Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

First Samurai, Then Cowboys…. Now Guerilla Mercenaries

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Oggi a Me….Domani a Te! (Today it’s Me…Tomorrow it’s You! / Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!) (1968) PG-13 **** 1/2

Brett Halsey: Bill Kiowa (as Montgomery Ford)

Tatsuya Nakadai: James El Fego

Bud Spencer: Walrus O’Bannion

Wayde Preston: Ex-Sheriff Jeff Milton

William Berger: Francis “Colt” Moran

Franco Borelli: Bunny Fox (as Stanley Gordon)

Jeff Cameron: Moreno, El Fego’s Lieutenant

Dana Ghia: Marina Kiowa (as Diana Madigan)

Teodoro Corra: The Gun Seller (as Doro Corra)

Victoriano Gazzarra: The Gambler (as Vic Gazzarra)

Michele Borelli: The Prison Director

Written by: Dario Argento & Tonino Cervi

Directed by: Tonino Cervi

Synopsis: Bill Kiowa, after serving a prison term for a crime he didn’t commit, is determined to have his revenge on the man who framed him. The man is El Fego, a former friend of Kiowa’s who went mad, framed Kiowa for a robbery he committed, and then raped and murdered Kiowa’s Native American wife right in from of him. A friend of Kiowa’s points him to four men who can help him get El Fego and wipe out his gang of Comancheros: a burly brawler, a bored sheriff, a playboy, and a wanted gunman.

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Tonino Cervi, a little known but still very talented filmmaker, took the Italian Western back to its roots in Japanese Samurai films, particularly Kurosawa’s Shichinin no Samurai (The Seven Samurai), with Oggi a Me…., taking the tale of a group of expert marksmen going against a group of ruthless thieves and their sadistic leader and making it grittier and slightly ruthless. Instead of going with the usual seven, Cervi decided to make the odds a little tougher for the heroes and only went with five, but these five are just as tough and cunning, each with his own expertise and style. Playing towards the classic character traits started by Clint Eastwood, the five gunmen don’t say much, but their gazes and body language convey everything the audience needs to know about them. There’s no heroics initially among the motley crew of Anti-Heroes, and they’re all initially in it for the money the lead character is offering for their aid, but learning of their leader’s reasons for going after the bad guy and his cronies, the task of ridding the territory of scum is more alluring, though they still like the idea of being paid. The film offers one of the few cases of an Italian Western being filmed entirely in Italy, exteriors and interiors, as most filmmakers tended to prefer the deserts and plains of Almeria Spain for exterior footage, and shows the mountains and plains of the Italian countryside work just as well.

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For those with a keen interest to history, the Comancheros were a real-life loose federation of outlaws from every form of criminal life. These men were usually the most dangerous of outlaws and often had committed every crime in the book more than once. Since they were the lowest of the low and usually seen as the scum of the earth as they killed anyone and everyone without prejudice, the government of the Old West and those officials in charge of local territories actually considered the killing of a Comanchero an act of justice and usually rewarded those who got rid of them.

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Brett Halsey, credited under the pseudonym Montgomery Ford, an American actor who enjoyed an extended popular tenure in Italy gives Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Nero a run for their money as the brooding Bill Kiowa. An orphan raised by Native Americans, Kiowa straddles two worlds, and while surviving well in both, still contends with some bigotry. Halsey plays Kiowa as an otherwise decent man who, after being unjustly convicted and betrayed, becomes hardened and cynical, but still humane enough to not let revenge blind him to the lives of the four men who’ve agreed to help him. That there are those who believed he was framed and unjustly imprisoned give him reason to still believe in justice and humanity. Halsey’s acting talents and use of facial expressions are on full display here as he gives both memorable and meaningful dialogue and matches the iconic cold stares of his Italian Western contemporaries with equal intensity. His scene in the gun shop as two of El Fego’s henchmen try to get the drop on him is in the classic style of his contemporaries and even includes a little humorous wit as he trades glances with the shop owner to what he plans to do.

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Tatsuya Nakadai, a Japanese actor of immense talent and popularity in both his native country and abroad, is a scene and show stealing amazement in the role of El Fego. A Mexican bandit with a flare for the sadistic, leads his gang on rampages that leave no survivors, but this also proves to be his downfall as it’s a distinct calling card that puts Kiowa and his men right on the outlaw’s trail. What makes his villainy even more prominent and powerful is that he was once Kiowa’s friend and ally who all of a sudden turned on him, planted evidence to get him convicted of something he did, and then savagely assaulted and killed the man’s wife. Nakadai puts his trademark intense eye movements and equally intense, almost bordering on complete madness facial movements along with an equally twisted smile to great use that convey Fego’s mental imbalance perfectly. Director Cervi even pays homage to Nakadai’s iconic Samurai roles by having Fego’s weapon of choice be a machete, which the actor wields very much like a sword. The role in many ways harkens back to his star making turn in Kurosawa’s Yojinbo (Yojimbo), where Nakadai plays an equally vicious slime ball thug and to an equal, though slightly less, later role in Dai-Bosatsu Toge (The Sword of Doom), where he played a Samurai bordering on complete sociopathic madness. Nakadai actually combines both characters to make up El Fego and all the traits come into perfect harmony.

