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Partners in crime
Oliver Reed is at his restrained best as a prison warden forced to facilitate a jailbreak in order to save his wife in REVOLVER, Sergio Sollima’s rivetingly handled 1973 crime drama. Slarek explores the film on Eureka’s new Blu-ray, and adds another favourite to an increasingly long list.

How’s this for a pre-title sequence? In the darkest of dark Italian nights, the sound of hurried footsteps and exhausted panting is revealed to belong to two men, one of whom is nursing a serious stomach wound and being helped along by his concerned companion. As they reach a row of parked cars, they pause and steal one of them, then speed off into the night to the sound of approaching sirens. As dawn breaks, the car stops at an isolated spot beside a river, and the driver helps his injured cohort out and onto the riverbank, where he bemoans the fact that he came all the way to Italy to be killed by a night watchman. Realising that his injury will soon prove fatal, the wounded man makes his companion promise not to let his body end up on an autopsy table at a morgue. Moments later, he dies, and the man that we by now know is a close and devoted friend mourns his loss with a farewell kiss. Then, as the opening titles unfold, he digs a hole by the riverside and buries his friend with the gun that probably led to his death. And so begins the 1973 Italian poliziotteschi Revolver, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who suspects an influence on the post-title scene of Reservoir Dogs.*

If the above wasn’t enough to grab your attention – and it certainly did mine – then worry not, because the intrigue doesn’t stop there. In the next scene, wealthy oil magnate Harmakolos (Jean de Grave) walks out of his plush Parisian hotel and opts to walk instead of taking their car as suggested, dismisses his aide’s concerns about the recent threats to his life. He’s only a few hundred metres from the hotel when a motorcycle rider pulls up and shoots him dead. Elsewhere in the city, popular singer Al Niko (Daniel Beretta) is cheerfully batting away questions from the press about what his connection could be to this assassination as he arrives at police headquarters. Once inside the office on an unnamed Inspector (Marc Mazza), he is shown the wreck of a motorbike, which he recognises as one he bought a couple of years ago and gave to a former friend named Jean-Daniel Auger. It turns out that Jean-Daniel once worked for Harmakolos as his bodyguard and made threats against him after he was fired, and this was the bike ridden by his assassin. The vehicle and the mangled body of its rider were discovered on an unmanned level crossing in Jean-Daniel’s home town of Lyon, and a trip to the morgue sees Niko confirm that the body of the rider is indeed Jean-Daniel. To the Inspector’s coolly expressed relief, the Harmakolos case is thus officially closed.

Milo conforts his dying friend

Over in Italy, a well-dressed Frenchman (Frédéric de Pasquale) disembarks from his flight and is met outside the airport by two taciturn men in a black Mercedes – only later do we discover that the man has flown in from Paris, and that his name is Michel Granier. The purpose for his visit is not yet clear. Meanwhile, on a platform at the central Milan railway station, two Sicilians (Giovanni Pallavicino and Bernard Giraudeau) are approached and offered work by a dodgy-looking tout (Vittorio Pinelli). One of the men takes the tout’s card, looks briefly at it and hands it back. “No,” he says gruffly, “Got work.” Elsewhere in the same city, a woman visible only from the knees down takes off her shoes and steps onto the feet of a man, who begins walking down an apartment hallway, carrying her as he goes, as the two kiss and items of clothing fall to the floor. Eventually, these intimately entwined appendages are revealed to belong to Vito Cipriani (Oliver Reed) and his young wife Anna (Agostina Belli), who are clearly very much in love. We learn that Vito is a warden of the city’s prison when he is called into work the following morning in order to talk a crazed prisoner out of stabbing himself. When he arrives home with flowers of apology later, however, the apartment is empty and a phone call confirms that Anna has been kidnapped. If Vito wants to see her alive again, he’s assured, he must arrange the escape of an inmate named Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi). It’s only when Vito asks to be taken to Milo’s cell that we discover he’s the man who buried his friend by the riverside in the opening sequence.

