Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

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

Not All is What it Seems

by Tony Nash

(A Part of the Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(All opinions are of the author alone

(Spoiler Free)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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La Morte Cammina con i Tacchi Alti (Death Walks in High Heels) (1971) R ****1/2

Frank Wolff: Dr. Robert Matthews

Nieves Navarro: Nicole Rochard (as Susan Scott)

Simon Andreu: Michel Aumont

Claudie Lange: Vanessa Matthews

Carlo Gentili: Inspector Baxter

George Rigaud: Captain Lenny

Luciano Rossi: Hallory, the Caretaker

Jose Manuel Martin: Smith (as J. Manuel Martin)

Fabrizio Moresco: Bergson

Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi & Mahnahen Velasco (as May Velasco), from a story by Gastaldi, Velasco, and Dino Verde

Directed by: Luciano Ercoli

Synopsis: After her father is killed for the cache of jewels he stole, Nicole Rochard is certain the killer believes she knows where the diamonds are. Thinking her overly jealous boyfriend Michel is behind the whole thing, Nicole takes up with Dr. Robert Matthews, an admirer of her exotic dance routines. When she’s killed in Matthews secluded country cabin, the Police scramble to solve the case, and Michel must prove he didn’t do it.

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Image result for Simon Andreu La Morte Cammina con i Tacchi Alti (Death Walks in High Heels)

By 1971, the sub-genre of Giallos had taken off and filmmakers were cutting their teeth on the new fad. While directors like Dario Argento and Sergio Martino used Horror overtones in many of their films, Luciano Ercoli, a producer turned director, stuck with the original essentials set down by Mario Bava in the inaugural Giallo La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much), that of a killer with a set pattern, and motive to why the murders are occurring. That the film sticks to the roots of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler shows the genre worked equally well in traditional Mystery as with the use of Horror undertones, a form little used by the mid 70’s, with the occasional exception.  A cunning jewel thief’s demise initially puts investigators on the track of an accomplice who decided to end the partnership and take the prize for themselves, but then realize something else entirely is happening when the daughter of the thief is targeted by the madman.  Jewels and money are the prime target the mysterious assassin, and how everything connects is perplexing, complex, and intriguing that nobody sees coming, He does keep the intensity that fans and filmmakers alike expect from Suspense Thrillers for some scenes, but not to the degree that the audience would feel they were seeing something eerie. Red Herrings galore abound in the film, and characters and viewers alike will be perplexed as to who really is behind the whole dizzying affair.

Frank Wolff in La morte cammina con i tacchi alti (1971)

Frank Wolff, the American character actor who found success in Italy, has one of his last shots at good leading roles before his suicide months later as Dr. Robert Matthews. Wolff has Matthews as an average working Doctor of medicine who has a wandering eye for the ladies, particularly for exotic beauties performing exotic dances. What begins as mere admirer’s fascination blossoms into a real romance for the unhappily married doctor, and leads him into events he never expected. Wolff’s added layer of the persecuted man comes into play, when his character is accused of being involved in Nicole’s death, only to be unexpectedly exonerated when someone tries to kill him after giving a patient good news on an eye operation. Believing his jealous heiress wife responsible for the deed, as the last thing he saw before passing out was a woman in high heels, Matthews begins to wonder if his wife didn’t kill Nicole herself. Wolff also gives a mysterious to Matthews as he somehow remains calm, albeit with some stress as he’s questioned in Nicole’s death and his own shooting.

Nieves Navarro, a Spanish actress working in Italy who eventually took the Anglo pseudonym Susan Scott, exudes an exciting mix of talent as exoticness as Nicole Rochard. A hard-working dancer trying to make her own way in spite of being the daughter of an international jewel thief, Nicole just wants to enjoy life and find love. When she learns of her father’s murder upon committing his most ingenious heist, she at first is undaunted, believing she’s now free of his reputation. When a masked intruder breaks into her apartment and threatens her at knife point unless she tells him where her father hid the jewels he stole, Nicole becomes frightened and paranoid. Navarro became quite excellent at portraying frightened, but very much independent woman who knows what she wants. Believing her jealous boyfriend Michel did the stunt to make her quit her job as a freelance club dancer and in all probability behind her father’s death, Nicole decides to leave Rome. Smitten by admirer Dr. Matthews, she offers to become his secret lover until he can divorce his wife in England. When she turns up dead after several frightening encounters, including one with a deranged cross-dressing caretaker, what she saw in her final hours become key to exposing who hired her father for the jewel robbery and then murdered him.

