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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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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 Images and their respective owners, including Pinterest and the IMDb

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

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