A lot of story threads are spun in these opening scenes, and while it is perfectly possible to draw a logical if speculative line of connection between them, not all is what it seems. Indeed, one of the many strengths of Revolver is its ability to continually surprise newcomers and catch them out. With that in mind, if you want to avoid having any of them spoilt even a little bit, then I’d skip the next paragraph, and eve n then proceed with a degree of caution, as it’s nigh on impossible to discuss the film in any more detail than I already have without giving a few things away. That said, I promise to keep the reveals to a minimum and avoid being explicit on later developments.

The first surprise comes when Vito follows a tip from Milo’s cellmate (Sal Borgese) and walks in on sleazy but wealthy criminal kingpin Grappa (Peter Berling). The expectation – my expectation –was that Grappa would get bolshy and the desperate Vito would lose his cool and smack the required information out of him. Instead, after a small bout of self-congratulatory verbal sparring, Grappa is fully cooperative and tells Vito what he knows without fuss, resistance or a hint of irritation, and Vito accepts that what he’s saying the truth and even offers him a small nod of appreciation. The second surprise comes when Vito returns to the jail and has Milo brought to his office, where he sets about viciously beating him about the face. On the surface this is an expression of his anger and frustration, but his actions are then revealed to have a secondary purpose, with the essentially superficial injuries inflicted on Milo providing a reason for him to be moved to the prison hospital, from where, Vito tells him, he will be able to affect his escape. This he does in a process that is lengthy enough to feel plausible, but Milo has only just hit the streets when a car screeches up beside him in a car and he’s ordered to get in at gunpoint by Vito. This gameplaying with expectations and genre convention sets the scene for a plot that rarely follows the predicted path. Thus, a colleague of Vito’s whose arrival looks set to expose his wrongdoing becomes an unexpected ally, a switch of fortune for both Vito and Milo is cancelled out by a surprise rebalancing of their relationship, and even the true reasons for Milo’s forced release prove to be more sinister than they initially seem.

Vito takes a call from the kidnappers

The foundations are laid by a smartly constructed script by director Sollima, Arduino Maiuri and Massimo De Rita, and Sollima’s direction is tight, economic and purposeful, never flashy and always in service of the story and characters. Action scenes are rationed, but when they come they are blisteringly handled, their urgency enhanced by their sharp sense of realism, cinematographer Aldo Scavarda’s immaculate camera placement, and Sergio Montanari’s breathless editing. Adding a further layer of class is a typically fine score by Italian maestro Enno Morricone, one that hits all the right emotional buttons without overplaying them, and at one point feels like a trial run for the main theme of the composer’s score for The Untouchables (1987).

Even more crucial to audience engagement are the performances, the best of which comes from a top-of-form Oliver Reed, albeit with a small but curious caveat. As was often the way with Italian films of the period, particularly those with international casts, all of the dialogue was post-dubbed. And while there’s not a hint of mismatch between Reed’s on-screen delivery and his redubbing of his own voice, for reasons that no-one seems to be able to clarify, he elected to do the whole thing with an imperfect American accent. Given that his character name is Vito Cipriani and that he is a former police detective, we can assume that he is meant to be native Italian rather than Italian-American, and as all of the film’s dialogue was delivered in English with an eye on sales to the American market, for the life of me I can’t work out why he didn’t stick to his usual precise English delivery. The thing is, although this does initially feel a little odd, Reed is so bloody good in all other respects that after just a couple of minutes it ceases to matter. Everything else about his performance is sublime, peaking when he is visibly wrestling to keep his true feelings from exploding, and as so often with Reed, the potential for extreme violence can always be seen bubbling just beneath the surface. It’s a masterclass in restraint and emotional control, and up there with Reed’s very finest work on film. As Milo, Fabio Testi proves he’s more than just a handsome face, balancing the character’s cocky disposition with his increasing commitment to a cause he has been unwittingly recruited to help serve. Frédéric de Pasquale (who the two years previously played drug-smuggling TV personality Henri Devereaux in The French Connection) is appropriate unflustered as gangland middle-manager Michel Granier, and Paola Pitagora has a strong role as politically convicted people trafficker Carlotta. The supporting cast is also peppered with the sort of faces you only seem to find in European and East European cinema, providing the film with thugs who look and behave like the real deal, memorably when the Sicilians track down a potential witness and convincingly arrange his subsequent death to look like an accident.