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Simon Andreu, a Spanish actor who occasionally appeared in Italian films between the late 60’s to the mid 70’s, is quite good as Michel Aumont. A Frenchman living abroad (viewers can assume he’s an expate), Michel is a man who leads a journeyman’s existence, but at the same time hates he doesn’t have more permanent employment as a photographer. This passion to maintain old world masculinity in the ever-changing Counter Culture age, leads him into constant arguments with his independent girlfriend Nicole, to the point she finally walks out on him when she believes he staged an attack on her. After she’s fished out of British harbor, Michel becomes the prime suspect as he had every reason to kill her, and evidence shows he arrived in England several hours before her death. Unfortunately, the police also think he had some involvement in the death of Nicole’s father, so he has to work doubly quick to clear himself. Andreu portrays the Giallo equivalent of an Anti-Hero with Michel in that he has bad qualities, but at the same time isn’t a completely bad person, and having the viewer root for him in spite of thinking he could’ve possibly committed the act.

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Probably one of the most Suspense novel of the 1920’s to 40’s inspired Giallos of the time, Tacchi Alti provides period style storyline and themes with contemporary settings and characters. The mix works very well and shows what the Giallo could have equally accomplished had everyone not decided to exclusively follow the example Dario Argento had set with the first two entries of his Animal Trilogy. Void of the moodiness of its predecessors and a few of its contemporaries, Tacchi Alti makes up for this lacking with an excellent script and a twiat that leaves the viewer surprised and impressed. Also making up for a lack Giallo staples is the wonderful on location sequences in England, mainly in the picturesque fisherman’s countryside of the country, offering audiences a foreign film view of beautiful locations. Similar, yet different, exuding classic Gialli Thriller style, but faithful to the early British and American Mystery/Detective novels that it was inspired by, Tacchi Alti provides its own unique flavor and interest to fans.

(I highly recommend this film for its exotic locales and for the unique twists and turns writers Ernesto Gastaldi and Mahnahen Velasco provide in the story. The performances by the cast, the story, and the locales are all on fine display, making the film a wild and exiting ride from start to finish. Arrow Video once again shows why it’s in the Top 5 of Film restorers as the audio and visuals are crisp clear. Probably the only negatives being that Nieves Navarro isn’t in the film longer and maybe the motives behind the killer’s action being slightly too intricate.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners, including Pinterest and the IMDb

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067446/?ref_=rvi_tt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_morte_cammina_con_i_tacchi_alti

Buying options

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Walks-High-Heels-Blu-ray/dp/B01NBJLHVL/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Luciano+Ercoli&qid=1559152303&s=dvd&sr=1-1

https://www.amazon.com/Death-Walks-Twice-Luciano-Midnight/dp/B01991ZKIW/ref=sr_1_8?crid=RRAIFACOBH0D&keywords=luciano+ercoli&qid=1559152519&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Luciano+%2Caps%2C241&sr=1-8

https://www.amazon.com/Death-Walks-Heels-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B01NGWVFZY/ref=sr_1_12?crid=RRAIFACOBH0D&keywords=luciano+ercoli&qid=1559152549&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Luciano+%2Caps%2C241&sr=1-12

https://www.arrowfilms.com/product-detail/death-walks-on-high-heels-blu-ray/FCD1217

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

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT #3

Hi to all my followers, those I’m following, and curious onlookers,

I just saw on Dawn of the Discs Facebook page (I highly recommend them for any upcoming announcements of new releases) that Vulcan Video, one of the last, if not THE LAST, Blu Ray and DVD rental outlets in the USA, is in danger of closing their last existing location.

I must admit that I hadn’t heard of this place until today, though I had heard there were one or two video rental places that still catered to Classic and Cult Film fans, or Cinephiles as many like to call us. I highly encourage anyone who wants to keep this necessary vintage piece of history and the past alive to please donate anything if you can. Classic, Cult, and Foreign film lovers need a place like this as there are so few outlets to the good old days of when you could walk into a video store and talk films with visitors and the owners.

Now I know that many might see a place like this as prehistoric and obsolete, but so few historic vestiges of this kind of thing are still around, and with Movies Unlimited in my old hometown of Philadelphia PA closing down several years ago, Vulcan Video is a must for the preservation of an Old School time capsule.

Tony Nash, Movie Fan Man

https://www.gofundme.com/help-save-vulcan-video

https://www.facebook.com/Dawn-of-the-Discs-595630424113514/?ref=py_c

https://vulcanvideo.com/

Filed under: Annoucements

1 Woman + 3 Men = Sensational Intrigue

by Tony Nash

(A Part of The Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(Spoiler Free)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Lo Strano Vizio della Signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) (1971) R *****

George Hilton: George Corro

Edwige Fenech: Julie Wardh

Conchita Airoldi: Caroll Brandt (as Cristina Airoldi)

Ivan Rassimov: Jean

Alberto de Mendoza: Neil Wardh

Manuel Gil: Dottore Arbe (as Manuel Gill)

Carlo Alighiero: Il Commissario

Bruno Corazzari: A Killer

Mira Vidotto: Cameriera Della Wardh

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

Directed by: Sergio Martino

Synopsis: Julie Wardh is in a loveless marriage with Wall Street financier Neil Wardh. Their marriage was primarily to save her from a psycho masochist man named Jean. When she finally finds happiness with her friend Caroll’s rich cousin George, she finds reason to live. When she receives threatening notes and a blackmailing phone call, Julie is certain Jean is behind it. She’s also certain he’s behind a series of razor blade murders of young women.

