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  Heroin Busters, The Bust That Ring MisterBuy this film here.
Year: 1977
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Stars: Fabio Testi, David Hemmings, Sherry Buchanan, Wolfgango Soldati, Massimo Vanni, Angelo Ragusa, Romano Puppo, Sergio Ruggeri, Joshua Sinclair, Leonardo Scavino, Gianni Orlando, Salvatore Billa, Giovanni Bonadonna
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: There is an international heroin smuggling ring in operation, which starts in the Far East and reaches all the way across the globe to New York City, but the place where all these illegal drugs have to pass through on the way is Rome. There, a British detective, Mike Hamilton (David Hemmings), is spearheading an operation to take down these criminals, but is finding the methods of Interpol which he has to use somewhat restrictive. Meanwhile, one of the smugglers, Fabio (Fabio Testi), is trying to get through customs with three kilos of heroin - but the sniffer dog has something to say about that...

Yes, the sniffer dog says, "Woof, woof!" which translates as, "Stop him, officer! He is trying to bring drugs through customs!" The Italian cop thrillers of the seventies may have been influenced by the American benchmarks such as Dirty Harry or, as here, The French Connection, but for their fans they had a flavour all their own, and The Heroin Busters, or La via della droga as it was known originally, was one of the better thought of efforts. Most of this was down to the man at the helm, Enzo G. Castellari, a much-respected director of action movies who tried his hand at a variety of genres, but usually liked to include an explosion in them somewhere.

This is a pretty conventional tale of an undercover cop, so there's a bit of Serpico in there as well, but it's what Castellari and his team do with it that makes it stand out from the crowd. It may start off like a drama following the heroin trail from Hong Kong to Rome to Amsterdam to New York, complete with location shooting there which must have taken up all of a day in each place, but what really gets them enthusiastic is the promise of gun battles and high speed chases. You have to wait a while for that, however, although you do get a few fistfights, as for the first half a lot of character setting up is the order of the day, as we get to know Fabio who is not all he seems.

That's because after about half an hour of us following him and his denim jacket with "MATT" stitched into the back, he turns out to be workng for Hamilton, yes, it's he who is the undercover cop. Just how undercover you can be with that jacket is a moot point, but Testi sails through various exploits with just the right amount of cockiness, which may verge on the smug, but as we can see he's getting the job done then we can forgive him his self-assurance - no Al Pacino-style fretting and soul searching for him, no sir. The bad guys have no idea that he isn't who he says he is, which gives him access to their schemes after he springs one of their men from the jail cell they are sharing, and so the main plot is set in motion.

Or rather, the main succession of action setpieces are set in motion, but don't go thinking this is all brainless shoot 'em ups as Castellari appeals to the conscience as well by illustrating the terrible ways that addicts debase themselves. Therefore every character who is addicted is shown to be pathetic and dicing with death every time they inject, with one woman (Sherry Buchanan) reduced to prostitution (er, with a rich lesbian, which looks more like titillation than anything harrowing), and her boyfriend subjected to numerous indignities thanks to his association with the ne'erdowells supplying him. So there's that, but there's also the part which attracts most viewers to the film, which is the last third given over to an extended pursuit taking in motorcycles, cars and even light aircraft, all presented with Castellari's customary flair with such things. So if the "drugs are bad" scenes are making you restless, then your patience will be rewarded. Music by Goblin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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