(Here’s a link to Brett Halsey’s interview on the SWDb website https://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Brett_Halsey_Interview He talks some about the film in the interview and has some really good praise for Nakadai and his performance)

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The four actors that make up the motely crew for Kiowa are good in their own respective rights. Bud Spencer (born Carlo Pedersoli), a former Olympic athlete turned actor, uses the hulk he amassed from swimming and water polo to great effect as the burly Irishman O’Bannion. As good with his fists as he is with a gun, O’Bannion is the first to be recruited by Kiowa for his revenge plot, and O’Bannion shows that even though he’s a big man, he’s as stealthy as a cat. While Spencer would become most well-known for his comic roles and his Laurel & Hardy like partnership with Terence Hill, he proved her he was just as good with straight dramatic parts. (Note: Spencer’s famous facial hair is actually a wig as he had to shave his iconic whiskers for the Lee Van Cleef Western Al di la della Legge [Beyond the Law]) William Berger, an Austrian-Naturalized American actor turns in his usually fine smiling deceptiveness in the role of Francis “Colt” Moran. A gambling gunman who begins the film in jail for shooting somebody over a card game, Moran joins up with Kiowa partly because Kiowa paid for his release from jail and partly when Kiowa and the others save him from being killed by a tricky gambler’s trigger-happy henchmen. The allure of the hunt and to get paid for it is what draws him the most to the hunt. Berger plays up Moran and silent and keeping to himself, but as he follows Kiowa into the badlands, he has become more curious as to how Kiowa will want the revenge played out.

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Wayde Preston, an American TV actor who joined fellow US actors in the Italian Western following CBS’ revenge on actors wanting better pay, turns in a decent performance as Jeff Milton. A sheriff completely dissatisfied with his job when the town he protects goes orderly, Milton joins up with Kiowa for excitement and a chance to help the territory get rid of the vicious Comancheros El Fego is leading. Franco Borelli, an Italian actor credited under the pseudonym Stanley Gordon, gives a pretty solid debut performance as Bunny Fox. A playboy, Fox’s preference for easy money has him say goodbye to a lady friend a join up with Kiowa and his boys. Being that this is Borelli’s debut film, he doesn’t get to improvise as much as his senior cast mates, but he’s shown as quick with a knife and athletic, making him a good candidate for sniper work.

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An interesting bit of camera work and storyline comes in a flashback when Kiowa and El Fego see each other for the first time since El Fego betrayed the man he once called a friend. The flashbacks are done in black and white and offer a nice contrast to the film’s general use of color, and also acts as a unique way of presenting what has occurred in the past and giving depth to the hatred these two men have for each other. The use of black and white adds to the intensity of the scene and gives a matter of fact view of the events and concentrates solely on the performances of Halsey, Nakadai, and the other actors in the scene.

The only real flaw with the film is what looks like the use of rapid, sudden, and quick cuts in certain scenes. At times it’s difficult to tell if this was intentional on the part of the director and editor, or if the age of the negative they restored had some flaws that couldn’t be fixed, but they are there. This doesn’t hinder the film in any way, but does make one wonder what exactly they are. Also are some audio pops in the first five minutes and last five minutes of the film, but again are in no way a hinderance as they don’t occur when the actors are talking or action is taking place.

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With a cold weather landscape, heroes with no allusions of glory or fame, and villains who let absolutely nothing stand in their way, Tonino Cervi take the concept that was first The Magnificent Seven and turns it completely on its head. The cast, especially Tatsuya Nakadai, give stellar performances and the story, while basic at heart, is made better by the director, the scriptwriters, and the cast. It might not rank as one of the top dogs within the Italian Western greats, but can certainly be seen as a minor classic that deserves rediscovery and re appreciation.

(I highly recommend this one for a fine story, good acting, and amazing locale shooting. It’s not artistically amazing, but still highly entertaining and offers up one of the most interestingly portrayed villains in the history of the Italian Western. The Blu Ray offers a fine transfer and audio choice. While not English friendly audio or subtitle wise, the Italian is still a good audio choice and has enough similarities to English to be understandable. The only downside to the Blu for myself was the forced German subtitles when selecting the Italian audio. It’s a complete hindrance, though it’s clear the subtitles are actually that of the German audio as sometimes subtitles pop up when their’s no dialogue. Other than that, the Blu Ray is quite good and worth checking out.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!

Wikipedia/Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!

The Spaghetti Western Database/Oggi a Me….Domani a Te!

Buying options

https://www.amazon.de/Dicke-ist-nicht-bremsen-Blu-ray/dp/B013QCIYVA/ref=sr_1_6?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1551285341&sr=1-6&keywords=tatsuya+nakadai

https://www.amazon.de/Dicke-ist-nicht-bremsen-Amazon/dp/B010VEMO7G/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1551285341&sr=1-6

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

He Prays for Those He Kills: Preacher with a Gun

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author alone)

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Requiescant (Kill and Pray) (1967) ***1/2

Lou Castel: Requiescant

Mark Damon: George Bellow Ferguson

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Father “Don” Juan

Barbara Frey: Princy, Requiescant’s Sister

Franco Citti: Burt, Ferguson Henchman

Carlo Palmucci: Dean Light, Ferguson Henchman

Mirella Maravidi: Edith Ferguson

Rossana Martini: Lottie/Lupe (as Rossana Krisman)

Ninetto Davoli: El Nino (as Nino Davoli)

Vittorio Duse: El Doblado (as Victor Duse)

Written by: Adriano Bolzoni, Armando Crispino, Lucio Battistrada, Pier Paolo Pasolini, & Carlo Lizzani, from a story by Renato Izzo and Franco Bucceri

Directed by: Carlo Lizzani

Synopsis: After a Mexican village is massacred by a racist Plantation Owner and his gang, the sole surviving toddler is saved by a traveling Preacher and his family. As an adult, he confronts the Plantation Owner when his adopted sister ends up working for him as a saloon girl. Helping him in his quest is a revolutionary monk organizing an army of the peons the Plantation Owner’s gang is terrorizing.

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By 1967, the tides were changing for Italian cinema as people from all walks of life were protesting the Vietnam War and the various world political strife. The Westerns were still quite popular in Italy, but some filmmakers decided to use the genre as a means for commenting on the times. These films would eventually become known as the Zapata Western, Westerns set during the Revolutions led by Benito Juarez and later by Emiliano Zapata and Poncho Villa. What makes Kill and Pray different from the standard Zapata Western is that it contains no mention of either Juarez or Zapata and Villa, though its time period can be gauged as during and after The Civil War. Ironically, the film begins as a rescue story with the protagonist trying to save his straying sister from the evils of the big city that turns into a story of a fight for freedom of an entire community. The theme of revolution is still a major part of the film, but this go around has the leader of the group being a renegade priest tired of the injustice all around him. Since May of 68 hadn’t happened yet, instead of the villain being one of the historical dictators of Mexico, the villain is now a rich Southern Plantation Owner with a seething hatred all non-whites, especially Mexicans, who has taken over a small hamlet that is the object of liberation for the novice revolutionaries.

