Color, 1979, 104m.
Directed by Michael Winner
Starring Sophia Loren, James Cobun, O.J. Simpson, Eli Wallach, Anthony Franciosa, Vincent Gardenia, George Grizzard, Victor Mature
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Epix (Germany R2 PAL)

SpasmoBy the end of the '70s, entertainment mogue Lew Grade and his company, ITC (which had produced shows like The Saint and The Prisoner), Spasmohad aspirations of becoming major movie players with a shift into film production thanks to titles like The Boys from Brazil, Capricorn One, and The Eagle Has Landed. Into this mix came Firepower, a violent, star-studded action film with poster art designed to echo a James Bond film but sporting a well-deserved R rating. The project had originally begun as a Dirty Harry film but transformed radically as it passed through different stars and directors, with helmer Michael Winner brought on after shooting his controversial version of The Big Sleep in England. The result was a globe-hopping madhouse of acting styles and over-the-top action set pieces like James Coburn driving a bulldozer through a millionaire's house. It's also a firebug's dream come true with numerous flame gags, including one in the opening three minutes and a fiery finale complete with multiple flaming stunt men hurtling into the water.

Beautiful Adele Tasca (Loren, who seems to get a smoky saxophone accompaniment every time she walks in the room) is widowed when her husband gets blown up as she's dropping him off at the airport. He was in the process of blowing the whistle on a corrupt drug manufacturer whose product was causing cancer, and now it's her job to both Spasmodeliver the evidence her husband connected and get revenge. To achieve that she enlists the aid of her former lover, mercenary Jerry Fanon (Coburn), who also brings in his buddy Catlett (Simpson), who's been busy pulling off safety deposit box heists. Mobster Sal Hyman (Wallach) will get all the indictments against him dropped if he seals the deal with Fanon courtesy of interested federal agent Frank Hull (Gardenia), and the likely man behind it all seems to be Karl Stegner, the very reclusive industrialist millionaire behind the drug company. Their clever plan starts off with torching one of Stegner's Spasmohouses, then interrogating and torturing their way through New York and the Caribbean to their target by doing things like dangling a guy on the outside of their boat in the middle of the ocean and dousing him with blood to become potential shark chum.

Despite its top-drawer cast and high production values, Firepower somehow still manages to feel gritty and sleazy, a trademark of director Michael Winner that ticked off critics at the time still smarting from the commercial success of the much-derided Death Wish. This is definitely a successor to his earlier crime films like Scorpio, The Stone Killer, and The Big Sleep, with plot twists aplenty and lots of violent mayhem that sometimes has very little to do with the actual plot. The film wasn't a particular hit but maintained some popularity thanks to TV airings and numerous video releases, with VHS copies seemingly in every single store around the world throughout the '80s. After that it fell off the radar almost entirely, even in the UK where most of ITC's product wound up being issued by Carlton (which turned into Network), and ITC itself collapsed theatrically after the double whammy flops of Can't Stop the Music and Raise the Titanic. Spasmo

Fortunately the film is back in high style courtesy of Scorpion's editions on DVD and limited edition Blu-ray, with the latter looking very impressive thanks to a fresh HD transfer with a very natural, vivid appearance and an appealing level of depth and detail. Good luck finding a print that looks this pristine. The 1.78:1 framing opens the compositions up very slightly compared to the 1.85:1 theatrical exhibition, while some video editions were open matte and looked very oddly composed. The DTS-HD MA audio sounds terrific with a lot of energy in the opening theme music by jazz favorite Gato Barbieri, who previously performed scoring duties on Last Tango in Paris. It's a shame that boisterous, overheated main theme can only be found on one vinyl release, his 1979 album Euphoria. Extras include trailers for the main feature, Killer Fish, Go Tell the Spartans, The Octagon, The Girl Hunters, and Saint Jack.

Reviewed on May 25, 2015.