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Retro Review: STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (1977)

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STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM
aka BLAZING MAGNUM
aka SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM
(Italy/Canada - 1977)

Directed by Martin Herbert (Alberto De Martino). Written by Vincent Mann (Vincenzo Mannino) and Frank Clark (Gianfranco Clerici). Cast: Stuart Whitman, John Saxon, Martin Landau, Gayle Hunnicutt, Tisa Farrow, Carole Laure, Jean Leclerc, Jean Marchand, Anthony Forest. (R, 99 mins)

Filmed as BLAZING MAGNUM, this Italian/Canadian co-production was sold in the US by AIP as STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM, with chillingly effective poster art that unfortunately has little to do with the actual film. Coming from producer Edmondo Amati (THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE) and the same creative personnel behind the goat-tastic 1974 EXORCIST ripoff THE ANTICHRIST, which wouldn't even be released in the US until late 1978 as THE TEMPTER, STRANGE SHADOWS is a very American-looking police procedural that happens to be shot and set in Montreal. Almost everyone is hiding behind Americanized pseudonyms--director Alberto De Martino is "Martin Herbert," while screenwriters Vincenzo Mannino and Gianfranco Clerici (a pair who also collaborated on the scripts for HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK and THE NEW YORK RIPPER) have been respectively rechristened "Vincent Mann" and "Frank Clark"--an exception being composer Armando Trovajoli, whose moody, jazzy score wouldn't be at all out of place in a then-contemporary cop show on TV. Only in a late-film flashback does STRANGE SHADOWS feel even remotely Italian, and even the end, with the camera pulling away from the obligatory pissed-off, plays-by-his-own-rules cop in an aerial shot as he walks away in disgust, looks like the final shot of any DIRTY HARRY movie. Poliziotteschi may have been big in Italy at this time, but STRANGE SHADOWS is only very vaguely indebted to them, playing more like a Canadian tax shelter actioner with some DIRTY HARRY/FRENCH CONNECTION overtures and some slight hints at giallo. The US poster is a selling a horror film that's really a mean-spirited little gem of a cop movie that's just been resurrected on Blu-ray by Kino (which drops the "STRANGE" and is now just called SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM) but it stands out as an Italian cop thriller that seemingly makes strenuous effort to be as North American as possible.




When his kid sister Louise (Carole Laure) is poisoned at college in Montreal and her doctor/possible lover George Tracer (Martin Landau) is the main suspect, perpetually aggravated Ottawa police captain Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman) decides to go out of his jurisdiction and take over the investigation himself. Getting some help from agreeably sympathetic Sgt. Matthews (John Saxon), the tactless, bull-in-a-china-shop Saitta follows a convoluted trail of clues and dead ends that involve Louise's secret life about which overprotective Saitta knows nothing; Louise's blind friend Julie (Tisa Farrow); Tracer's creep son (Anthony Forest); a slutty prof (Gayle Hunnicutt), who may be sleeping with the married Tracer but is definitely screwing Tracer Jr; Louise's ex Fred (Jean Leclerc), who's still not happy about being dumped; the theft of a valuable necklace and someone wanting to keep potential witnesses from squawking; and a dismembered transvestite whose body parts are found in a scrapyard. Saitta cracks skulls all over Montreal and doesn't care who he pisses off or how much destruction he leaves in his wake, whether it's a ridiculously violent penthouse brawl with a trio of kung-fu cross-dressers that ends with him shoving a hot curling iron up exactly the worst place you can imagine, or one of the great unsung car chases of the '70s, coordinated by the venerable car stunt legend Remy Julienne and one that just keeps getting more ludicrous the longer it goes on. Even though he seems more like Laure's father than her brother, Whitman is very entertaining as the irate Saitta, who practically goes full McBain by the end with one of the most reckless acts of wanton destruction that a no-rules, one-man-force movie cop has ever pulled off.  De Martino and producer Edmondo Amati reteamed later in 1977 for HOLOCAUST 2000 (aka THE CHOSEN and RAIN OF FIRE), an Italian OMEN ripoff with plenty of spectacularly gory deaths and a fully-committed and full-frontal Kirk Douglas giving it his all at the beginning of his exhibitionism phase.



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