Assassination In Rome/Il Segreto del Vestito Rosso (1965)

Assassination In Rome (1965)‘I am the biggest idiot in the whole world!’

An American newspaperman working in Rome becomes involved with an old flame who is visiting the city when her husband vanishes without a trace. They team up to find him, and their investigations connect the disappearance with the recent discovery of a man found dead by the Trevi Fountain with a package of heroin in his coat pocket…

A stale and perfunctory crime thriller that was a co-production between studios in France, Spain and Italy. A familiar setup leads to a series of remorselessly dull, predictable developments bereft of any wit, creativity or invention. The final ten minutes provide what little interest there is, but it takes a very long time to get there, and co-writer and director Silvio Amadio seems to have little idea how to keep his audience on board for the ride.

It’s just another day at the office for square-jawed news editor Hugh O’Brian. Sure, last night’s date was interrupted by a diversion to the Trevi Fountain to visit with a John Doe and old friend Inspector Baudi (Alberto Closas), but it didn’t look like much of a story. Then he hears of the disappearance of a visiting American tourist and realises that the missing man’s wife is Shelley North (Cyd Charisse). Of course, she’s ‘the one that got away’ so he leaps on his milk-white steed and rides to the rescue! Closas throws his hat into the ring when he finds that the man at the fountain was murdered, and had absent hubby’s address in a little red book.

Assassination In Rome (1965)

‘I wonder what’s for lunch.’

O’Brian’s investigations lead him to a series of mysterious thugs, gangsters and men who sit behind newspapers in cafes. All the while he’s fending off the playful attentions of society columnist Erika (Eleonora Rossi Drago).

Then Closas encounters a pair of dimwitted comedy-relief burglars who have accidentally lifted the item that everyone is after and, of course, reporter and policeman team up in the way that only ever happens in movieland. In a particularly riveting scene, O’Brian and Charisse visit with her old family friend Philippe Lemaire, who may as well be wearing a sign around his neck that says ‘You can’t trust me. I am a big liar.’

For the most part, this is all painfully predictable and mundane, and the cast seems to have little enthusiasm for proceedings. Drago tries to lighten things up with a bubbly performance, but O’Brian is no better than solid, and Charisse seems barely awake most of the time. There is an interesting sequence where events take O’Brian backstage at the city’s legendary Cinecittà, founded in 1937 by Benito Mussolini! After the war, it became the largest film studio in Europe and the list of directors who have worked there over the decades is an outstanding ‘who’s who’ of the film world and includes Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, Federico Fellini, and many, many others. Sadly, it’s only a brief visit, but we do see a ‘sword and sandal’ picture being shot. The film’s only dramatic virtue is in its climax, which provides a twist that, while not entirely credible, is still reasonably surprising, although a little more justification for it afterwards would certainly have helped.

O’Brian was best known for his extensive work on US Network TV, mostly in Westerns. His film roles were not so frequent but he did appear in prominent supporting roles in the swangsongs of two cinema legends: John Wayne (‘The Shootist’ (1976)) and Bruce Lee (‘Game of Death’ (1978), although Lee died early in the production). Writer-Director Amadio is notable for two back-to-back Giallo thrillers he made later on: ‘Amuck!’ (1972) and ‘Smile Before Death’ (1972).

Assassination In Rome (1965)

‘Can I go home now?’

Charisse was a star of the ballet stage by the age of 14 and famously danced on screen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; the former in ‘Silk Stockings’ (1957) and ‘The Band Wagon’ (1953), and the latter in ‘Brigadoon’ (1954) and ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ (1952). Her career as a dramatic actress outside musicals never really took off but she usually displayed far more screen personality and acting chops than she is able to muster here. Perhaps she had simply lost her enthusiasm for the business; after all, she made less than a handful of further features after this and concentrated instead on making guest appearances on many Network TV shows.

The most interesting cast member here is actually lesser-known supporting actor Drago. In her mid-twenties. she co-starred opposite three-time Oscar-nominated Italian star Marcello Mastroianni in ‘Enticement’ (1952) and with Oscar-winning Hollywood refugee Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954). Later on in the decade and at the start of the 1960s, she worked with directors Julien Duvivier and Michelangelo Antonioni and starred opposite Orson Welles, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio Gassman, Jean Marias, and Jean-Louis Trintignant in a variety of projects. However, the size of her roles and the prestige of the pictures had begun to shrink by the time, she encountered ‘The Flying Saucer’ (1964) and her last two credits find her firmly down in the cast list in Massimo Dallamano’s somewhat notorious ‘Dorian Gray’ (1970) and as a housekeeper in Giallo thriller ‘In The Folds of the Flesh’ (1970).

I have seen this picture categorised as both a part of the Eurospy and of the Giallo genres. Although an argument can be made for its inclusion in either or even both, it’s not really worth taking the time or trouble to worry about it. This is simply a painfully dull crime thriller with a mildly interesting conclusion.

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