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Sergio Martino, an underdog in the field of the Giallo genre, strikes gold and a solid continuous string of work for the next two decades with Vizio della Signora Wardh, his second feature film as a director. A stunning effort that mixes the intrigue and suspense of the Hitchcockian Thriller with the Psychedelic Surrealism that became one of the staples of both the Giallo and the Counter Culture movement, Signora Wardh proved to be a worthy rival to Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy as the film that helped to define the genre. Taking a popular story motif, a faceless maniac killer terrorizing a big city as the police scramble to find him, and adding in a bizarre love circle involving an emotionally scarred woman and three distinctly different lovers: a psycho, a workaholic, and a free spirited and worldly playboy, all trying to maker her theirs, spicing up the mystery as the woman slowly begins to fear the masochist who enthralled her is in fact the killer, and is also blackmailing her to come back to him.

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Like with previous Giallos by Mario Bava, Dario Argento etc., the killer’s face is hidden for the majority of the film, leaving viewers to make any number of assumptions and speculations as to the identity of the fiend. The addition of someone, maybe the killer, playing on the leading lady’s psychological trauma of a horrendous previous relationship, makes the film all the more interesting and gives it a unique sense of depth. The color red also plays a huge role within the film as the leading lady has a bizarre fetish with not only the color, but blood as well, which both fascinates and terrifies her, adding highly to her paranoia.

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George Hilton, the South American leading man of Italian genre cinema, who received fine reviews for his debut Giallo supporting role in Il Dolce Corpo di Deborah (The Sweet Body of Deborah), gets his first opportunity as the lead as George Corro. Other than the mention he’s the cousin of Julie Wardh’s best friend Caroll, and co-heir to their late Uncle’s estate, little is known of George, making him a somewhat intriguing enigma. A seemingly happy-go-lucky, easy-going man of the period, George is a playboy that doesn’t play up to the standard stereotypes of the times that people associate with that type of person. While he admits he enjoys the various parties hosted wherever he goes, he feels a connection to Julie he’s never felt with anyone else. Wanting to protect her from the person responsible for threatening both her life and her sanity, George does whatever he can to prove she can trust him. While Hilton was known for overdoing his roles in many of the films he appeared in over the years, in his Giallo roles, especially the Martino films, he exudes a suaveness that is hardly hammy, and uses facial expressions that don’t mask what he’s feeling or thinking, but do exude a consistent coolness that make audiences a little curious to his real motives.

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Edwige Fenech, the Maltese Italian who took the country by storm with her role in the bizarre adult sex comedy Top Sensation, shows she was more than just a pretty face in the title role of Julie Wardh. Not much is known about her past, but from the flashbacks shown of her and Jean, viewers get a good idea that she was a free spirit who loved exploring all forms of sexual experiences. After Jean took things too far, very likely to the point of hurting her psychically, she looked for any means of escape, including entering into a marriage with a nice man, but without love. Her sexual appetites seeming to having drained her of everything that makes a person a person, Julie seemingly wishing for death as little, if anything, seems to matter anymore. When she finally meets a man who accepts her for what she is, and subtly works to bring her out of her shell, she finally begins to feel like life may be finally going in her favor. When the man who nearly permanently ruined her life tries to force her back into his, the trauma of her past begins to become increasingly all to real again, and she begins to question how stable her psyche really is.

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Italian character actor Ivan Rassimov and Argentinian character actor Alberto de Mendoza round out the primary cast. Rassimov, who started out playing leads and villains in the Italian Westerns, began a career as a searing and eerie villain and henchman with the role of Jean. A masochist by nature, his perverse sexual fetish of pain and pleasure border between the containable and the dangerous, and on the psychotic and the strange. When Julie, whom he was completely able to dominate finally stands up to him, sends him over the edge into a near state of homicidal mania. He taunts her by sending notes reminding her of their past and blood red roses, all clearly designed to drive her mad. Whether he’s mad himself, or is playing a bizarre and twisted game to destroy Julie for one reason or another, is all a guess. Mendoza, who was known for playing either smooth con artists and strong silent type heroes, plays a cuckholded husband this go around as Neil Wardh. A hard-working financier for Wall Street, Wardh looks to be the average everyday man, but while clearly caring a great deal for Julie, he doesn’t seem to be able to meet the romantic needs a marriage thrives upon. Knowing something is a miss in their lives, Neil tries what he can to help Julie, but lacking the connection, he can’t reach her.

