This week’s VHS was my recently acquired tape of Alberto De Martino’s 1976 Euro-crime joint Strange Shadows in an Empty Room.
A grizzled Ottawa police captain (Stuart Whitman) travels to Montreal to investigate the death of his sister.
I first saw this film at Trash Palace many years ago, but likely due to the PBR-induced haze remembered almost none of it. Strange Shadows is a fascinating anomaly as it was shot in Montreal by an Italian (known for spaghetti westerns & sword of sandal pictures) aping the gritty American cop efforts of this era. If you then throw in some giallo elements you have yourself quite a stew.
Right of the bat I noticed the fantastic cast assembled for this movie. In addition to Whitman, you also have Martin Landau, Tisa Farrow and Italian production staple John Saxon, among others. While the cover may have you believe you're in for a Wait Until Dark-style thriller, the blind girl only briefly factors into the story. It’s actually more of an ensemble murder mystery that in true Italian genre fashion features a revolving door of quirky characters that come fast and furious throughout the run time.
In some markets this movie was known as Blazing Magnum, but more apt might have been Excessive Force based on main character Tony Siatta’s policing methods. He was Dirty Harry on crack, as literally every interaction with a suspect concluded with him pulling his badge after an obligatory chase or fisticuffs. Perhaps the most problematic bit was when he brawled a group of transvestites during which I’m pretty sure Siatta went all Sleepaway Camp and shoved a curling iron where the sun don’t shine.
It was this behaviour that led to the car chase scene that this movie is best known for. It’s pretty awesome and definitely De Martino’s attempt to one-up Bill Friedkin's The French Connection. They even did a three-car stunt that’s so cool they showed it FOUR times!
Hilariously though, the suspect Siatti was chasing had barely any useful information and was basically one of a bunch of guys he shook down looking for a stolen necklace.
I’m not going to lie though, the fact this was shot in Canada was of endless amusement to me. For some reason, half of Montreal looked like it was under construction and the Toronto police crime re-enactment video was a real gut-buster. And I have to must admit the climax at the hospital was pretty satisfying.
So yeah, get past the fact that Siatta was a pretty terrible person and this was some solid Euro-crime featuring a lot of familiar faces.