In Italy in the early 1970s the spaghetti western fad was slowly dying and filmgoer’s attention was now turning to poliziotteschi, a cop-and-robber brand of cinema that contained high body counts, violence and lawlessness. 1974’s “Emergency Squad,” contained all the elements, presented in an exciting and entertaining fashion.
Directed by Stelvio Massi, who is making his genre debut after working as a camera operator and set dresser on many Italian westerns including “Fistful of Dollars,” “Emergency Squad,” opens up with a strong action sequence and does his best to keep the plot speeding along.
The movie opens with a group of thieves holding up and shooting a car carrying 200,000,000 lire in payroll. They pose as a movie crew, so unsuspecting spectators think they’re watching a pretend slaughter instead of a real one. Meanwhile, Ravelli, an Interpol agent is returning to duty after taking time off to try to come to terms with the murder of his wife and young son. At the scene of the heist, Ravelli finds a shell casing which links this crime to the murder of his family. He sets out to find the group responsible. Interpol is happy to let him follow the clues, but they also know he’s a bit of a loose cannon. (And not the fun, wacky Mel Gibson of “Lethal Weapon,” loose cannon. Ravelli is more of a, ‘freak out the neighbors and sitting up all night staring into space and chain smoking,’ kind of loose cannon.) Interpol assigns Lavagni to keep an eye on Ravelli. Neither man minds the other’s presence, and soon they’ve teamed up, determined to catch the criminals.
Meanwhile, back at the hideout, a plan to hide the money and go their separate ways until the heat dies down is quickly thrown into disarray when one member of the group, who announces his plans to take his cut now, thank you very much, is shoved during a disagreement, and cracks open his head. The crooks begin turning on themselves.
The film works its way through a predictable climax, though, Massi gets to that climax by some interesting, diverting ways. (My personal favorite is Ravelli chasing the crooks and shooting at them while in a helicopter.)
All the actors are good, Tomas Milian’s portrayal of Ravelli is a stand-out. He plays Ravelli as haunted, but not a cliché version of haunted which, as most crime film viewers know, is not the most original of character traits. Gaston Moschin plays the leader of the criminals and he does ruthless very well too.
However at the end of the day, you may find yourself shutting off the movie and saying, ‘well, that was fun, but what was the point?’ And I think you might be onto something. “Emergency Squad,” is a pretty rote by-the-numbers crime movie. It’s definitely not without charm and uniqueness, but, ultimately, it’s overshadowed by the middle-of-the-road storytelling. That said, it is not without its charms and, if you are a fan of the era and the genre, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy here. While “Emergency Squad,” may not be for everyone, it goes off course enough to amuse and entertain the more dedicated genre fans. Recommended, but with reservations. -Sam