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Lou Castel, a Swedish actor born in South America who later became a Cult Film icon throughout Europe, does an exceptional job as Requiescant. While born to Mexicans, the character is raised as white after his family and village are massacred by a group of outlaws led by a racist Southern land baron who wants the territory for his own little kingdom. Castel plays the character as a heavily devout Christian whose forced into the realization that his adoptive father’s ideals have no place in standard society. When he finds he’s skilled with a gun, he decides to go after the men forcing his foster sister into prostitution at a city saloon, only using his gun when absolutely necessary. Castel has his character retain some of his Christian values by reciting the Last Rites to the men he has to kill, giving Requiescant a very interesting, intriguing, and at times complex duality that helps differentiate him from other Italian Western Anti-Heroes. As he begins to learn more and more of his real identity, he starts to realize there are things much more important than himself that can help him be who he was meant to be, and still keep the values his adopted father taught him. Ironically, Castel became disillusioned with the turn in European cinema was making, and became very choosy in his parts afterwards, heading into early retirement.

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Mark Damon, an American actor who made Europe his professional home, oozes sleaziness and menace as George Bellow Ferguson. A man from old money, Ferguson highly embodies the self-righteous and contemptuous personality of early Colonial to post Civil War Southern Aristocrat who believed anyone with a dark complexion was inferior to his European ancestry. Damon plays Ferguson as still heavily bitter about the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War, and decides to make a little Mexican hamlet into the Antebellum he knew and loved without risking violating the Government’s new laws regarding the freed slaves. He runs the territory with a mixture of fear and intimidation, using his lecherous henchman to abuse the women and kill the men who stand in his way. His massacre on the colony of Mexican citizens who originally had claim to the land soon returns to haunt him when sole survivor Requiescant discovers it was Ferguson who led the attack that killed his family and then harmed his adoptive sister. Damon plays Ferguson to the hilt, having him engage in all sorts of lurid behavior and debauchery, even going so far as to psychologically torture his wife and female servants.

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Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of Italy’s most acclaimed and controversial filmmakers (look at his IMDb or Wikipedia biography to find out why), gets a rare chance at acting in the very interesting role of Don Juan. Juan is a monk who decided to become a revolutionary after tiring of European tyrants treating the people like dirt, and forsakes his vow of silence to lead an army against Ferguson and others like him. Pasolini, who was a confirmed leftist, saw this character as very much like him, and asked to rewrite some of his scenes and lines to suit his real-life views. It’s actually a shame Pasolini didn’t act more as he actually quite good, even with his revisions to suit his real-life agendas, conveying the character very well in a way that makes trying to picture anyone else in the role difficult. While still a man of God at heart, Juan believes his vows shouldn’t prohibit him from doing what he can to help the people who are suffering. He sees in Requiescant as a man who can help him to win the fight, but first must help him avenge his family, and his foster sister who were taken by Ferguson and his bunch.  His motivations are what give Requiescant the courage to see past his adoptive father’s pacifism and realize he can be both a man of God and a man of the world, and co-exist in both.

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The only thing that goes heavily against the film is its preachiness in regards of the politics of the film. While the film’s pro peace and anti-big business/war are commendable and very much needed in that tumultuous time, the overtly heavily overtones and undertones of the recurring revolutionary theme almost become too much thanks to Pasolini and director Carlo Lizzani’s uncredited re-writes and override an otherwise decent story of revenge, retribution, and self-discovery.

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A story of rescue and revenge soon mold with the need to liberate an abused community and free them from oppression that tend to leave viewers confused at first, but still offer a pretty decent resolution in the long run. Mark Damon’s performance is the stand out, though Lou Castel and Pier Paolo Pasolini do very fine work as well. The locales in Spain and Italy are on display very well and help move the story and themes along very well, giving body and subtility to the overall effect. While it’s hard to say if this film was the stepping off point for the later Zapata Westerns, it certainly has all the elements that would define the sub-genre in its re-appreciation with the advent of DVD and Blu Ray.

(I do recommend this pre-era Zapata Western, even if the majority of viewers only care to see it once. While a little heavy in the themes of revolution and rebellion, it doesn’t kill the story it wants to tell and keeps the audience engaged, even if it feels like it goes from one story to the next at random. This doesn’t take away from the spirit of the film, but does encourage viewer reminders to pay attention in regards to the plot of the film. Arrow Video once again does a fine job with audio and visual transfers of the film, making it an excellent re-discovery piece.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Requiescant

Wikipedia/Requiescant

The Spaghetti-Western Database/Requiescant

https://www.amazon.com/Requiescant-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray-DVD/dp/B00ZPHGVRO/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1550685974&sr=1-2&keywords=Requiescant

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Old Shatterhand vs. Wild Bill Hickok in 17th Century Venice

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian Language version of the film)

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Il Boia di Venezia (The Executioner of Venice) (1963) PG-13 ****

Lex Barker: Sandrigo Bembo

Guy Madison: Rodrigo Zeno

Alessandra Panaro: Leonora Danin

Mario Petri: Guarnieri the Executioner

Alberto Farnese: Michele Arca

Giulio Marchetti: Bartolo

Feodor Chaliapin Jr: Doge Giovanni Bembo

Franco Fantasia: Pietro

Raf Baldassarre: Grimani the Messenger

Mirella Roxy: Esmerelda

John Bartha: Leonardo the Messenger (as Gianni Barta)

Written by: Luigi Capuano, Arpad DeRiso, and Milton Krims, from a story by Ottavio Poggi

Directed by: Luigi Capuano

Synopsis: The ruler of Venice. Giovanni Bembo intends to have his adopted son Sandrigo assume regency upon his marriage to the lovely Leonora. Bembo’s High Inquisitor Rodrigo Zeno secretly covets Leonora and the throne, and plans to have Sandrigo framed for treason to get both. He tricks Guarnieri, a returning mercenary soldier, that the Bembo family was responsible for the loss of his infant son, into helping him, though the truth proves to be far stranger and compelling than fiction.