Vito cautions Milo as he smells a rat

I came to the cinema of Sergio Sollima via his superb 1967 western, Face to Face [Faccia a facia], and while Revolver is a very different work, it does share some of that film’s central themes. In both, two individuals with opposing moral values find themselves switching position over the course of the story, and like Face to Face, Revolver later moves into the area of political commentary, questioning the power structure of a system that protects the wealthy and is able to arrange the disposal of inconvenient elements of what it regards as the lower order. The result is a compellingly structured, impeccably directed, splendidly scored, and powerfully acted gem of Italian crime cinema, and one of the best films I’ve watched so far this year. It also pulls that rare trick of keeping you guessing right up to the final scene. Even the title is not what it initially seems, being a type of gun not used by the central protagonist, and likely instead intended to be read as a commentary on the transformative journey that Vito and his initially unwilling companion undertake over the course of the story.

sound and vision

Sourced from a new 4K restoration (that’s all the detail I have on this one), the 1080p transfer of Revolver on this Eureka Blu-ray is seriously impressive in all respects. Detail is very clearly defined, and the contrast is nicely balanced, nailing the black levels without crushing the shadows. The colour palette has a very slightly muted feel with a slight greenish hue, all of which look right for the film’s downbeat tone and very nicely captured by this transfer. The image is very clean, with no trace of dirt or damage, and a fine film grain is visible. Very nice.

Revolver was shot with the actors delivering their lines in English and their dialogue redubbed in post-production, and here you have the option to watch the film with either the English or Italian language tracks, both of which are Linear PCM 2.0 mono. The dynamic range is a little restricted on both – there are no deep bass thumps or rumbles here – and while voices seems to have slightly more breadth on the Italian track, they also sometimes have a more dubbed feel. Morricone’s music is of similar quality on both tracks, but differs during the opening titles, with the orchestral title theme of the English track turned into a song on the Italian track.

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are available for the English language track, and a second set of optional English language subtitles kick in automatically if you select the Italian language track. Both seem fine, but there is a small omission here, at least on the review disc (it may be adjusted on the release disc). At one point, Vito reads a note written in Italian, and at another the Inspector looks down at a newspaper headline written in French. If you watch the film with the Italian soundtrack, the subtitles offer English translations of both. If you watch the film with the English language track, however, even with the hearing impaired subtitles enabled, no such translations are provided. Fortunately, it’s just a matter of switching between the subtitle tracks if your French or Italian are as weak as mine, and you don’t need to read either to understand what’s going on. It’s also worth noting (again, we’re talking review disc here) that there is no option on the menu to activate hearing impaired subs, but they can be switched on using the disc player’s remote control.

special features

Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman
Author of Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation, and a ton of others, joins author, critic and genre commentary favourite Kim Newman to explore a film that they were both impressed by and rate above the poliziotteschi norm. Individual scenes and plot turns are discussed, as is Ennio Morricone’s score, and the work on this film and others of director Sergio Sollima, particularly his 1970 Violent City [Città violenta] (for which there are spoilers). They opine that Fabio Testi was an actor with a limited range but what he could do he did well, and praise the rare depth and strength (at least for this genre) of the Carlotta character played by Paola Pitagora. But the lion’s share of the discussion is focussed on Oliver Reed, whose performance here both men rank as one of his best, and whose work on this and other key films in his career is covered in considerable detail. There’s a lot more discussed here, all of it compelling and acutely observed, and these two really know their Italian crime cinema.

Carlotta nd Milo ponder what the future might hold for them

Stephen Thrower on ‘Revolver’ (21:59)
Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower examines the work of director Sergio Sollima, with particular focus on Revolver, though also covers the director’s segment in the multi-story L'amore difficile (1962), and his westerns The Big Gundown [La resa dei conti] (1966) and Face to Face [Faccia a facia] (1967). Like Forshaw and Newman above, he’s full of praise for the film, for Sollima’s skilled direction, and for Oliver Reed’s central performance. Like them, he’s also confused by the decision to have Reed play the whole thing with a not completely convincing American accent, but argues that the story and the acting are so good that you soon forget about it, a point on which I am in complete agreement.

