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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 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

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

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