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In the early 1960’s, Italy tried to reinvent the Swashbuckler epic that packed cinemas between the 1930’s to early 50’s. While the craze only lasted a short time, several films proved to do justice to the Hollywood classics decades earlier. Usually most Swashbucklers dealt with pirates or knights, and the Italians of course did good versions of these stories, but they also included stories of their own history, often purely fictitious though sometimes loosely based on true people, all after the fall of the Roman Empire. This go around has a young noble falsely accused of being a traitor to his kingdom by a political rival and only with the aid of his father’s closest friends can he clear his name and topple the man intent on stealing the throne. Throughout the film, truths start coming to light and characters begin to learn about themselves and others, past sins are forgiven. and plans are hatched to ensure things are made right. While a little more driven by story, characters, and intrigue than on action, Il Boia proves to be an entertaining Mini Epic that gives off the same thrills and excitement as the films of Errol Flynn. Much of the film’s exteriors were shot in Venice and, proving once again that films tend to act as time capsules, shows the beauty of the city and the grandness that helps fuel the story.

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Lex Barker, an American character actor most famous for his 5-film stint as Tarzan, and later as a popular star over in Germany, especially as Old Shatterhand in the Winnetou Westerns, exudes class and charm as the character of Sandrigo. A noble as the result of adoption, Sandrigo doesn’t behave as a traditional aristocrat does, instead choosing to be among the people and earning their trust as a future leader. When his position and marriage are threatened by an unscrupulous fellow noble and a man whom the noble has fooled into believing Sandrigo is his enemy, he must bide his time and follow the advice of his friends to come out alive and free. While Barker didn’t possess a SAG or Actor’s Studio talent, he did have a presence and a naturalism to him that over time developed into a fine set of abilities that served him well for the remainder of his career. His background as the son of an affluent family (who unfairly disowned him for his decision to become an actor) served him well for the role of a nobleman, remembering some of the people he encountered in his youth and early adulthood. His very average, easy going personality gives a nice hint that there’s a little more to his story than what’s already known about him, adding to the character.

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Guy Madison, an American leading man turned character actor, most famous for his early television role of Wild Bill Hickok and then as a popular actor in Europe, proves he’s equally good at villainy as the slimy Rodrigo. While in the US Madison usually played heroes or good-hearted scoundrels, the cinema of Italy and Germany gave him the occasional opportunity to showcase his range and let him play villains. As Rodrigo Zeno, Madison gets to play up the boudoir baddie, a man who talks tough, but always gets others to do his fighting for him. Even though he has an excellent position as the High Inquisitor, making sure rabble-rousers don’t overthrow his Regent, Rodrigo lusts after both power and a woman who’s in love with another man. Relying on classical intrigue storylines from other films and plays, Madison plays up Rodrigo as using the political unrest of the time to make the courts believe the Regent’s adopted son is behind a huge conspiracy against Venice. Madison’s addition of double-talk gives a lot more to the character as he uses every which way he knows to get people to believe his lies. However, certain truths and realizations begin coming to light and the noose slowly begins to wrap itself around Rodrigo and force him to try the cruelest method at his command to ensure success.

(While Barker and Madison didn’t share too many scenes in this film, they would later again play adversaries, the 2nd go around in the German Western Old Shatterhand, inspired from the novels and stories by Karl May.)

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Mario Petri, an Opera singer who also dabbled in film acting for a little while, is a surprising success as Guarnieri, a soldier turned head executioner for the city of Venice. Relying on his Opera training, Petri has Guarnieri as a man embittered by war and loss, determined to avenge the son hew never knew, even if it means taking on the Regent himself. With the character not being too different from stage characters like Canio from Pagliacci, Don Jose in Carmen, Orestes in Elektra, and Rodolfo in La Boheme, Petri found relating to his role not difficult at all and played him as if he were still on the stage, but talking instead of singing. While it first looks as if the character is primarily a supporting henchman to Madison’s bad guy, it becomes clear early on in the film that Guanieri will be essential to the plot in a very substantial way. Coerced by the evil Rodrigo that Sandrigo is the key to his vengeance, Guarnieri goes to many lengths to ensure he is successful. Soon, something occurs that makes Guarnieri question everything he’s believed for a good part of his life, and must decide between his personal gain and safety or his country and comrades.

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By mixing action, thrills, and intrigue, Il Boia is a Swashbuckler with an intricate and sometimes complex storyline that rises above the low budget the producers of the day allotted standard genre cinema of the day. Great location scenery and a fine cast help to enliven the story and move the film along at a fair pace.  Not perfect, but clearly above average, Il Boia is an underscored minor classic that deserves to be better recognized.

