Color, 1993, 95m. / Directed by Ricky Tognazzi / Starring Claudio Amendola, Enrico Lo Verso, Carlo Cecchi, Ricky Memphis, Tony Sperandeo / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

By the time La Scorta reached Italian theaters in 1993, the country had already established itself as a reliable source of tense police thrillers stretching back to the golden days of Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli. Obviously aiming at a more "respectable" take on the same genre, actor/director Ricky Tognazzio (son of famous actor Ugo Tognazzi and helmer of the lovely Canone Inverso) explored many of the tropes of the cops-and-robbers formula with this acclaimed film, which snagged plenty of film awards in its native country but was received elsewhere with a mild shrug. Though viewers expecting high-octane, blood-soaked thrills may be left scratching their heads, the film instead delivers a steady, subtle exploration of comeraderie and paranoia boosted by an excellent Ennio Morricone score.

Inspired by factual events three decades earlier, the plot is another variation on the familiar "guarding a public figure" formula that's been around since the days of Naked City. Here the target in Trapani, Sicily is Michele de Francsco (The Arcane Enchanter's Cecchi), a new judge whose determination to undermine the Mafia's influence has put him in very real jeopardy -- particularly since the previous judge and his bodyguard have just been slain. Leading the new squad of bodyguards is Angelo (Queen Margot's Amendola), a family man brought back to his hometown for the job, with the rest of the team filled out by Andrea (Lo Verso), Fabio (Memphis), and Raffaele (Sperandeo). When the judge's plan to tamper with the mob's control of the city's water supply backfires in the public eye, the guards are left as his only trustworthy allies and must band together to protect a life in grave danger of being taken away at any moment.

Shot with a professional gloss similar to other 1990s high profile Italian films, La Scorta culls most of its acting talent from mainstream TV and cinema performers and acquits itself nicely, though as a result the eccentricities and excesses typical of Italian crime thrillers are minimized here by the need to generate a film palatable to the general public. The suspense level remains fairly high even when the viewer has no doubt about the outcome, and though the actual level of gunplay is very low, the atmosphertic score and committed performances keep the interest level high. The bonding between the four men really forms the core of the film, which finds most of its strength in its conversations and emotional development rather than the subject matter iself, which has been stamped into the ground by the likes of Law & Order.

Blue Underground's top-notch treatment of this film on DVD does justice to a title largely unseen by American viewers, who were far more likely to stumble across the soundtrack CD than the feature itself (whose release from First Look barely registered at all). The transfer does what it can with the source material, which ranges from pin-sharp daylight scenes to rather soft, indistinct nocturnal photography. The Italian dialogue is presented in a spare but effective 5.1 mix, which keeps dialogue dead-center but nicely separates the score and a few well-chosen sound effects. When they arrive, the gunshots certainly deliver!

Tognazzi and producer Claudio Bonivento appear twice for supplements on the disc. First they contribute an audio commentary with Blue Underground's Bill Lustig in which they discuss the making of the film, the state of Sicilian politics and crime-fighting at the time, the factual basis for the story, and the varied critical and audience receptions to the film. Then they go in front of the camera for "Judging La Scorta," a featurette clocking in just under half an hour in which they're joined by Amendola, cinematographer Alessio Geisini, and co-writers Graziano Diana and Simona Izzo to discuss the basis of the film in far more detail with a wealth of historical information and anecdotes from the set. The disc is rounded out by the American and Italian trailers.

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