In the mood for some good old fashioned police brutality, homophobia, witness abuse and murder? Well Blazing Magnum (also known as Shadows in an Empty Room, or Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta, or Magnum Special) has got you covered. Not quite a classic giallo style film, nor strictly a poliziottesco, this film from Alberto De Martino (who also brought us The Antichrist) is something of a curiosity of the genre. While feeling very much like a classic Italian exploitation film it is, in fact, a Canadian-Italian co-production set in Canada, a locale known for Mounties, maple syrup and excessive politeness rather than gritty Italian exploitation film making.
Our “hero” in this film is police captain Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman – Night of the Lepus, The Longest Day). He’s a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, hard-driving Ottawa cop who takes no prisoners. When we first meet him, he’s involved in an intense car chase, pursuing bank robbers. The chase ends when he rams their car off the road, into a building, and then proceeds to gun down almost every one of them. Yeah! Street justice! Things take a turn for the worse when his sister Louise (Carole Laure – Escape to Victory, Les fils de Marie) dies in mysterious circumstances at the university in Montreal where she was studying. Saitta promptly decides to barge into the investigation which is most definitely entirely out of his jurisdiction, aided by local cop, Sergeant Ned Matthews (John Saxon – Enter the Dragon, A Nightmare on Elm Street).
Suspicion first lands on Dr. George Tracer (Martin Landau – Space 1999, Mission Impossible) who treated Louise at the scene, and with whom Louise appeared to have some sort of relationship. Saitta, being the sort of cop who doesn’t worry about things like solid evidence, immediately assumes Tracer is guilty because, uhm, well, he had a illicit relationship with a student. So he must be guilty! When the evidence suggests that Tracer was framed for the crime, Saitta sets outs to find the truth of his sister’s death by any means necessary. And by “any means” we mean assaulting anyone who might have any connection to the crime, be they suspects or witnesses. But was Louise really as innocent as Saitta believed her to be? Was this a crime of passion to cover up an affair or did Louise’s chequered past finally catch up with her?
In the same way that The Antichrist feels like it was inspired by someone watching The Exorcist, Blazing Magnum feels very much like someone watched Dirty Harry, The French Connection and Death Wish and thought that they just weren’t violent enough, that the lead character was still too constrained by things like rules and laws and bosses who felt that maybe they shouldn’t get all their confessions by half-drowning people in public bathrooms. Bah! Pussies! Don’t they know that criminals don’t respect anything but the iron fist of justice wrapped around the grip of the most powerful handgun in the world?
It’s honestly difficult to root for Saitta as a character when he’s such a brutish thug. One scene sees him attempt to get information from a group of female impersonators who are innocently minding their own business when he barges into their home without so much as a “Hi, I’m a cop”. He doesn’t explain himself, doesn’t offer a name or show his badge, and when they try to eject him he beats all of them to a pulp. Oh yes. Not only is Saitta someone who wholeheartedly embraces good old-fashioned police brutality, he’s also a good old-fashioned homophobe as well, with barely concealed contempt and comments about “fruits” coming across as cringe-inducing.
So is this new version from Studiocanal worth grabbing from your local Blu-ray boutique of choice? The transfer is decent enough, though the film grain gets a bit heavy in places and detail gets lost, but it’s nothing too egregious. There are both English and Italian soundtracks on offer along with a modest smattering of special features that includes ‘Special Sentiments: Alberto De Martino’s Magnum Memories’ which is an interview with the director. He’s always a delight to listen to, so make sure you check this one out. There’s also ‘City Hunter’, an interview with genre stalwart and historian Kim Newman where he talks about the poliziotteschi genre and where Blazing Magnum fits. Rounding things off, there’s a theatrical trailer and that’s your lot.
It can’t be argued that the film wastes little time in giving fans of this genre exactly what they want. Blazing Magnum is a gloriously over the top example of the “rogue cop” story, offering plenty of fisticuffs, gunfights, and a truly epic car chase that makes this film well worth a look.
Blazing Magnum is out now from Studiocanal.