Armed robbers posing as a film crew hold-up a bank van killing a security guard as they escape. Assigned to the case, world-weary police detective Lavagni (Mario Carotenuto) is surprised to discover his boss, cigar-chomping maverick cop Ravelli (Tomas Milian) is already at the scene. Ravelli's eccentric dress sense, which one might describe as "hobo chic", and maverick methods rub his superiors up the wrong way, but his instincts prove correct. It turns out the bullet that killed the security guard matches the one that shot his wife some months ago. Said bullet belongs a ruthless French criminal known only as The Marsigliese (Gastone Moschin) who immediately sets plans to get his unruly mob out of town.
Squadra Volante or Emergency Squad was the first film in what became an enormously popular Italian poliziotteschi series, spawning nine sequels most notably Cop in Blue Jeans (1976). It was the third time in the director's chair for former cinematographer Stelvio Massi. He became a staple of the genre thereafter with such films of variable quality as Mark il Poliziotto a.k.a. The Narc (1975), Fearless Fuzz (1978) and Black Cobra (1987), enduring well into the mid-Nineties. Later entries in the series grew increasingly freewheeling and humorous, particularly those handled by comedy specialist Bruno Corbucci, but this initial episode is far more serious. Tomas Milian's scruffy, Serpico-styled cop, introduced wandering his apartment in slightly alarming cherry-red briefs with matching socks, is a brother in arms to the warriors with a broken heart played by Franco Nero in High Crime (1972) and Maurizio Merli in Violent Naples (1976), nursing a personal tragedy and railing against political incompetence as much as social corruption. Here Milian is not the ragged misfit seen in later movies, despite his superiors' complaints that "a proud policeman does not wander about with long hair, dressed like some hippie at a love-in." Instead he is a drawn as a sensitive family man who has a young son and concerned sister-in-law. You can see why Corbucci re-envisioned the character, stripping him of such conventional bourgeois trappings, since he functions more effectively as an outsider whose innate decency drives him to empathize with the downtrodden poor.
Future Italian horror scribe Dardano Sacchetti penned the screenplay which is pretty talky with an uneven plot lurching haphazardly between Ravelli's slow-burning investigation and the gradual collapse of the gangsters' uneasy alliance. Euro-crime staple Gaston Moschin had enacted this sub-plot before to superior effect in Fernando Di Leo's Milano Caliber 9 (1972). As the Machiavellian mobster he ends up coping with a Marxist educated getaway driver (special guest star Ray Lovelock who went on to headline Ruggero Deodato's superior poliziotteschi outing Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976), but does not contribute much here) aiming to sneak off and donate his share of the loot to the socialist cause and a rival outfit intent on snagging the stolen money. To that end they kidnap the Marsigliese's glamorous moll played by Stefania Cassini, the iconic knife-wielding zombie girl in Suspiria (1976), in a very broad performance made even broader in the English dub where she sports a distracting helium voice.
By comparison with the usual Euro-crime kill-fest the plot proves admirably dense but is poorly handled. The usual cynical portrait of Seventies Italy mired in sleaze so effective in other poliziotteschi movies proves a trifle kitsch in Emergency Squad with its fey pornographers, haggard whores, mobsters more like rabid dogs and caricatured world-weary cops with only a few days left till retirement. Sacchetti's script mounts a scattershot satire with scenes calculated to outrage liberals and conservatives alike yet no consistent agenda. Massi's gifts as a D.P. are well evident however resulting in an attractive package lensed in sleek scope. Once the crooks sneak through a police road block disguised as priests ("Lucky we didn't meet a Jewish policeman") the plot descends into an extended chase sequence, by car, helicopter and on foot before the gang hijack a helpless family, hide out at their house and inevitably molest the sexy teenage daughter. This is an Italian exploitation movie from the Seventies, after all. Like Dirty Harry (1971) the final confrontation between cop and crook culminates in an act of mutual destruction though again, like the Clint Eastwood classic, the sequels rendered this moot. Smooth grooves by Stelvio Cipriani.