Sunday, 4 April 2010

La polizia è sconfitta / Stunt Squad / Execution Squad

Anyone interested in the poliziotto could do worse than track down this 1977 entry from veteran director Domenico Paolella and prolific screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti.

For Stunt Squad, as it was known in the Phillipines, proves a textbook example of the filone, delivering not only in violent action and exploitation but also thought-provoking sociological commentary on the state of Italy in the 'years of lead'.

We're first introduced to the protection racket headed by Valli (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), who has a particularly indiscriminate way of dealing with those Bolognese businesses who refuse to pay or even have the temerity to organise against him: Dressed as telephone engineers his men plant a bomb in a payphone as he observes from nearby. Once his men have left, he then dials the corresponding number.

A 'phone story', to use Michel Chion's term

Nothing personal, only business

After witnessing the devastation caused by Valli's terrorist-like tactics, we're well positioned for the introduction of our chief protagonist Commissioner Grifi (Marcel Bozzuffi), as he gets his superiors' permission to recruit for a special squad trained in combat driving, sharp-shooting, martial arts and the like.

Stunt squad training montage

The rest of the film follows the various skirmishes between Valli and Grifi and their men / proxies, with plenty of brutal violence along the way until finally the two go mano a mano in a powerful and deeply ironic showdown after the desperate Valli hijacks a crowded bus.

Dubious or telling incorporation of actuality footage

Yet if the hijacking suggests an indebtedness to Don Siegel's Dirty Harry, other aspects of the film, like the explosive beginnings and the escalating dynamics of violence are more reminiscent of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, leading one to wonder – as so often with this cinema and its better-known, better-financed, better-distributed US genre counterpart – who was actually influencing who.

A giallo-esque murder

Paolella's direction and Sacchetti's writing are perfectly in tune with one another: If the director's handling is at times somewhat prosaic, you get the sense that this is precisely what worked best with Sacchetti's script. Correspondingly when Paolella pulls out the stops on the set pieces, with slow-motion, dramatic angles and so on, Sacchetti hasn't put anything in his way.

Through this, one perhaps gets an insight into why Sacchetti didn't get along with Dario Argento on Cat o' Nine Tails, that maybe Argento's more self-consciously auteurist approach meant he was unwilling to give Sacchetti the expected freedoms.

The leads and supporting players are solid, as are the technical contributions of the editor, production designer – with yet more of those abandoned factory found location sets so common in the filone and its giallo cousin – cinematographer and other crew.

Stelvio Cipriani provides the score in his usual idiom: Not outstanding on account of its predictability but also, for this selfsame reason, of sufficient quality and, indeed, in perfect accord with the film as a whole.

Recommended to both fans of the filone and casual viewers seeking a representative example of it.

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