An Ottawa police captain searches for the person who poisoned his sister, who was attending the university in Montreal. So desperate is he for revenge that he begin to use his own brutal methods to find the killer. Soon he discovers that not everything is what he thought it was. Soundtrack by Armando Trovajoli (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Captain Fracassa's Journey).
“Truce, Sweetie. Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”
‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ aka: ‘Blazing Magnum’ is a 1976 Italian crime film or “poliziotteschi” shoved inside a Canadian procedural mystery. Directed by Alberto De Martino with a script from Vincenzo Mannino and Gianfranco Clerici who also co-wrote ‘The New York Ripper’, this trio of Italians took a lovely little cop film and smashed it through a plate glass window after watching a marathon of giallo and ‘Death Wish’ films! Though cinematography credit goes to Anthony Ford, rumors persist that exploitation sleaze master Joe D’Amato shot the film. This already sounds like an action packed exploitation high-five! What could go wrong?
The film opens with a flyover shot of Ottowa with a lazy jazz trumpet melody playing. It feels like a soap opera is about to begin. Suddenly we are thrust into a violent bank robbery with armed thugs blasting people away! Giving chase to the robbers is Captain Saitta played by veteran actor Stuart Whitman. The film wastes no time in establishing the ethics of Saitta: shoot first, never ask questions. Brandishing a Magnum revolver, Saitta is channeling ‘Dirty Harry’ with every pull of the trigger. Across Quebec in Montreal, Saitta’s sister Louise (Carole Laure) dies at a college party in the arms of Dr. Tracer, an older man with whom she was having an affair. Tracer is played by Martin Landau in a solid, but overbearing performance for a supporting role. Saitta shows little grief for his sister’s death but instead channels everything into exacting revenge. Tracer is the key witness, but as Saitta’s investigation grows he discovers more leads and more red herrings. Local cop Ned Matthews, played by John Saxon, aids him along the way.
Saitta roughs up the manager of a hotel where Louise frequented. It’s tough to watch because you expect a ‘Death Wish’ style fervor, but instead you get that damn lofty trumpet making the scene look completely silly. Armando Trovajoli’s breezy jazz score would fit perfectly with a “made-for-tv” version of the film, not the violent rager we get here. Stuart Whitman is trying so hard to “act” like a vigilante cop, but without a vulnerability showing through all the punching and snarling doesn’t mean anything.
Not content with Tracer acting alone, Saitta puts the heat on the other witnesses to Louise’s death. WIthout a warrant or explanation, Siatta barges through the doors and lives of everyone close to his sister. When Siatta follows up on leads no one is safe from his fists or his magnum! With each turn the investigation heads in a new and slightly confusing direction. Thankfully, the exploitative elements help secure the film’s momentum and thus the audience’s attention. With Saitta’s vigilantism exploding at every moment from the iconic 10 minute car chase to a rooftop fight with kung fu transvestites you are never far from another exciting scene!
Unfortunately, I think the Euro-crime themes extend too far into the film’s plot and create an imbalance in the film’s tone. This nice Canadian film is too often marred with the “tough on crime” elements synonymous with poliziotteschi genre films. Dr. Tracer tells Saitta “The people closest to us are the ones we know the least”. This echoes the sentiment of 1970’s crime thrillers. Rising cynicism over the corrupt political system gave birth to films such as ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Death Wish’ where the law was taken into the hands of otherwise good-natured cops. Sadly, Saitta doesn’t convey the gravitas typically expected from our vigilante cops.
‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber with two different pieces of artwork. One makes the film look like a giallo-style thriller, the other poster art courts the explosive nature of a man with a gun on a mission. When watching the film you get the sense that both of those movies are fighting for 98 minutes. Saitta kicks ass and doesn’t take names, but he is no Dirty Harry. Unfortunately most people who’ve seen ‘Shadows’ will only remember the car chase and the transvestite kung fu scenes. It’s sad really cause deep down there is a really great thriller underneath that needs to breathe.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ arrives on Region A Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber. The film is pressed onto a BD25 disc housed in a standard blue case with reversible slipcover featuring an alternate title artwork. The disc opens with the Kino Lorber logo followed by the Scorpion Releasing logo before settling into the Main Menu.
The Blu-ray presentation of ‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ is a 1080p HD resolution with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For a Canadian poliziotteschi film making the jump to Blu-ray it doesn’t look too bad! The print is littered with dirt and scratches but those instances are brief and don’t remove you from the film. A few scenes appear to have been sourced from a different print as the transfer doesn’t allow a seamless transition between the sequences. Typically any of the more exploitative scenes appear in this manner. Film grain is present throughout the feature with little evidence of tinkering with the color balances or black levels. It’s not a great transfer by any means, but it’s flaws make for an authentic experience.
The DTS-MA 2.0 track supplied on the Blu-ray is passable. Dialogue throughout the feature is muddled and difficult to understand with poorly recorded elements used. Issues with synchronization appear with both dialogue and action audio tracks. I typically had to adjust the volume control every few minutes to understand bits of dialogue before lowering the volume when the action started up again. ‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ may not have a perfect audio track but it gets the job done.
Theatrical Trailer (SD) (3:33)
-The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
-Bobbie Jo and The Outlaw
‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ is an entertaining watch from the film’s opening bank heist. Read too much into the messy plot and you’ll get lost trying to dig your way through the red herrings. Knowing that it’s a combination Italian poliziotteschi and Canadian thriller makes this frankenstein of a film easier to stomach. It’s unfortunate that the film focuses more so on the violence, action, and sexuality rather than the twisting mystery. What appeals to me most is the film’s nonstop pace. Even when the dialogue and drama are pulling things down at least the score is raising the hairs on the back of your neck! Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing have put together a bare bones Blu-ray for a bone breaking movie. Recommended viewing to those who adore vigilante cop flicks or an amazing car chase. To everyone else I say give it a rent.