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Despite many fans’ insistence that Vizio della Signora Wardh is one of the early Giallo Horrors, the film is actually a pure Giallo Thriller. While Julie’s nightmares have a very surreal and horrific feel to them, they’re not part of reality, only a part of the character’s near shattered psyche. Her flashback of Jean breaking the bottle and allowing the shard remnants to splatter all over her again is rooted more in Julie’s memory recollection and not in the standard sense of reality, though that flashback plays more toward a kind of Expressionism rather than Horror.

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Great cinematography, fine performances, and exotic locales all help to magnify the gracefulness of the film. Mixing classic suspense of the novels of Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace and contemporary thrills begun by the likes of Hitchcock, Vizio della Signora Wardh helped to define a genre and create a new visual style that would become a staple of the genre until its decline in the 1980’s.

(I highly recommend this one as it’s beautiful both visually and via the performances of the cast. Martino’s mixing and melding of various camera angles and lighting techniques are both a nod to Hitchcock, and a way of keeping the genre fresh without the worry of falling into any kind of repetition. Out of print for a long time after the fall of NoShame Films who held the rights for years, the UK company Shameless Entertainment does a very nice job in the restoration of the film, offering a crisp image transfer and good quality audio. The subtitle translation seems a little ify at first, but does the job nicely in the long run. The Blu Ray is the way to go, as Shameless’ previous DVD release of the film is cut.)

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

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066412/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_66

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Strange_Vice_of_Mrs._Wardh

Buying option

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strange-Vice-Wardh-Blu-ray-Region/dp/B071W79FQC/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1KLFO8EDN6ZA&keywords=sergio+martino+blu+ray&qid=1558546388&s=dvd&sprefix=Sergio%2Caps%2C223&sr=1-4

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

It’s Not Nice to Anger a Devil of a Cat

by Tony Nash

(A Part of The Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(Spoiler Free)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian Language version)

Image result for your vice is a locked room and only i have the key

Il Tuo Vizio e una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io ne ho la Chiave (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key/Eye of the Black Cat) (1972) R ****/12

Edwige Fenech: Floriana, the Niece

Anita Strindberg: Irena Rouvigny

Luigi Pistilli: Oliviero Rouvigny

Ivan Rassimov: Walter, a Stranger

Franco Nebbia: The Commissario

Riccardo Salvino: Dario, the Delivery/Race Driver

Angela La Vorgna: Brenda, the Maid

Daniela Giordano: Fausta, Oliviero’s Student Lover

Nerina Montagnani: Signora Molinar

Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, & Sauro Scavolini, from a story by Luciano Martino & Scavolini based on The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe (as E.A. Poe in Italian Version)

Directed by: Sergio Martino

Synopsis: Depraved alcoholic writer and former teacher Oliviero torments his suffering wife with physical, mental, and emotional abuse, sleeping with their maid and the local intellectual hippie students, and even sic’s his equally depraved black cat Satan on her. When one of his former student’s is found dead with her throat cut, the police immediately suspect Oliviero, whose affair with her was widely gossiped on. Complications further arise when Oliviero’s free-spirited and lusty niece Floriana arrives for an extended vacation, discovers the goings on, and sleeps with the suffering wife.

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Sergio Martino, one of the lesser talked about auteurs of the Giallo genre, culminates a brief and exceptionally well crafted collaboration with sister-in-law Edwige Fenech in Vizio. Building an original tale around the famous conclusion to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story The Black Cat, the Martino brothers and their favorite writers Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini weave a tale of paranoia, murder, revenge, greed, money, and sex, all with a sinister black cat right in the middle of it. While Poe’s tale was more in the lines of Psychological Horror with hints of the Supernatural, Vizio is a full out Mystery and Suspense Thriller that leaves the audience constantly wondering what is going on, who the killer is and what they’re after, and who the killer’s next victim will be. That one of the three main characters is a complete degenerate and psycho, that anyone else could be committing the murders within the film seems impossible. As with any good Thriller, nothing is ever what is seems and characters could very well be hiding dangerous secrets.