(I do recommend this film for lovers of costume dramas, historical adventure, and swashbucklers as it is quite good. It certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as the budget isn’t immense and some elements look a little phony, but still makes for a nice afternoon relaxing watch. The cinematography of the film is well worth a watch alone as Venice is a very beautiful city and that beauty is amazing to look at, especially in pan overs of the city. Lex Barker proves here he wasn’t just a ruggedly handsome face and gets to show off what he learned in the Studio era of Hollywood that would suit him well in Germany in the 60’s. Guy Madison is also on fine display with one of his rare bad guy roles, and shows he could play whatever was offered him. The DVD from Germany’s Colosseo Film label sports a nice visual transfer and fair audio as the tracks seemed to have aged a bit and well worth the 9 Euros price)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/The Executioner of Venice

Wikipedia/The Executioner of Venice

https://www.amazon.de/Henker-von-Venedig-ungeschnittene-Kino-Fassung/dp/B00GZAHHY6/ref=sr_1_28?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1550515718&sr=1-28&keywords=lex+barker

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

Love Stands Between Life and Death: The Story of Peter and June

by Tony Nash

(Mild Spoiler to Spoiler Free Review)

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A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) PG (1946) *****

David Niven: Pilot Capt. Peter D. Carter

Roger Livesey: Dr. Frank Reeves

Raymond Massey: Lt. Abraham Farlan

Kim Hunter: June, An American Servicewoman

Marius Goring: Conductor 71

Robert Coote: Pilot Bob Trubshaw

Joan Maude: The Chief Recorder

Kathleen Byron: One of the Angels

Abraham Sofaer: The Supreme Judge/The Surgeon

Richard Attenborough: An English Pilot

Bruno Colleano: An American Pilot

Written, Produced, & Directed by: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Synopsis: During WWII, Pilot Peter Carter bails out of his burning and crashing plane into the Atlantic Ocean. He somehow survives and is united with whom he thought was the last voice he would ever hear: June, an American attaché to the RAF. Up in Heaven, it’s discovered Peter wasn’t meant to survive the jump, and Conductor 71 is ordered to bring him up. After Peter declares he’s found new reason to live, the Conductor informs him he can plead his case. Peter asks June for help and she enlists Dr. Frank Reeves, a brain specialist, who’s very curious about the case.

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British auteurs Powell & Pressburger’s epic Fantasy Romance is one of the more underrated love stories of the 20th century. Two people, a British Royal Pilot and an American Servicewoman, informally meet as the Pilot’s plane is going down over the Atlantic, and both are certain he won’t make it. When he does survive, all seems to feel anew and they fall in love. Obstacles come into play when forces from the Other World inform the Pilot he’s unintentionally cheated death, and must go to Heaven. His refusal in the name of love sends shockwaves and leads to a Trail, a rarity. The question the film puts to both the characters and viewers is if love is strong enough to override Nature itself. Setting the film in the world of the living and the world of spirits proved a unique and intriguing combination that hadn’t been done before. Adding to the allure and mystic of the film was having the Earth-bound scenes filmed in color and the Heaven bound scenes in Black and White, leaving audiences to wonder if the Heaven scenes are only in Peter’s mind or if they’re really happening. By not giving any immediate hints as to whether what the audience, and Peter is seeing is reality or the man’s ingenious imagination as the result of an injury, Powell and Pressburger create an interesting illusion that is both intriguing and unusual.

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Oddly enough, it’s never explained exactly how and why Peter survived bailing out into open sea if the events were truly the result of his imagination. The audience of course can easily deduce that it was pure luck Peter managed to land in the ocean safely without fatality or that he wasn’t as high up as he previously believed, thus allowing his fall to not have as high an impact when he landed. The latter theory can sometimes have its flaws in that the apparatus in Peter’s plane indicate he’s in fact high up in the air, though because his plane has been riddled with enemy bullets, whether the instruments froze in their most recent numbers or they went out of control is still up for debate. With all these what ifs and uncertainties, what exactly is the cause for Peter’s survival will probably forever unknown.

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David Niven, one of the most popular émigré actors from England to the US, usually known for his stuffy bombastic roles, is a surprising delight as Peter Carter. A Romantic and Poet at heart, Peter is also a fighter willing to do whatever it takes to prove he has a reason to have his life span expended after falling in love with June, and learns that having meaning and something to look forward to is what makes life grand. Niven plays Peter as witty, charming, and a dreamer, but always keeping his feet firmly planted in reality, never expecting too much out of life, but not without a feeling that some things defy even his sense of reality. What Niven does to make the character even more interesting is that what’s going on around him isn’t completely out of the realm of the ordinary. Even though the whole plotline is ambiguous to reality or fantasy, Niven has Peter never going beyond what could be seen as the purely fantastic, everything, even how the angels behave is rooted in the realistic and the purely plausible. This aspect from the script and in Niven’s acting add to the dream-like atmosphere surrounding the film, giving it the mystique Powell and Pressburger intended for the film.

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British character actor Roger Livesey and Canadian-Naturalized American Raymond Massey make for great supporting characters and adversaries in the film. Livesey’s Dr. Reeves believes Peter’s story, but also knows a brain injury is adding problems for Peter’s health. Livesey plays Reeves as a man of medicine and science totally bewildered and amazed Making sure to keep up with Peter’s imagination, Reeves encourages Peter to fight and plead his case to the forces that may or may not be around them. Livesey playing the character as classically British adds a bit of charm and gives indication to the battle he’ll have to wage to make sure Peter’s life is spared. Raymond Massey is a roguish delight as Abraham Farlan, Peter’s main accuser in his case. A veteran of the Revolutionary War (and supposedly its first causality), Farlan hasn’t lost an ounce of his dislike of the British, even with seeing their accomplishments and how they’ve made the world better from Heaven, and tends to gain a personal victory by having Peter’s plea reversed. In showcasing time stands still in Heaven, Farlan’s main personality is that of an Independence seeking attitude and firmly anti King George III, and while clearly aware things are a lot different since his death, maintains how he felt in life. When Livesey and Massey’s characters have their bout in the tribunal, each will learn something about themselves and the other, and also realizing that there are certain things that even the Universe itself has no control over.

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Kim Hunter, an American character actress most famous for her work on A Streetcar Named Desire and the first three Planet of the Apes films is a sheer pleasure as June. An American attaché working with Britain’s RAF, June finds herself falling for a pilot she’s never seen before, but must comfort in some way as his plane is going down of the Atlantic. When she unexpectedly sees he’s survived as she’s biking through the seaside, she instantly feels the connection she began to wonder about when she spoke to him via the radio. Hunter plays June as a down to earth girl who, while certain Peter’s visions are hallucinations, is convinced Peter isn’t losing his mind when he explains what he’s seeing. Her thoughts in regards to Peter show she truly is in love with him as she fears for his life as the tumor in his head slowly becomes more and more of a danger. When the Tribunal asks for her to testify in Peter’s defense, Hunter has June giving a very sympathetic, but very much calm and rational, speech about how she feels.

