The Giallo Project – Assorted 1971

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Tomas Milian and Pierre Clementi in “The Designated Victim.” credit: nuovocinemalocatelli.com

Maurizio Lucidi was a capable journeyman editor and genre director – he made a few westerns, a few war movies, the usual Italian sex comedies, and this watchable little gem – The Designated Victim (La Vittima Designata) (Italy, 1971). It’s a moody and well-designed remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. The always-intriguing Pierre Clementi is Count Matteo Tiepolo, a wealthy young man-about-town disposed to wear capes, wield a walking stick and float through Venice on his own private canal boat. He encounters Stefano Argenti (the very good Tomas Milian), a successful advertising photographer dealing with some financial snarls concerning his estranged wife. Having provided seed money for his subsequent success, Luisa (Marisa Bartoli) owns the majority stake in his business, but won’t sell it to him – she enjoys the power, even with the marriage dissolved. He wants a share of her money to start fresh with his model / mistress Fabienne (Katia Christine). Tiepolo, of course, makes the famous Patricia Highsmith proposition – if you kill my evil brother, I’ll kill your unreasonable wife. Since no one would imagine the one knowing the other, no one will tie them to each other’s crime. It’s perfect, right?

While many fingers left their prints on the screenplay, including giallo veteran Aldo Lado, the story is still well-told and structured, albeit a little slow-paced. Aldo Tonti had been shooting Italian film stock since the late ‘30s, including some for Visconti, Fellini, Nicholas Ray and Mario Monicelli – this is a splendid looking, old-school-style film. And Luis Bacalov’s music is a little richer than most – a nice mix of orchestral and pop, if a little repetitive. The whole film, unfortunately, is conditional like this: not a lot of sex or violence, but well-set mood. Good lead performances, then a drop-off in talent: a nice idea to change the ending, but is it better or disappointing? Lucidi heightens the sense of homosexual tension between the two men (apparent in the Hitchcock as well), but is still timid about it – he emphasizes co-dependence over actual attraction, but Clementi’s clearly trying for something richer without much help. Looks great, smartly done, but as giallos go it’s disappointingly tame.

 

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“Iguana With A Tongue Of Fire.” credit: notrecinema.com

There aren’t many good things to say about The Iguana With A Tongue Of Fire (L’Iguana Dalla Lingua Di Fuoco) (Italy, 1971). Directed by now-clearly-bored prolific journeyman Riccardo Freda, it’s credited to the nom de guerre Willy Pareto – whether he didn’t like the casting, the post-shoot editing or his own shoddy work, he pulled his name even though he co-wrote the screenplay and had veteran cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti (Tinto Brass’ regular) on hand.

The body of a young woman, face scarred with acid and throat slit, is discovered early one morning in the trunk of an ambassador’s limousine. The family is aghast, of course, and the police are summoned. But the investigation is stunted by the Swiss ambassador’s insistence on exercising his diplomatic immunity. The wily Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan) brings in Detective John Norton (Italian veteran Luigi Pistilli), a private dick who’d been fired from the force a few years ago. A non-policeman who’ll work underneath the official channels, he quickly seduces the ambassador’s stepdaughter, Helen (Dagmar Lassander), and ingratiates himself with the ambassador’s drug-addled wife (always-reliable scenery-chewer Valentina Cortese). The killer takes a few more of the ambassador’s staff, and imperils Helen (above), before turning on Norton’s own family – his mother and his teen daughter from a previous marriage.

The film’s location is Dublin; Luigi Pistilli’s character is dubbed with an Irish brogue, but they didn’t fuss too much with any other rationale for that. The murders themselves are pretty underwhelming as-shot, the characters aren’t interesting enough to strike any real psychological sparks, and the concluding reveal has little-if-any foundation (“Wait, that was WHO…?”). Unless you’re a Dagmar Lassander fan/completist, you can feel free to skip this one entirely.

 

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Helmut Berger and Wendy D’Olive in “The Bloodstained Butterfly.” credit: cinemas-online.co.uk

A little humorless, a little too deliberate, The Bloodstained Butterfly (Una Farfalla Con Le Ali Insanguinate) (Italy, 1971) is nonetheless an admirably involving, smartly structured murder thriller that repays multiple viewings, a real rarity among the wave of quick-and-dirty giallos that erupted after Bird With The Crystal Plumage.

We’re introduced to the major players in the film in rather theatrical dramatis personae fashion, but the approach pays off as narrative connections are made further along. The Marchi family figures prominently: Alessandro (Giancarlo Sbragia) is a well-known local TV sportscaster, and his daughter Sarah (Wendy D’Olive) attends school with her good friend Françoise (Carole André). When young Françoise is violently murdered in a park on a rainy afternoon, there are plenty of witnesses, and their descriptions lead to none other than Alessandro Marchi. Had he been having an illicit affair with his daughter’s friend? From where could this murderous impulse have come? Giorgio (Helmut Berger) is another student-acquaintance who appears at the crime scene and later befriends, and beds, the understandably saddened Sarah – an additional suspect among a few.

Director Duccio Tessari, a veteran writer/director of spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi, had directed a hybrid giallo/police thriller with Death Occurred Last Night (1970), but he’s really refined things here. Tessari’s emphasis on Sandro’s attorney, Giulio Cordaro (Günther Stoll), constructing his defense, while Inspector Berardi of the Milan police works feverishly on his end (an early exercise of the ‘Law and Order’ template) is atypical storytelling for the genre, rendering the more lurid aspects of the crime more clinical. With only hints of the usual gore and cheesecake, we find ourselves more invested in these characters; when more murders occur while Marchi is still in custody, we’re as surprised as they are. There’s another illicit affair here as well, and a couple of surprise alibi witnesses to further snarl things up. Tessari is also subtle but effective in examining the environment of privilege that surrounds most of these characters, especially Mrs. Marchi (Evelyn Stewart) and Giorgio’s own tightly-wound family – selfishness and greed far outweighs psychosis as the raison-d’etre for most giallo crimes. The credible, logical and-yet-still-surprising conclusion is well-earned.

 

 

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