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Edwige Fenech, a Maltese/Italian actress born in French Algeria, is an exotic delight in the role of Floriana. The character was originally written as an 18 year old college girl, but was aged slightly to accommodate Fenech, who expressed interest in the part rather than that of the wife. Normally known for playing the seductive and beautiful damsel in distress, Fenech got to show off her talents as an actress with the role of the femme fatale. One of the many symbols of both the Counter-Culture and Feminist Movements, Floriana defies many of the standard cultural and societal roles of women of the day: sexually liberated, independent, and in control. Fenech has the character constantly looking and watching, seemingly waiting for someone to make a mistake so she can take advantage of it, much like a lioness on the hunt. From the get go Floriana makes no bones that she’s sexually promiscuous, exchanging sensual innuendo laden barbs with her lecherous uncle, and easily seducing both her emotionally distraught aunt and later a handsome delivery boy. The latter openly hints that Floriana is possibly bi-sexual, or just knows how to play at sensual triggers. Very little is mentioned of her past, other than that she spent quite a bit of time at a Commune, which does confirm her hippie like lifestyle, but nothing else is ever really said about her. While she clearly sees her uncle as a depraved ego maniac with tendencies to violent reactions when crossed, she seems to be a little less than interested in helping her aunt get away from her uncle’s grasp.

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Anita Strindberg, a Swedish actress who immigrated to Italy for work, gives one of her best performances as Irena. Like with Fenech, Strindberg, who normally played independent and smart women, gets to stretch her range as an actress with the role of a woman driven to the brink of insanity. Also like with Floriana, little of Irena’s life before marrying into Oliviero’s depraved royal family is never mentioned, so it’s impossible to judge if she was a good person or a bad one at an earlier time. While clearly emotionally drained and constantly in fear of both her husband and his pet cat, it’s bizarre that she hasn’t ever attempted to previously break away from him and start a new life somewhere else. Her hatred of the cat Satan is as such that she’s actually threatened to kill him, rather than go after her husband, baffling viewers and characters alike as to why she hates the animal more than her husband.

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Luigi Pistilli, one of Italy’s most prolific and respected character actors, is a real piece of work and louse in the role of Oliviero. A man with failed ambitions to be a great writer, Oliviero seeks to compensate for his lack of talent by drinking, abusing his wife physically, sexually, and mentally/emotionally, treating the students who frequently visit his ancestral home like intellectual inferiors, and having affairs almost at will. He also displays something of a latent Oedipal Complex with his dead mother whom he speaks of in a bizarre way, this idea heightened when Floriana asks him if he and mother ever slept in the same bed together when he reached adulthood. After one of his students, whom he was having an affair via blackmail, is savagely murdered, he becomes a suspect as he had everything to gain from her death, which only heightens his paranoia and drinking. While clearly frustrated by his life and his failed career as a writer, Oliviero has somehow managed to restrain himself from the desire to murder, either not so depraved and mad as he appears, or because he also suffers from a kind of sexual inferiority complex with any woman. When he states clearly intends to kill his wife to be free to pursue a full on decadent way of life, if he realty did commit any of the crimes occurring within the film comes into speculation.

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A very interesting note to the film is the lesbian love scene between Irena and Floriana. While most love scenes in 70’s Italian films were often chaotic and focused primality on the bodies of the actresses, this one focuses on the faces of actresses Fenech and Strindberg. With the character of Irena’s life being so full of misery, pain, and fear, that her initial tryst with Floriana is soft, loving, and beautiful is a nice change of pace to otherwise . Neither Fenech or Strindberg had any qualms about bearing all on camera, but that Martino and his cinematographer decided to focus on their expressions rather than their bodies, though audiences still see the actresses arms and backs, is an interesting choice and one that provides a well needed tenderness to a sense of constant paranoia and fear.

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While many film adaptations of Poe’s classic tale had little if nothing to do with the Cat itself  or the Cat played only a minor role, and changing the story completely around,  Martino focused on the plot element, keeping with Poe’s basic plot outline, but with a unique twist. The only loss on Martino’s end is that the cat isn’t so much a character within the film as Lucio Fulci’s cat in his 1981 adaptation is (Fulci goes as far as to make him a kind of antagonist). Instead, Martino decides to utilize the cat as a kind of symbolic element, the fear of the unknown and death for Irene, and a memory of his mother and a representation of his descent into decadence for Oliviero. While the viewer isn’t necessarily guided through the film by the cat, he is indeed a spectator, a silent witness to the depravity, the violence, and the insanity of a slowly disintegrating family. That he evokes a kind of sadistic enjoyment and pleasure of his own adds to the creepiness he represents. An interesting note to Martino’s film is that the cat is actually referred to by a name throughout the film: Satan, a nod to the Devil. In Poe’s original tale, the cat’s name is Pluto, (Latinized Ancient Italian Plutone), the Ancient Roman name for Hades, also a representation of the Devil. This adds an interesting point of irony as Irena often refers to him as a beast and a demon, and he has shown at times he derives a kind of joy from her pain and suffering.

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What at first seems like a dark and bleak Melodrama, suddenly transforms into a wild, erotic, and suspenseful Thriller that pays homage to the likes of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. Martino and the screenwriters take the core elements of Poe’s dark tale and weave an interesting original around it, and leave the audience in constant bewilderment until near the very end. Well paced, finely plotted, and well acted, Vizio is an underrated example of a good Thriller with plenty of twists and turns.

