Few actors have ever commanded the screen with as much intensity as English actor Oliver Reed. For a long time growing up, I knew him mostly as “Uncle” Frank, from Ken Russell’s bonkers film adaptation of The Who’s Tommy (1975). Reed was mesmerizing in a performance that’s both menacing and hilarious. Over the years I’ve come to know Reed’s body of work a little better, and it’s clear he brought that same magnetism to most everything he did. Whether being perfectly still or exploding with rage, Reed’s volcanic screen prescience was practically unmatched during his prime.
The hard-charging Euro-crime thriller Revolver (1973) is a veritable bonanza for fans of Reed’s antics—both on and offscreen. Luridly retitled stateside as Blood in the Streets, Revolver offers Reed at his most seething and combative, as he alternates between these emotional states from start to finish here. Playing Italian prison warden Vito Cipriani whose wife (blue-eyed beauty Agostina Belli) is kidnapped by a labyrinthian cabal of mobsters, he must partner with a prisoner (Italian stuntman-turned actor Fabio Testi) to rescue her. The film pummels ahead at a relentless pace, with Reed and Testi fighting their way across Italy and France.
Like Dan Curtis did directing Reed in Burnt Offerings (a film I really need to write about), director Sergio Sollima smartly makes great use of the actor’s penchant for saying more with his face than most actors can with words. Closeups of Reed’s visage abound, conveying his character’s tortured emotions as he follows the trail of his kidnapped wife.
According to Sollima, Reed was a pleasure to work with, until the time each day where his notorious drinking got the better of him. The production established a fake final date for shooting just so Reed could slip away quietly without being harmed by members of the crew who had scores to settle with him. For as much a challenge as he could be to work with, Reed delivers a riveting lead performance here, elevating Revolver at every turn.
As cynical Italian poliziottesco films go, Revolver (1973) is especially cynical. Reed’s signature simmering intensity is mesmerizing as always, Ennio Morriconne’s score is ridiculously excellent, and the Italy and France location shooting is just gorgeous. Apparently this was marketed in the States as a Death Wish-style vigilante film, but it’s really so much more than that, with a sprawling, convoluted narrative that continually circles back to one of the main themes of 1970s cinema: institutions are corrupt and no one is to be trusted. The constant closeups on Reed’s face hammer this message home repeatedly. The ending is completely bleak, fittingly closing on Reed’s contorted, agonized face. After all, it’s his wildly expressive face—those eyes!—that make Revolver such a memorable cult film.
Revolver is currently streaming on Tubi. It also made its debut on Blu-ray last year, thanks to Eureka Entertainment.
2 thoughts on “Lost and Found: Revolver”
A terrific piece! Reed is electrifying to watch when he’s giving his all to a role. I’ve enjoyed a wide number of his performances, including his antagonistic turn in David Cronenberg’s The Brood, his iconoclast role in Russel’s The Devils, and his final appearance in Scott’s Gladiator.
I look forward to giving Revolver a watch.
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Thank you Daniel! Those are some of my favorite Reed roles, too.