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By turns fascinating and confusing, A Matter of Life and Death remains a unique entry into British cinema in that it shows people from all walks of life coming together to see if a couple can defy what has been deemed Natural Law via their love and be allowed to remain together until their final years. Each cast member, especially the four primary characters, all give fine performances within the film, giving a nice bit of depth and realism to the piece. The use of both black and white and Technicolor and the near flawless transitions from one to the next is equally amazing, heightening the dreamlike quality of the film. It might be for everybody, but it is most certainly a film that lovers of love stories will find heartwarming and lovers of Fantasy will find interesting and different, and very worthy of at least one viewing by everyone.

(My favorite British film of all time, and my 2nd favorite Romance film ever, I highly recommend this film for both general viewing and as a good date movie [this also depends on the couple of course]. The colors and black & white cinematography by Jack Cardiff compliment each other greatly, and David Niven gives probably the finest performance of his career. The Criterion Collection once again shows why it’s one of the best when it comes to the preservation of Important Classic and Contemporary Films with fine visual and audio transfers and a good bit of extras.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/A Matter of Life and Death

Wikipedia/A Matter of Life and Death

The Criterion Collection/A Matter of Life and Death

https://www.amazon.com/Matter-Death-Criterion-Collection-Blu-ray/dp/B07CH6415W/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1550266458&sr=1-1&keywords=a+matter+of+life+and+death+blu+ray+criterion

https://www.criterion.com/films/28833-a-matter-of-life-and-death

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

Everyone’s Out for The Gold: Sartana’s Got His Hands Full

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(Mild to Spoiler Free Review)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian language version of the film)

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Una Nuvola di Polvere….un Grido di Morte….Arriva Sartana (A Cloud of Dust….A Cry of Death….Sartana is Coming/Light the Fuse….Sartana is Coming) (1970) PG-13 ****

 

Gianni Garko: Sartana (as John Garko)

Nieves Navarro: Belle Johnson-Manassas (as Susan Scott)

Massimo Serato: Sheriff Jim Manassas

Piero Lulli: Grandville “Grand Full” Fuller

José Jaspe: General Monk

Frank Brana: Deputy Sam “One Eye” Puttnam

Renato Baldini: Mr. Nobody, Casino Owner

Franco Pesce: Professor Plon Plon

Bruno Corazzari: Polack

Giuseppe Castellano: Warden Hanson

Luis Induni: The Sheriff of Sandy Creek

Francisco Sanz: Judge Ericson

Salvatore Borghese: Manassas’ Informer

Written by: Eduardo Manzanos (as Eduardo M. Brochero) (also story), Tito Capri, & Ernesto Gastaldi

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascot)

Synopsis: Sartana breaks his old friend Grand Full out of prison to clear the man’s name of robbery charges. Full tells Sartana his gambling partner Johnson screwed a crooked businessman from Mansfield and a mercenary named General Monk, killing the agents sent to negotiate the deals. Johnson himself is found dead later, and Grand Full looks to be the fall guy. Sartana soon finds himself taking on the mercenary, the dead businessman’s brother- a Sheriff, the widow of the dead man, and a series of roughnecks all looking for the gold.

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The 5th and final entry in the official Sartana series, and the 4th and final film for Gianni Garko as the title character, is a little less intricate and less on gadgets and surprises, but is nevertheless an entertaining and fun ride with the Italian West’s most famous stealthy and trick-laden gunman. This go around has him looking to clear an old acquaintance of the charge of stealing $500,000 in gold and $20,000 in counterfeit money, then murdering his double-dealing partner and the two men the partner planned to double-cross. What follows for Sartana is a series of different accounts of events from the main parties, a town full of greedy vermin looking to get their hands on the loot, an agent from the Federal Government, and an Old West femme fatale who clearly knows more than she’s telling. Sartana starts to wonder if there’s more to the money situation than what he’s been told after one of the men who allied himself with him is shot dead upon figuring out where the gold’s hidden. Like with the previous instalments of the franchise, the double-crosses come in pairs, and not even the hero is sure of who to believe, but knows there are bad guys who need to get taken out.

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What sets up the film well is the opening gundown. Sartana comes upon a corrupt Sheriff and his Deputies hassling a judge and his daughters. Sadly, he isn’t in time to save the two, but he guns down the brutes in iconic Italian Western fashion. The scene is kind of reminiscent of Django, and bears a resemblance to Garko’s first scene in the debut film of the Sartana franchise. While the hero of the former succeeds in saving the innocents, where the latter isn’t given a chance, both do get to dispatch the vermin in memorable fashion. In Garko’s fist and final appearance, he gets to say a very poetic statement to the villains before he uses his weapon to exact Western Justice.

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Gianni Garko, an always capable and versatile Italian-Croatian character actor once again does well in the role of Sartana. Sartana in this film is a little more cautious in this go-around, not fully trusting anyone, including the man whose begged him to help clear his name. While his previous exploits aren’t in continuity in the series, it’s clear years of being a detective gunman have taken their toll on Sartana, and he’s become more thoughtful on how to play out his cards on the people and situations he encounters, something Garko conveys well with the character. To say the character is world weary in this final outing would be misleading, as he’s still full of vim and vigor, cracking one liners when the opportunity presents itself. Garko simply plays the character as much wiser this time around, clearly having learned from his previous jobs, and is now probably the most prepared he’s ever been going into a situation. This explains why the character has been toned down a little as well, not wanting to press his luck if he doesn’t need to. Nieves Navarro, the Spanish beauty veteran of the Italian Westerns, by this period going by her Anglo stage name Susan Scott is at her vivacious best as Belle Manassas. The Widow of Sheriff Jim’s brother, Belle has as much interest in the loot as the men do, if not more so. Her first scene has her cocking back the trigger of a rifle, showing she’s not someone to be trusted, and this carries through for the remainder of her scenes. While she isn’t on screen much, her presence as a femme fatale is felt every time she’s on screen.

