Cult Movies: Euro-thriller Revolver a fascinating glimpse of Oliver Reed at his very best

Oliver Reed in Revolver
Ralph McLean


THE hulking figure of Oliver Reed has loomed large over this column on many occasions down the years. A brooding, smouldering onscreen presence in many a fine movie (and plenty of truly awful ones as well), his cinematic star shone particularly brightly in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

From the hysteria of his central role in Ken Russell's crazed take on The Devils to wrestling naked with Alan Bates in Women In Love, Reed graced some high profile productions at the time, but also turned up in some less familiar films as well. Well, less familiar on this side of the channel at least.

Revolver, a fine Euro thriller from director Sergio Sollima, is a good example. Released in 1973 and freshly re-issued by Eureka on Blu-ray this month, it's a intriguing little crime fable that boasts a brilliant lead performance from Reed at the very peak of his thespian powers.

He plays Vito Cipriani, a Milanese prison governor whose wife is kidnapped by a gang who inform him she'll only be returned unharmed if he agrees to organise the escape of one of his prisoners, the enigmatic robber Milo Ruiz (played by Italian star Fabio Testi).

Cipriani does as he's told but, to give himself some bargaining power, he holds Ruiz hostage until he can ensure the safe return of his better half. The two unlikely figures then traipse across Italy and into France as they track the kidnappers and uncover all kinds of corruption and double dealing along the way.

Publicity at the time drew comparisons with Michael Winner's Death Wish but Revolver is a brighter more complex creation in every way. There are twists and turns that lesser thrillers wouldn't bother with and a sense of political intrigue that lifts this well above level of your usual vigilante crime thriller.

Bar a pretty ropey American accent, Reed is great as the compromised prison governor. Glowering his way through every scene with that edgy allure he brought to just about everything he graced in his prime, he looks ready to explode with pent-up rage at all times.

He also bounces well of the urbane and handsome Testi, whose overt charm hides something altogether darker, and the journey across Europe is beautifully shot throughout, providing a wider visual scope than most traditional crime films would dare to boast.

As you'd expect from an odd couple pairing like this, much is made of the gradual bond that grows between the two men and the trust that develops in difficult circumstances. Sollima builds the tension beautifully until a final showdown in Paris allows the film to reach its brutal conclusion.

A superior tale of male violence and its ultimate cost, Revolver is a fascinating glimpse of Reed at his very best before the bar room took precedence over the studio floor. Tough and muscular storytelling that takes us on a trip across Europe, offers a much loved actor a chance to spread his wings and throws in a beautiful Ennio Morricone score to boot to ensure that Revolver hits the target with ease.

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