(I highly recommend this film for the performances of the three leads and the fine twist in the last 20 minutes of the film that leaves any viewer dumbfounded if they haven’t suspected anything. While not a direct adaptation of the Poe’s The Black Cat, Martino uses the core elements of Poe’s tale and has his screenwriters fashion something that plays well to both Poe’s subtext and to the contemporary views and feelings of the times. Arrow Video yet again proves they are a company that knows how to treat forgotten genre classics of 60’s and 70’s Italian cinema with crisp imagery and clear audio with translated subtitles. The only negative is a slight error in the subtitle translation, but isn’t anything too distracting.)

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

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069421/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_Vice_Is_a_Locked_Room_and_Only_I_Have_the_Key

Buying options

https://www.amazon.com/Edgar-Allan-Poes-Black-Cats/dp/B011CMJJQK/ref=sr_1_4?crid=17HIFI7BIKZCU&keywords=sergio+martino+blu+ray&qid=1557946043&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Sergio%2Caps%2C131&sr=1-4

https://www.amazon.com/Your-Vice-Locked-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B01AGOTP8M/ref=sr_1_9?crid=17HIFI7BIKZCU&keywords=sergio+martino+blu+ray&qid=1557946068&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Sergio%2Caps%2C131&sr=1-9

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

A Giallo/Detective Hybrid: A Bloodstained Beauty

by Tony Nash

(A Part of The Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Spoiler Free)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Una Farfalla con le Ali Insanguinate (The Bloodstained Butterfly) (1971) R *****

Helmut Berger: Giorgio

Giancarlo Sbragia: Alessandro Marchi

Ida Galli: Maria Marchi (as Evelyn Stewart)

Silvano Tranquilli: Inspettore Berardi

Wendy D’Olive: Sarah Marchi (as Wendi D’Olive)

Gunther Stoll: Avvocato Giulio Cordaro

Wolfgang Preiss: The Public Prosecutor

Lorella De Luca: Marta Clerici

Carole Andre: Françoise Pigaut

Written by: Gianfranco Clerici (also story) and Duccio Tessari (inspired from the works of Edgar Wallace)

Directed by: Duccio Tessari

Synopsis: The murder of a French exchange student sends the family caring for her and the man who loved her into turmoil. The father of the family is charged with her murder and her boyfriend begins a torrid affair with her best friend the daughter in an attempt to replace her. When the police in charge of the case discover another woman killed in a similar fashion, the question of a serial killer stalking the area arises.

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By the early 1970’s the Giallo subgenre was in full swing. The success of Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy led to Giallos being done on regular scale per year, filmmakers able to transition from the slowly declining popularity of the Westerns. Duccio Tessari, most famous for his work on the Ringo films with Giuliano Gemma, had previous success with his “proto” Giallo La Morte Risale a Iieri Sera (The Death Occurred Last Night), a Crime Drama with tinges of Giallo themes, and got to go full on with Farfalla. Like with the former, this film combines the Giallo with other genre’s like Crime, Noir, and Detective Procedural, all melding to form a cohesive and unique mixture that offers the thrills of the Giallo, and the effectiveness of a Crime Thriller. Tessari uniquely goes back and forth between the police investigation into the film’s central murder, the trial of the man accused of killing the victim, and how the people connected to the two figures are coping with the situation. What adds to the film’s aura is that little is shown of the other characters’ personal lives, only what aspects are relevant to the case being probed. Even in this instant the audience learns some pretty crucial and sometimes damning things that leaves them wondering if the suspect on question is being set up. Keeping all events tied to the murder that brings everyone together can be difficult and would leave many plot holes, but Tessari makes it work to full effect.

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While not stated in the credits, Tessari and his co-writer Giancarlo Clerici (two secondary characters bear his surname) were clearly influenced by the novels of Edgar Wallace. Wallace was a British writer whose Mystery/Detective stories were the only direct competition to Agatha Christie. Wallace’s stories usually centered around the death of young women, and often how their deaths led investigators into much bigger conspiracies. Ironically, Wallace was most popular over in Germany, especially after WWII, and a series of films from the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, were based directly on his books or heavily inspired by them. Other parts of Europe enjoyed his work as well, but it was rare to see films utilize his themes and motifs outside of Germany. The story was taken from a Wallace short piece called Secret of the Black Rose, though how much of the actual plot was used is up for speculation. That Tessari’s film was a co-production with Germany, and with three of the main cast being German/Austrian natives, the Wallace influence is fairly significant.

