Convoy Busters Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 16, 2023 (Standard Edition)
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, English
Run Time: 100:41
Director: Stelvio Massi
After brandishing his gun and badge too many times in front of powerful people, Inspector Francesco Olmi (Maurizio Merli) is busted down from Homicide to Emergency Squad. Despite his demotion, he is not content with letting Rome's criminal element run rampant and his violent nature soon finds him the target of both the press and the local mob. After a bloody attempt on his life, he is transferred to a quiet coastal town to run a local department, but, never one to leave things alone, he quickly finds a dangerous smuggling ring is using the cover of the sea and darkness to run their operations in his sleepy district. (From Cauldron’s official synopsis)
Stelvio Massi was, along with Enzo G. Castellari, Umberto Lenzi, and Fernando Di Leo, one of poliziottescho’s big name contributors, dating back to his second film as director, 1974’s Emergency Squad (Italian: Squadra volante), starring Tomas Milián. But he originally made his name as a cinematographer, helping to set the spaghetti western standard when he worked as a cameraman on Sergio Leon’s A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964). He also worked as cinematographer on minor western and giallo classics, including Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power (Italian: Il prezzo del potere, 1969) and Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris (Italian: Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?, 1972). Following Emergency Squad’s surprise success, Massi cranked out 13 more poliziotteschi between 1975 and 1980, before returning to the genre again in 1987 to direct Fred Williamson in Black Cobra (Italian: Cobra nero). Wedged in the middle of this incredibly dense collection of Eurocrime flicks was the subject of this review, 1978’s Convoy Busters (Italian: Un poliziotto scomodo).
The year before Convoy Busters, Massi made one of the greatest pure action poliziotteschi titles in Highway Racer (Italian: Poliziotto Sprint, 1977), which features a rare pseudo-lighthearted performance from the normally grimace-faced Maurizio Merli. Merli is an interesting character, as he owes his career to his passing resemblance to Franco Nero. He replaced Nero in Tonino Ricci’s sequel to Lucio Fulci’s first two White Fang movies, White Fang to the Rescue (Italian: Zanna Bianca alla riscossa, 1974), after playing a lookalike version of Nero’s Commissioner Belli from Castellari’s High Crime (Italian: La polizia incrimina la legge assolve, 1973), renamed Commissioner Betti for Marino Girolami’s Violent Rome (Italian: Roma violenta, 1975). Violent Rome was followed by Violent Naples (Italian: Napoli Violenta, 1976), once again starring Merli and directed by Umberto Lenzi. Merli continued playing essentially (sometimes literally) the same character over dozens of films and, within a few years, his stardom actually eclipsed the far less prolific Nero.
Merli worked with Massi on a total of six films, in order: Highway Racer, Magnum Cop (Italian: Poliziotto senza paura; aka: Fearless, 1978), The Iron Commissioner (Italian: Il commissario di ferro, 1978), Convoy Busters, Hunted City (Italian: Sbirro, la tua legge è lenta... la mia no!, 1979), and The Rebel (Italian: Poliziotto solitudine e rabbia, 1980). It’s difficult to know if the Merli/Massi films count as a connected series, because, as I said, Merli tended to played the same guy – a hypervigilant, hyperviolent, and hyperfascist Italian version of Dirty Harry – but, for whatever reason, these characters didn’t always share a name, even though they did share Merli’s face and limited acting range. He wasn’t a bad actor, merely a performer known for playing one note very well. That said, he manages to exude considerable warmth and sorrow, alongside his usual grit-toothed fury this time around.
Convoy Busters doesn’t match the jaw-dropping action of Highway Racer and its script – by Massi, his son Danilo Massi, Gino Capone, and Teodoro Corrà – is definitely overstuffed, but plenty of critics and fans still mark it as Massi’s best movie as director. One particularly interesting touch is that its plot is chopped into two acts: the first being a moody procedural mystery spiked with chase scenes and explosions, and the second being a fish-out-of-water story about a big city cop falling in love as he struggles with a small-town reassignment. It’s as if Massi is speedrunning two completely different movies, which, surprisingly, only falls apart when the plot stops so that characters can spout ideology at each other. This type of overexplaining simple reactionary politics is an ongoing weakness throughout Merli’s filmography. Massi mostly avoids the problem during the second act, where Merli’s character is trying to leave violence behind and is only dragged back in by a vast criminal conspiracy. Instead of blathering through ideological battles with the press and his superiors, he’s compulsively confronting a mystery, despite the best interests of his peaceful new life. It’s basically the old gunfighter trope superimposed onto the always versatile poliziottescho model.