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Massimo Serato, Piero Lulli, and José Jaspe make a fine trio of villains and rogues. Serato, a veteran character actor who did everything from arts films to dramas to comedies to westerns to horror to action, is entertaining as Sheriff Jim Manassas. A crooked lawman through and through, Manassas is more interested in getting his hands on the gold than he is on avenging his brother’s murder. The lawmen of the territory, including Manassas himself, are all killers with badges, looking for what they can gain, and have little to no interest in actually upholding the office of law and order. Manassas even goes as far as to frame people, thinking he can get Sartana to give up Grand Full if he puts a price on his head. Lulli, another of the many veterans of the Italian Western and of Italian genre films in general, is his usual smiling menace and slimy deceitful best in the role of Grand Full. A con artist/gambler through and through, he still protests his innocence at having played a part in his casino partner’s double-cross scheme, and then subsequently murdering the parties involved. Since Sartana is an old friend, Full knows he can count on the gunman coming to his aid, even if neither fully trusts the other. What looks plain and simple with the character may not be entirely what it is, and the audience is left wondering from Lulli’s stare and smiles how much of the level is he really on. Jaspe, a reliable and well-respected Spanish character actor displays versatile and skill chops as the wacky General Monk. A tough mercenary whose sole, but very much crippling, handicap is being deaf, Jaspe’s abilities allow him to convey that even with this difficulty he wields a kind of respect as he goes almost completely ape on his subversives with a bull whip. Monk is actually only crook on the level in the money situation as he’s looking to gain money and fame from one of the many revolutions taking place in Mexico, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to get the whole half a million all to himself.

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While not as many gadgets are on display this go around, the two main instruments at Sartana’s disposal are still quite neat to look at. An early fancy cigarette/cigar lighter gets many uses as an impromptu gun/mini cannon when Sartana has to keep the bad guys on their toes when they surround him. Sartana’s banter with the contraption, whom the man he bought it from called Alfie, is also quite amusing to hear and see. Also in Sartana’s arsenal is an Organ that acts as a makeshift shotgun/cannon which will get its usage toward the end of the film.

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While not as flashy or slick as the previous entries, the 5th and final Sartana film still does a good job in keeping the audience guessing as to who the bad guy is, and where the money is hidden. Even if the ending itself doesn’t come as a complete surprise, how Sartana comes to his solution is still pretty cool to see. Giuliano Carnimeo’s direction is on par as always and the inclusion of Ernesto Gastaldi on the screenplay helps in the script not getting too caught up in Tito Capri’s high-jinx that have never really hurt the films, but at times have risked the films become something of a parody that they never were really meant to be. Certain scenes and plot elements do give an indication that this was the final official film of the franchise, but it’s still cool to see Sartana in his usual form, this time acting primarily on his own.  While some films lose steam by the final installment, this series stayed fairly string till the very end.

(All five of the official Sartana films are quite good, even with the fifth and final installment not having the same budget as its predecessors. The combination of Mystery, Action, and Western works well as always with this film, keeping the audiences in the dark as to whose the leader behind the curtain of the whole affair. Arrow Video’s transfer in audio and visuals is good as always and makes their Boxset a must buy. The Italian version is the preferable one as always as it keeps the tone and feel the director and writer always intended for it, though the English dubs here are OK for those who prefer them.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Light the Fuse…Sartana is Coming

Wikipedia/Light the Fuse….Sartana is Coming

Spaghetti-Western.net/Light the Fuse….Sartana is Coming

(Look at my review of the inagural film for the links to the Box Set)

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

A Tour of My Collection

Hello to my followers, those I’m following, and all curious visitors. I thought I’d try something a little different today and show off, via photos, my specialty Blu Ray/DVD Collection.

Now these are going to be all my boutique titles, meaning from places like the Criterion Collection, Arrow Video/Arrow Academy, Eureka Masters of Cinema/Eureka Classics, 88 Films, etc. Imports from the U.K., Germany, Italy, and France are also a part of these titles.

The included photos have the majority of my boutique titles, but I’ve also included a picture of my Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. They’re UK imports too, but I have them in my mainstream section.

If there are any titles you’d like to see me write about, please let me know in the comments. Enjoy.

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(Excuse the glare and fuzziness of some of the photos, I tried to take the best pictures possible with an overhead light as the weather in OC NJ is rainy and miserable)

(In case some of the titles at the bottom are unreadable, they are: The Law, Hercules in the Haunted World, That Man From Rio/Up to His Ears, <Martial Arts Double Feature: Kung-Fu Girl/Lady Whiplash, The Professional, and Frank Riva)

Tony Nash aka Movie Fan Man

 

Filed under: Film: Special Topics

Murder, Deception, & Money: The Scorpion Strikes

by Tony Nash

(A Part of The Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(Spoiler free review)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian language version of the film)

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La Coda della Scorpione (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) (1971) R ****1/2

George Hilton: Peter Lynch

Anita Strindberg: Cleo Dupont

Alberto de Mendoza: Interpol Insp. John Stanley

Luigi Pistilli: Commissario Stavros

Ida Galli: Lisa Baumer (as Evelyn Stewart)

Janine Reynaud: Lara Florakis

Luis Barboo: Abbas Sharif

Tomas Pico: George Barnet

Tom Felleghy: Mr. Brenton

Written by: Eduardo Manzanos (as Eduardo M. Brochero) (also story), Ernesto Gastaldi, and Sauro Scavolini

Directed by: Sergio Martino

Synopsis: When her husband dies in a plane explosion, Lisa Baumer suddenly finds herself a million dollars richer from his life insurance. While in Greece to collect the policy, she’s murdered and the money stolen. Peter Lynch, an investigator for the insurance company, is implicated as he’d been following her to see if she played a role in her husband’s death. Also suspect is Lisa’s lover George and her late husband’s mistress Lara and Lara’s Arab bodyguard. A Greek Police Inspector, an Interpol Agent, and a French journalist soon have their hands full in putting the pieces together.