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Helmut Berger, a German/Austrian leading man known for his successful career in Italy, and as filmmaker Luchino Visconti’s Muse and Life Partner until the director’s death at age 77, is an ambiguous interest as the character of Giorgio. His character isn’t the central figure of the film, but his connection to both the family and the dead girl are fairly important when the film comes to its climax. A vague individual in that very little is said of his past or what he does, save that he was in a relationship with both the murdered girl Françoise Pigaut and her best friend Sarah Marchi, whose father is later accused of her murder. Berger spends most of the film brooding, little reason given for why he’s acting the way he does, and while it’s understandable he’s crushed by Françoise’s death, his bizarre descent into what appears to be paranoia is both perplexing and worrying. While Berger is listed as the lead actor, he only appears sporadically until about the last 40 or so minutes of the film, where it seems to be almost entirely him, and while his character is important as a suspect and as a figure in the dead girl’s past, that he speaks so little and seems to have never been talked to by the police and others makes his role a little confusing.

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Ida Galli, an Italian leading lady and character actress, known more by her Anglo pseudonym Evelyn Stewart, is very good in the role of Maria Marchi. While a loving mother to her only daughter, Maria’s relationship with her husband Alessandro is strained at best. While it’s only hinted that he strayed, Maria’s secretive relationship with the family attorney leaves viewers wondering if she might be involved in the young Françoise’s death and her husband’s subsequent arrest. Surprisingly, Maria never makes qualms she and her husband have had their difficulties, and her husband’s success as a building contractor certainly could cast doubts as to why she would get rid of the source of her luxury and finer things, as it’s never indicated if she would benefit from either his dying or if he was convicted of wrongdoing. Galli, in the period of the Giallo, flourished as either the femme fatale, the victim, or the friend of the heroine, and this, along with Il Corpo di Deborah, made her a key figure within the genre, and a reliable repeat performer with much to offer.

Now there are other great performances in the film, but to keep this write-up relatively spoiler free, these performances must be left off the page to avoid giving away too many key elements that point to the ending.

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For fans of Akira Kurosawa’s Tengoku to Jigoku (Heaven and Hell/High and Low) (like this author), this film splits its action in half, part of it focused on the murder itself and the subsequent investigation by the police and the criminal trial, and the second half looking into what happens upon the discovery of the second murder. By having the plot separated like a stage play, audiences get to see both sides of a Giallo: one half looking at how the police handle a case, and the other half looking at how the people who knew the victim are dealing with her being gone, and how it’s affecting their lives. Flavio Mogherini would attempt something similar almost a decade later with La Ragazza dal Pigiama Giallo, though his was more of a mix and match, while Tessari gives each side its own section.

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Striking imagery/cinematography, moody atmosphere, and fine performances from an ensemble cast, Farfalla is an early spin on the Giallo that takes it outside the influences of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, the key figures of the genre. By taking his story out of the exotic locales and the high-class areas, and setting it in the suburbs with a middle class, though somewhat financially well-off family, Tessari gives the Giallo a realism that, along with his previous La Morte, would help inspire Dick Wolf in his Law & Order franchise, about crime not having prejudices or preferences, and occurring whether others want it to or not. The ending is a complete surprise that nobody sees coming, though how the situation is resolved is a little bit of a letdown, though still satisfying for what it is, and what Tessari wanted to have play out.

(This film comes very highly recommended as there’s nothing else like it within the Giallo genre. Everything about it is well put together, and while some elements seem a little unusual with little or no explanation as to how they tie in to what’s going on, the engrossment Tessari puts the viewer in makes all these flaws minuscule. Arrow Video once shows its elegance in restoring and bringing films like this back from the dead with fine image and sound quality. The Italian language version with translated subtitles is the way to go on this one as it’s how it was originally made and keeps to the plot and structure the most.)

Fans should also check out the Grindhouse Cinema Database where this review also resides, it’s publication here at the author’s decision for one of the many series’ here

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

for more information

IMDB/The Bloodstained Butterfly

Wikipedia/The Bloodstained Butterfly

Buying options

https://www.amazon.com/Bloodstained-Butterfly-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B01FEE1XCA/ref=tmm_dvd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1557331522&sr=1-1-fkmrnull

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bloodstained-Butterfly-Dual-Format-Blu-ray/dp/B01FCLUVLO/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5BZ06JZBIPZA&keywords=the+bloodstained+butterfly&qid=1557331561&s=dvd&sprefix=the+blood%2Caps%2C219&sr=1-1

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

He Was Sure He Was Out… But He Had to Go Back

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Yakuza & Crime)

(Mild to Spoiler Free)

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

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Kenju Zankoku Monogatari (Cruel Gun Story) (1964) PG-13 ****

Jo Shishido: Togawa (as Joe Shishido)

Chieko Matsubara: Rie

Tamio Kawaji: Takizawa (as Tamio Kawachi)

Yuji Kodaka: Shirai

Minako Katsuki: Keiko

Hiroshi Nihon’yanagi: Matsumoto

Hiroshi Kondo: Kondo

Shobun Inoue: Okada

Saburo Hiromatsu: Saeki

Junichi Yamanobe: Yanagida

Written by: Hisatoshi Kai & Haruhiko Oyabu

Directed by: Takumi Furukawa

Synopsis: After his release from prison for the murder of the truck driver responsible for his sister’s paralysis, ex-hoodlum Togawa intends on spending the rest of his days clean. When he learns from the nuns at the hospital his sister goes to that an operation would guarantee the use of her legs again, Togawa has no choice but to accept a mob boss’s offer to head an armored car heist worth millions.