Blazing Magnums: Italian Crime Thrillers Vol. 1, edited by Tristan Thompson and Paul J. Brown (Midnight Media, 2006)
Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 by Roberto Curti (MacFarland & Co., 2013)
It doesn’t appear that Convoy Busters ever had an official stateside VHS release and that, aside from bootleg dupes of the Australian and UK tapes, No Shame Films’ 2006 DVD was the film’s US debut. Its first Blu-ray appearance was part of a three-movie Eurocrime collection, along with Guiseppe Rosati’s Fear in the City (Italian: Paura in città, 1976) and Carlo Ausino’s Double Game (Italian: Torino violenta, 1977) from German company Koch Media in 2018. This Cauldron Films Blu-ray was initially a site-exclusive limited edition and is now available as a standard issue disc, minus the slipcase and mini-poster.
The 2.35:1, 1080p transfer was created using a 2K scan of the original negative (I don’t know if it’s different than the Koch transfer). Cinematographer Sergio Rubini’s photography is dark and a little fuzzy, thanks to diffused lighting effects and a lot of shallow focus, all in keeping with the look of his other poliziotteschi. As a result, the transfer is rarely crisp, outside of some close-ups, and there are some posterization-type effects throughout. But I don’t think any of this is a sign of bad restoration. Grain is heavy, but mostly naturalistic, as are textures, though they are sometimes lost in darkness of the naturally-lit night-time sequences. The palette skews cooler, leading to slightly purple skin tones and a lot of blue haze, which looks nice, but is the one thing about the transfer that I suspect doesn’t fully represent the original intended look. This is only a guess, though, based on how often gritty ‘70s crime movies end up looking sort of bluish when remastered in HD.
Convoy Busters includes the original English and Italian language dubs, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound. As per usual, the film was shot without synced sound, so all language versions are dubbed and there is no official language option. This particular movie was definitely shot with the major cast members speaking Italian on-set, so the Italian dub has better lip sync, but the actual sound quality is basically identical between the two tracks. The English dub might actually have the advantage in terms of dialogue, because the Italian dialogue is notably flatter, and features good performances from familiar voices, like Richard McNamara, Gregory Snegoff, Susan Spafford, and Frank von Kuegelgen. The also fantastic Stelvio Cipriani has cheated a bit here by using some of his compositions for both Convoy Busters and Andonio Bido’s The Bloodstained Shadow (Italian: Solamente nero, 1978), but it’s hard to complain, because they’re good themes and fit each movie. The music also sounds a hair better on the English track to my ear.
Commentary by Mike Malloy & Mike Martinez – Malloy, the writer/director of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s (2012), and Martinez, who is credited as cinematographer and visual effects artist on Malloy’s documentary, chat about the poliziotteschi in general, connections to spaghetti westerns and other Italian movies, the careers of the cast & crew with emphasis on Merli and Massi (including English dub actors), locations, and the genre’s inherent misogyny (which is mostly left out of Convoy Busters).
My Father, the Cop (20:22, HD) – Merli’s son, Maurizio Matteo Merli, discusses his father’s legacy as an actor, his inescapable ties to the genre (also recognizing his couple of westerns), the reasons behind the politics seen in these films, and his own film work.
The Massi Touch (24:19, HD) – Son of the director, Danilo Massi, recalls his father’s career as cinematographer and director and working with his dad as assistant director and co-writer on various movies (including Convoy Busters).
Stelvio Massi video tribute by Danilo Massi (8:24, HD)
Maurizio Merli: A Lethal Hunter of Subtle Variation (29:00, HD) – Malloy returns for a celebration of the actor, his films, and his on-screen persona, specifically the slight variations in his tough cop roles, including (in order) Highway Racer, Giorgio Cristallini’s Seagulls Fly Low (Italian: I gabbiani volano basso, 1978), Magnum Cop, Convoy Busters, Romolo Guerrieri’s Covert Action (Italian: Sono stato un agente C.I.A., 1978), The Iron Commissioner, Lenzi’s From Corleone to Brooklyn (Italian: Da Corleone a Brooklyn, 1979), Hunted City, The Rebel, Gianni Siragusa’s Vultures Over the City (Italian: Buitres sobre la ciudad, 1980), and Giorgio Bontempi’s Notturno (1983).
Stelvio Massi image gallery
Archival extras from No Shame’s DVD:
A Star Was Born (16:02, SD) – Journalist Eolo Capacci talks about his friend, Maurizio Merli.
Bullet in the Closet (6:27, SD) – Director Ruggero Deodato briefly recalls working with Merli at an early point in both of their careers.
ER Prota (22:20, SD) – Director Enzo G. Castellari also recalls working with the actor in his pre-stardom days.
Merli on Merli (20:26, SD) – Another, earlier interview with Maurizio Matteo Merli talking about his father.
My Good Fella Maurizio (15:54, SD) – Actor Enio Girolami closes out this collection of ‘people talking about Merli’ interviews also discussing his friendship with the actor.
Alternate Convoy Busters title sequence (0:59, SD)
Maurizio Merli image gallery
Italian and English trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.