Genre cinema is defined by the conventions it sets itself. Whether it be the Western, a horror movie, or crime flick, there are recognisable stylistic and structural constraints that make that genre familiar. In the case of Sergio Sollima’s 1973 crime movie Revolver, on the surface a standard, B-movie “cop on the edge tale”, the conventional good guy and bad guy roles are built up and then subverted by an intriguing mix of pulp thriller and morality play.
Oliver Reed plays a cop turned prison warden, forced into releasing a convicted criminal (Fabio Testi) in order to track down his kidnapped wife. As the movie moves from standard kidnap plot to grand governmental conspiracy thriller, the relationship between cop and criminal becomes increasingly blurred. Reed’s character slides into violent desperation as he realises that in order to get his wife back safely he will have to become more like the crooks he has spent his life putting away, and less like the honorable man of the law he wants to be.
Part of what makes Sollima’s film so appealing is the commanding performance by Oliver Reed. Reed may not have been the greatest actor in the world, and Revolver sees him in the period of his life where he would merrily put away twenty-five bottles of wine before lunch in preference to working, but the one thing no-one can deny about Reed is the sheer presence he creates on screen. Whether it’s distributing random beatings to members of the criminal class, or starring wide eyed and desperate into the lens, it becomes impossible to take yours off him. Reed is capably supported by the chiselled face of italian actor Fabio Testi. Perhaps best known to readers of this site as star of Lucio Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse and Contraband (aka The Smuggler), Testi gives an amiable portrayal of a happy-go-lucky career criminal, and both Reed and him have considerable chemistry on screen (strange considering that Reed was apparently too busy smashing up the set or fighting with crew members to give Testi much attention).
The other star of the film is Ennio Morricone’s incredible score. Whether it be sound tracking the thrilling initial escape from prison, a car chase, or love scene, nobody writes film music that is as memorable or powerful as Morricone. The fact that the man has never won an Academy award should tell you all you need to know about the Oscars.
Sollima, perhaps best known for his entries into the Spaghetti Western genre (Run, Man Run, Face to Face, The Big Gundown), brings restraint to the direction of the film, and seems more interested in creating a gritty vision, more inspired by The French Connection than Death Wish (strange considering that in the US, the film was sold in on the basis that it “Made Death Wish look like wishful thinking”). The violence, mainly restrained to brutal punch-ups, seems sudden and messy, far removed from carefully orchestrated fisticuffs common in macho genre film-making. This is what sets Revolver apart from other crime movies from the same era (the previously mentioned Death Wish being a perfect example). By avoiding the sensational and hysterical, Sollima has crafted a film that stands on its own merrits, a superior crime-drama that deserves to reach a wider audience than its B-movie status suggests.
Italian director who turned in some of the best Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, as well as notable work in other genres. Made his debut in 1962 with a segment for the bawdy anthology Sex Can Be Difficult, but it was 1966's The Big Gundown that marked Sollima a director of intelligent, morally complex westerns. Face to Face and Run, Man, Run followed in the same vein, while Violent City and Revolver were tough, exciting thrillers. Largely worked in TV in the 80s and 90s.