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Nikkatsu in the mid sixties decided to take their Yakuza sub-genre in a new direction with a new kind of hero/protagonist. Instead of having the dedicated cop or the gangster with an unwavering moral code that can’t be compromised, the hero this time is a morally conflicted ex-con who wants to help those he loves, and at the same time can’t resist the lure of the easy money being a criminal can offer. The tragic loner figure was very prominent in the Hollywood Noir of the 1940’s and early 1950’s, and while most American character types were hard to transfer to European and Asian audiences, this character was universal enough that no matter what setting or country he ended up in, he was easy to connect to and sympathize with. These types of characters weren’t unusual to Japanese audiences at all, but never before had one been portrayed as a hoodlum trying to keep on the straight and narrow, but fate always having other ideas. The classic story of a hoodlum’s last job to set him and his loved ones financially well secured for life gets a nice contemporary setting, and really speaks highly of the financial strides and struggles going on in the swinging 60’s.

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Family values also play a big part within the story as a big part of the protagonist’s reasons for his actions involve relatives. Feeling highly responsible for his sister’s waist down paralysis, and ashamed that he allowed his emotions to send him into a harsh enough rage to murder the hit and run driver who caused the accident, he vows to make sure she’s well cared for the rest of her life. Having both a criminal record and a record of homicide under him makes gaining honest employment practically impossible, Togawa feels both the need to make sure his sister gets the best treatment and medical care possible and the pull of accepting the offer of a charismatic Yakuza boss that would ensure he can afford to provide all necessary care. Torn between two worlds is a primary and common theme in Noir and is used to great effect in this film, along with the strife of family obligations.

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Joe Shishido, who’s mark as a matinee idol was fully cemented by this time, gives a fine performance as Togawa. One of Shishido’s first times playing a loner, he really excels as the isolated man struggling to survive in a world that, while justifiably alienates the criminal element to avoid corruption, unfairly ostracizes those who’ve gotten out and are trying to make honest livings. All Togawa wants to do is live quietly and take care of his sister as their parents are long deceased, but his sister’s medical bills, the result of a careless hit and run truck driver, make trying to steer clear of trouble to make ends meet very difficult. Deciding he’ll avoid fatalities and convincing himself he’s doing this solely so his sister can get well, Togawa succumbs to temptation and agrees to the armored truck job offered him. Shishido adds a nice bit of conflicted moral coding as he feels he’s betrayed himself and the promise he made his parents, and at the same time feels the organization he once knew needs to be cleansed of the riff-raff who’ve contaminated it and giving it a bad name. Shishido then has Togawa decide he’ll honor both his parents and his old companions. Realizing not long after that this new breed of gangster doesn’t hold the same values he and many of his dead compatriots did, Togawa decides to pull the ultimate con to ensure his sister is provided for, and should the inevitable happen, he’ll leave the world with a clear conscience.

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Probably the most American Noir influenced Yakuza film of the period, Monogarari mixes two quintessential themes well: the thrilling and suspense laden heist film and the character driven human drama. That the hero isn’t threatened of forced into the job is an interesting point as it shows him as a willing, but very weary participant who keeps one eye one the job, and the other on the men he feels he can’t trust. Having him not being completely devoid of humanity wasn’t completely rare in the Yakuza genre, but the level that which the character is taken to is very unusual and different. The performances, the story, and the cinematography all make for a unique mixture of suspense, action, and compelling drama.

(Again I highly recommend this one as it takes the Yakuza genre in a nice different direction that keeps it fresh. Jo Shishido’s very humane character is a nice change up from the other Anti-Heroes who indeed had good in them, but still weren’t above using illegal methods to get to the answers. That Shishido’s character had tried to make a real effort to go legit makes him all the more relatable and tragic. Like with the many other titles in the Nikkatsu Noir Criterion Eclipse set, the picture and audio quality are very good and still maintain that local theater feel.)

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

For more information

IMDB/Cruel Gun Story

Wikipedia/Cruel Gun Story

Criterion Collection/Cruel Gun Story

Please see my review of A Colt is My Passport for the Amazon link to purchase Nikkatsu Noir if you’re interested.

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