trannies having a hot curling iron rammed up his ass, the post-fight convo between Saitta and the bottle-tossing, wig-wearing cross-dresser is unusually civil, "Truce, truce sweetie... why don't you just tell me what you want?"

The showstopper of BLAZING MAGNUM is an utterly brilliant 8 minute car chase--a veritable ballet of fuel injected twisted metal choreographed by French stunt driving king Remy Julienne. Cars leap through the air, plow through assorted obstacles, and swerve and spin in perfect unison; like a kung fu movie but with cars. Easily among the most stunning and varied vehicular chases in cinema history, Remy's work is likewise seen in other Italian police movies like Castellari's trendsetting HIGH CRIME (1973), Di Leo's SHOOT FIRST, DIE LATER (1974), and HIGHWAY RACER (1977), Stelvio Massi's first movie with mega-star Maurizio Merli. Amazingly, after both cars have caused unknown amounts of damage, looking as battle-weary as those in any of your finer MAD MAX clones, this sequence caps the same way the above-mentioned tranny tussle ends.... with Saitta, in relaxed fashion, asking the perp for information.

Finally, BLAZING MAGNUM's cult reputation is further enhanced by a jaw-dropping finale (that is if your jaw isn't already on the floor) wherein Saitta dutifully, and quite carelessly, earns the film's Italian title by magnumizing a helicopter piloted by a fleeing killer. Putting ten bullets from his .44 magnum into the whirly-birds metal hide, the chopper crashes to the ground followed by the requisite explosion. With a total disregard for the damage and deaths that could result, Saitta always gets his man at any cost.

Ted Post's MAGNUM FORCE (1973) was a huge hit around the world. Known in Italy as UNA 44 MAGNUM PER L'ISPETTORE CALLAHAN (A 44 MAGNUM FOR INSPECTOR CALLAHAN), the title of De Martino's movie mimics the one for the Eastwood sequel. Translated as A SPECIAL MAGNUM FOR TONY SAITTA, his .44 isn't on display nearly as much as it is in the Eastwood picture(s). Whitman whips it out during the opening robbery/car chase and it's not used again till the ending.

According to the director, Whitman did the film to get out of the US for a while since he'd gotten into some trouble with another woman's husband. In the film, Whitman is very effective as the frustrated lawman, wearing the role like a glove. It's a shame he didn't return to the character and the genre, although it was on the decline at this point.

The prolific John Saxon is always a welcome presence, and starred in a handful of these movies. Playing Sgt. Matthews, Saxon is just sort of there for added star power, accompanying Whitman from one scene to the next, never getting too involved in the action. Of the big three Martin Landau is the actor who shines the brightest as the doctor who may or may not be directly connected with Louise Saitta's murder. Landau adds a lot of nuance to his role, which amounts to a glorified cameo.

Alberto De Martino was one of Italy's best directors for escapist entertainment and works that were derivative of American hits. His resume is dotted with notable popcorn fluff like MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963) and THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964); and more serious productions like the excellent GODFATHER styled THE COUNSELOR (1973) with Tomas Milian and Martin Balsam, and the infamous EXORCIST-alike THE ANTICHRIST (1974) and the OMENesque HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977) starring Kirk Douglas. Alberto died June 2nd, 2015.

When AIP released the movie in America in early 1977, their ad campaign made the most of the film's thriller elements while hiding its juicer assets. Settling for the curious sounding STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM, this moniker would've been a better fit if the picture was minus the action quotient. It just seems like a missed opportunity mislabeling the movie in this way. The same fate befell Tulio Demicheli's dull, but ultra-sleazy RICCO THE MEAN MACHINE (1973). FVI released it stateside with an even more blatant horror title with THE CAULDRON OF DEATH! As misleading as that title was, it correlates to a method of death seen in the picture. 

The late Aristide Massacessi does a phenomenal job with his photography. Better known as Joe D'Amato (one of his numerous pseudonyms), Massacessi captures the right sort of mood for both styles presented in the movie. Whether it's generating suspense in the thriller portions of the movie or revving viewer adrenaline during the action set pieces, Massacessi was one of Italy's most versatile filmmakers. Known primarily for his work in porn and horror movies, Massacessi would be directing Tisa Farrow in the notorious ANTHROPOPHAGUS in 1980.

Mia's sister plays a blind girl, a close friend of Louise Saitta's. Her role is little more than a scripting device used to punctuate a couple suspense sequences. She didn't do very many movies, but she's a familiar face to fans of genre movies. She followed up this crime thriller with a role in the cult TV terror THE INITIATION OF SARAH (1978), the Canadian actioner SEARCH AND DESTROY (1979), and back to Italy again for ZOMBIE (1979), THE LAST HUNTER (1980), and the aforementioned trash classick, ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980). She appeared nude in both Playboy and the film SOME CALL IT LOVING in 1973.

Much like their westerns, Italian crime pictures are often cited for their unique soundtracks. Armando Trovajoli's (LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE [1967]) score is mostly jazz-funk with very little action music to match the exploitation pandering. Some good cues here, but mostly favorable to the murder mystery aspects of the narrative.

There had been other movies that combined the giallo with crime tropes but none had been as audaciously excessive as Alberto De Martino's cocktail of crudity. For his MAGNUM opus, the director juggles the artistic with the absurd quite well--wringing strong performances from Whitman, Saxon and Landau while catering to trash sensibilities with an injection of gratuitous nudity and bloody moments. Long a favorite of cult film enthusiasts who scoured bootleg outfits for obscure treasure, the exploits of Saitta and his magnum make for a very special movie for Drive-in/42nd Street aficionados.

This review is representative of the Kino Lorber/Scorpion bluray. Specs and Extras: 1080p widescreen 1.85:1; BLAZING MAGNUM trailer; other trailers; running time: 1:39:12. 

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