Captain Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman) is in the middle of a case, chasing a gang of bank robbers through the streets, when he gets a call from the station on his radio telling him there's an emergency and he needs to take this message from his sister Louise (Carole Laure). However, understandably he is too busy and as he bears down on the robbers, jumping out of his car to blow them away with his handgun, Louise tells the operator she'll have to get back to her brother some other time. She is at university in Montreal, and has broken off an affair with Dr George Tracer (Martin Landau) - which might have been a mistake.
Some films gain their cult status for one sequence, and so it was the case with Blazing Magnum, a co-production between Italy, Canada and, er, Panama (?) which combined two genres of Italian cinema and plonked them down in the not often seen for this material Montreal. These were the giallo style and the polizia thriller, so what you ended up with was something of a dog's breakfast with Whitman as the Dirty Harry-esque hardnosed cop investigating the sort of crime that would more likely be seen in one of those horror mysteries where there's an unknown killer on the loose and bumping off the suspects, in this case with a variety of implements.
Whitman was well cast, looking the part as he seemed to get into fistfights at every turn with somewhat absurd regularity, at one point with petulant transvestites, but there was that sequence slap bang in the middle of the movie that didn't so much rely on his thespian talents, and more on those of the stunt team: that's right, it was a car chase, and what a car chase it was. Once we're deep into the intrigue, naturally Saitta is hounding suspects left, right and centre, so when it comes to the fellow who opts to make his getaway from this rather brutal approach of the cop's, he leaps into a car and off they go, Saitta in hot pursuit. What follows is a tremendously muscular item of seventies action, with the vehicles looking more like they're indulging in a demolition derby.
Obviously that setpiece was as much influenced by Steve McQueen in Bullitt as it was by the Clint Eastwood hits, and right enough there were shots of the cars flying through the air just as if they were negotiating the streets of San Francisco, although in this instance they were treated somewhat less reverently, with nobody caring if the vehicles ended up complete wrecks by the scene's close. Still, it was a great item of automobile exertion, and the reason why Blazing Magnum was much sought after by enthusiasts of such business down the years. But then we had to get back to the mystery angle, and work out if indeed Louise has been killed in an incident which saw her collapse during a prank.
This prank, at her inception, offers a hint as to what the big revelation will be come the climax of the story, but before then we take it as read that Louise was the innocent victim of the killer. Is Tracer that culprit? Of course not, he's a red herring, but it does make you wonder why they invited Landau to appear when he was swiftly placed behind bars for the greater part of the running time, until they let him out near the end where we're still unsure if he's shady or not. John Saxon, the Montreal detective who teams up with Saitta, didn't fare much better, a stock character if ever there was one and not especially inspired in his depicton, though Tisa Farrow, about to embark on a run of really sleazy Italian flicks, had a more interesting role as a blind witness who keeps getting into perilous situations. That said, aside from the barmy twist, it would be the action you would be watching for, and the finale with the helicopter was almost crazy enough to rival the car chase. Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Aka: Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta, Shadows in an Empty Room