Tough Girl (10:21)
Actor Paola Pitagora, who plays Carlotta, recalls working with Oliver Reed, who was an idol of hers but used to start drinking early on in the morning, which sometimes caused problems on set, though she does note that he was always top-notch on camera. She intriguingly describes Sergio Sollima as “a war machine,” as someone who was focussed and meticulous but also funny, and Fabio Testi as gorgeous, very enthusiastic, and focussed on his role. She praises the film scores of Ennio Morricone, though admits her admiration for the composer was soured a little by his claim that women all belonged in the kitchen, and has a revealing story about how Reed’s drinking ultimately cut short her role in the film. She also opines that for her, at least as an audience member, genre cinema begins and ends with Thomas Milian.

Action Man (17:07)
An archival interview with actor Fabio Testi, shot in June of 2006 and redressed with new opening titles and credits for this release, and the remastering of what looks like analogue video to HD. Testi looks back at how his work as a stuntman eventually led to him being cast – and doing all of the stunts – in Demofilo Fidani’s 1968 western, And Now... Make Your Peace with God [Ed ora... raccomanda l'anima a Dio!], and how this prompted him to enrol in acting school and embark on a successful career in films and theatre. He manages to top Paola Pitagora’s description of Sergio Sollima with his claim that “he works like a martial artist, every shot is like a sabre blow,” notes how Italian cinema lost its political edge after the arrival of commercial television and a slew of American imports, and remarks that it’s  nice that people remember him despite his age, which would have been 64 when this interview was shot. And he still looks damned good here.

English Credits (6:23)
When you select to watch the English language version of the feature, the credits are in the original Italian, so the opening and closing credits of the English language version have been included as an extra.

Original Theatrical Trailer (3:40)
A trailer that really pushes the film’s crime thriller credentials, and employs a trick later favoured by American distributors to sell non-English language films to a potentially subtitle-averse audience by including no audible dialogue – characters speak, but all we hear is Morricone’s score and a few gunshots.

Niko is made aware of some realities by Granier

International Trailer (1:15)
Sold here under its original American title of Blood on the Streets, this US trailer sports a seriously toned but hyperbolic narration that includes the news that the film stars “Oliver Reed in a performance that makes Charles Bronson’s Death Wish look like…wishful thinking,” which I have no problem with at all.

Radio Spots (1:33)
Two radio spots pushing the American release, the second considerably longer than the first and both proclaiming that “This is a story of a day all the guns went off.” Er, not quite.

Also included with the release version is a Limited Edition Collector’s Bookletfeaturing two new essays by author Howard Hughes – one covering the background to the making of Revolver – and an extensive piece on Ennio Morricone’s ‘Eurocrime’ soundtracks, but this was not available for review.


A tightly directed and terrific poliziotteschi that is more thoughtful and restrained than the genre norm, and boasts an excellent performance by Oliver Reed, despite the enduring mystery of that American accent. As is noted in the commentary, it seems likely that the film was at the very least an unconscious influence on the likes of 48Hrs and Midnight Run, but it absolutely holds its own as a compellingly handled and impressively unpredictable crime thriller almost 50 years after it was made. Eureka’s Blu-ray spots a first-rate transfer and some fine special features, including an excellent commentary track. Highly recommended.


* I’m not, as it happens – on the commentary track, Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman make a similar observation.

Revolver Blu-ray cover

Italy | France | West Germany 1973
110 mins
directed by
Sergio Sollima
produced by
Ugo Santalucia
written by
Arduino Maiuri
Massimo De Rita
Sergio Sollima
Aldo Scavarda
Sergio Montanari
Ennio Morricone
production design
Carlo Simi
Oliver Reed
Fabio Testi
Paola Pitagora
Agostina Belli
Frédéric de Pasquale
Marc Mazza
Reinhard Kolldehoff
Bernard Giraudeau
Peter Berling
Gunnar Warner
Daniel Beretta
Sal Borgese
Giovanni Pallavicino

disc details
region B
LPCM 2.0 mono
English (for Italian soundtrack)
English SDH
Audio Commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman
Stephen Thrower on ‘Revolver’
Interview Paola Pitagora
Archival interview with Fabio Testi
English credit
Original theatrical trailer
International rifle
Radio spots

Eureka Entertainment
release date
16 May 2022
review posted
17 May 2022

related review
Face to Face [Faccia a facia]

See all of Slarek's reviews