Shadows in an Empty Room

Synopsis: Tension and thrills await in this all-star slice of 70s crime excitement! When his sister is poisoned at a party, hardened Canadian cop Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman, Maniac) embarks on a violent investigation that turns into a shocking whirlpool of revenge and betrayal.

Featuring one of the decade’s greatest car chases and an arsenal of plot twists, this blend of fast- paced action film and tough police procedural from cult director Alberto De Martino (The Antichrist, Holocaust 2000) features a stellar cast including John Saxon (Queen of Blood), Oscar winner Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Tisa Farrow (Zombie), Carole Laure (Sweet Movie), Jean Leclerc (Whispers) and Gayle Hunnicutt (The Legend of Hell House).

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Shadows in an Empty Room 6.5

eyelights: its familiar locales. its action sequences. its cast.
eyesores: its absurd score. its contrivances. its weak performances. its crap dialogues.

You know how there are movies that you wouldn’t normally watch but that you do only because they have a unique hook that make it special to you? ‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ (or ‘Strange Shadows in an Empty Room’ or ‘Blazing Magnum’, depending on where it was released) is such a film for me.

The 1976 Italian-Panamian co-production was filmed and is set in Canada, notably in Ottawa and Montreal, two areas that I’m very familiar with and which rarely get profiled in non-Canadian cinema – especially Ottawa. I’d even read that there was a car chase set in front of Parliament Hill.

Parliament Hill: The seat of Canadian government.

Wow.

I just had to see that.

I had also read that this particular chase was hilarious because it apparently was shot in both Ottawa and Montreal and, thus, was constructed from footage shot at vastly different locations. Now, this is probably normal practice with a lot of motion pictures, but I wouldn’t necessarily know.

Seriously, I had to see that.

It turns out that the chase in question opens up ‘Shadows in an Empty Room’: Though the picture is largely set in Montreal, the main character, a police officer by the name of Tony Saitta, is from Ottawa – and it begins with him racing along with other cops to stop a bank robbery in progress.

It does, in fact, begin in front of the Parliament buildings, tears down from there along the Rideau Canal and then, suddenly, finds its way to Queen street, tearing away from the National Arts Centre – which is impossible to reach from where they were previously. It’s called “movie magic”.

My understanding is that the bank they end up at is in Montreal, but I wouldn’t know as it’s really impossible to ascertain 40 years hence. All I know is that the scene feels a bit disjointed to me, but I’m not sure if this is just due to the fact that I can see the stitches in this patchwork.

In any event, the picture quickly relocates to Montreal permanently, as Saitta travels there to investigate the death of his sister Louise – whom he quickly believes was poisoned. Then, for some reason, the local police assist him in his investigation, even though he’s from another city.

Really, ‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ is unremarkable aside for its local interest. Though it has a number of admittedly exciting action sequences, they’re contrived and exist strictly for their own sake. Most of the time, the sequences could have been pared down or scrapped altogether.

Again, it was mostly fun to watch for the landmarks: my buddy and I watched in amazement as large swatches of downtown areas were closed completely to accommodate the filmmakers, their stuntmen and stunt drivers. This is conventional in some cities, but it’s jaw-dropping in these areas.

The only other notable thing about this picture is its cast, which includes Stuart Whitman as Saitta, John Saxon as the officer in charge of the case, Martin Landau as the prime suspect, Québécois singer Carole Laure and, of all people, Tisa Farrow (Mia Farrow’s sibling!) as a blind witness.

Unfortunately, they’re all a major disappointment: Whitman plays a ‘Dirty Harry‘ type without the wit, charm or ferocity, Saxon is there, Landau was one-note (“Hello, I’m Martin Landau, and I’m ANGRY!”), Laure affected an incongruent Italian accent and Farrow was as stiff as her white cane.

The worst of it must be the lead. I know nothing of Whitman, but he’s so dreadfully dull (his “dad jokes” are especially lame) that he bogs down the picture. And the character is difficult to like given that he’s bullish, randomly beating people up and brutalizing them for information.

But the most perplexing and hilarious part of ‘Shadows’ is Armando Trovajoli’s score. Though the music isn’t bad at all, what was hilarious was that it hardly ever matched the scenes: action scenes had jazzy strolling music, sinister music played during a soirée, and punchy music backed dialogues.

It was as though Trovajoli’s score has been dumped into the movie on “random”!

My buddy and I just couldn’t stop laughing.

The intrigue is nothing to write home about either: a red herring is tossed at the screen after another until a fishy stench permeates the picture. By the time that the actual villain of the piece is revealed, we simply don’t care and don’t really believe it either. It could be anybody.

The only thing I found interest about the script was the character development, in that Saitta discovers how blinded he is with respect to his sister, not wanting to admit the truth about her and her death; it made for slightly more complex characters than you often find in this genre.

But, otherwise, ‘Shadows in an Empty Room’ is an awkward hybrid of police procedural, giallo-like crime, and overzealous action pieces. It’s in no way remarkable unless you’re fascinated with a motion picture’s decor more so than with its architecture or even the furniture.

Otherwise, it will feel rather empty indeed.

Date of viewing: March 25, 2017

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