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The success of Dario Argento’s L’Uccello dalle Plume di Cristallo (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) led to a series of animal-in-the-title spin-offs, many of which were successful on their own merits, and started the trend that would give the Giallo the notoriety it’s known for today. One of the first films to utilize exotic locales like Greece and London, Scorpione boasts more of the traditional Mystery-Thriller elements rather than the Argento Horror overtones that would permeate much of the latter era and uses intriguing subjective camera angles that highlight both the beauty of the locations and keep the killer’s identity a secret until the end. The beauty of Greece is on full display in the film, the street-neighborhoods, mountains, and oceans preserved in their original form by the magic of celluloid. By only showing the killer from the back and keeping his face hidden in one way or another, keeps the audience continually guessing as to who is behind all the killings and what the motive is influencing the killer. With only a man’s life insurance policy being the prime motive, why others are being killed is left up to a harried local detective, a suave Interpol Agent, a seductive female journalist, and the main suspect, who may or may not know more than he’s telling, to figure out what is going on. That both the dead man and his widow were cheating on each other, and their respective lovers are laying claim to the money involved adds to the complication once the widow is murdered later.

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George Hilton, a Uruguayan actor who became popular in Italy and many Spanish speaking countries, is an intriguing delight as Peter Lynch. All that is said about him in the film is that he’s an investigator for the insurance company and looking into Kurt Baumer’s death and the possibility his wife Lisa was responsible. His life is turned upside down when the police confirm he was the last person to see Lisa alive before her murder and the million dollars being stolen. Hilton plays Peter as a man looking to clear his name, while trying to maintain a calmness in a situation that would leave most people jittery and in a panic. Hilton’s handsomeness made him a good leading man, a knowing, but shrewd facial expression often appearing on his face, making it impossible to tell what exactly what was on his mind. Anita Strindberg, a lovely looking Swedish actress who found success in Italy in the 1970’s is an equal delight in looks and talent as Cleo Dupont. A symbol of women finding a voice in the counter-culture in both intellect and position, Cleo is a journalist for a French newspaper (its name is never stated in the film). She takes an interest in Peter Lynch, intrigued by his smile when he’s first interrogated by the police. She becomes determined to help Peter clear his name of the murders, certain there’s more to the story.

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An array of character performers, including Alberto de Mendoza of Argentina, Italian regulars Ida Galli (credited under her Anglo pseudonym Evelyn Stewart) and Luigi Pistilli, and Janine Reynaud from France round out the cast. Mendoza gets to display his suave side, playing a mysterious, but honest Interpol Inspector, constantly looking at the facts of the case and wondering what it all means. He usually is in the right place at the right time, offering a stealthy nature to the character that briefly leaves him as a suspect, but also clears him as well. Galli only has a short amount of time on screen, but her character’s demise and what she gained prior to that demise is the fodder that begins the dizzy affair that makes up the remainder of the film. Pistilli gets one of the few opportunities of his impressive career to play a good guy in the harried local Greek policeman Stavros. Serious in nature, but great at his job, Stavros wants answers, and doesn’t mince words when trying to get them. Reynaud, known for startling roles in Italian, Spanish, French, and German exploitation films, does well in the role of Lara, the mistress of the recently deceased Kurt Baumer. Equally ruthless and exotic, Lara intends to make good on Kurt’s promise she’d be taken care of, which puts her into a dangerous position. She’s certain of rival Lisa’s guilt and plans to prove it.

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Director Sergio Martino, popular for contrasting scenes of joy with scenes of violence, himself appears in the film very briefly. In the scene in which Janine Reynaud is killed off, if the scene is paused at just the right moment, his face can be seen for a splint second as the killer in the wet suit. Whether Martino did the required stunt of going through a glass window is up for debate, but what is known is that he offers a nice inside wink appearing as the unseen killer.

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Keeping the audience in the dark until the last half-hour to 20 minutes of the film as to who the killer is and what their motivation was, Martino, and screenwriters Manzanos, Gastaldi, and Scavolini weave an intriguing web in the vein of Agatha Christie, that escalates to a surprise nobody sees coming until it actually happens. Money was indeed the object of the killer’s desires, but what would come out later changes the perspective of the investigations. While the majority of the film has the cast going in circles in regards to clues, only shedding light every so often with key elements that point in the right direction, the mystery element rides high and shows why the Giallo worked much better in that field, rather than with the Horror overtones that would become more frequent as time went on.

(I highly recommend this film as it fits the Mystery Thriller genre so well, and really does viewers guessing until the very end. All the performances in the film are excellent, and the story works very well. Arrow Video once again shows why it’s the king of Cult genre and specialty films with a fine visual transfer and good audio tracks. Interviews with star George Hilton and director Sergio Martino are the main highlights of the film. The paste-resistance is an audio commentary from co-screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, a key figure in the Giallo genre. The track is subtitled in English as Gastaldi only speaks Italian. I haven’t checked out the audio commentary yet, but from seeing several interviews with Gastaldi, I’m sure it’ll be very informative and insightful. As Always the Italian track with translated subtitles is the preferred viewing option as it keeps the original premise intact.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

for more information

IMDB/The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail

Wikipedia/The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail

Mondo-Esoterica/The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail

https://www.amazon.com/Case-Scorpions-Tail-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B07CPC38ZB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549489366&sr=8-1&keywords=case+of+the+scorpion%27s+tail+blu-ray

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Case-Scorpions-Tail-Blu-ray/dp/B07CQKS1QP/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549489422&sr=8-1&keywords=case+of+the+scorpion+s+tail+blu+ray

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics