On his first night in Los Angeles, a young Italian reporter is beaten up in his hotel room by two men. They are looking for an old friend of his who has become the public face of a multi-national chemical company since arriving in America. When the friend subsequently dies in a car wreck, the reporter does not believe it was an accident and begins to investigate…
Borderline Giallo thriller that resembles more of a Film Noir at times, with lone wolf Robert Hoffman investigating a pool of suspects in his late friend’s death and stirring up a hornet’s nest in the process. Director and co-writer Alberto De Martino was more experienced in Westerns, and war pictures and his debut in this new arena is sadly nothing to write home about.
Handsome journalist Paolo (Hoffman) arrives in L.A. following old friend Giulio (Roger Fritz) who has made quite a splash Stateside, becoming a media celebrity as the spokesman for Chemical International. On his first night, he’s beaten up by two goons in his hotel room. They are looking for Fritz and push the unfortunate reporter’s face into a pool of his own vomit. Not long afterwards, Fritz is burned to a crisp when his car goes off-road. Hoffman investigates with the help of his editor (John Ireland) and soon finds out that Fritz was on the outs with his corporate sponsors. As he pieces together the details of his late friend’s life, all the managing directors seem to have a motive for wanting Fritz out of the way.
From this basic setup, De Martino chooses to provide two main story threads; Hoffman’s investigation on the one hand and extended flashbacks to Fritz’s life in America on the other. We learn that Fritz was a union activist back in Italy with a wife Luisa (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and daughter back home. However, Fritz was soon corrupted by his American success, enjoying sexual relations with company boss Victoria Brighton (Dorothy Malone), her promiscuous daughter Gloria (Romina Power) and executive secretary Mary (Luciana Paluzzi). These frequent flashbacks are introduced in a ‘puzzle-piece’ type structure, but amount to little beyond showing Fritz’s moral deterioration in the wake of his sudden success.
Meanwhile, Hoffman wanders about from place to place and suspect to suspect; clashing with gay executive Frank Donovan (Frank Wolff) and beating up his goons, one of whom gets his face shoved into a cat litter tray as payback for the vomit incident earlier in the film. He also attends an endless hippie orgy with Power and flirts with the unhappy Malone. Fritz’s diary goes missing, and a dubious tip-off ends with Ireland getting fatally sideswiped by a speeding car. It all ends with an utterly unsurprising revelation and a moral lesson that comes over as simplistic and trite. The weak resolution could have been forgiven if the film was an exciting and fun ride, but those are two qualities that are entirely lacking.
The one bright spark here is the performance of Malone. She’s terrific as the middle-aged fashionista still vulnerable and looking for love, but hardened and cynical from life experience. If only the film has been centred on her, things could have been very different. Unfortunately, her screen time is limited, and we’re left in the presence of the robotic Hoffman, who is about as charismatic as wallpaper paste. Elsewhere, Ireland and Paluzzi are wasted in nothing roles and Power’s hippie chick is trying way too hard to be cute. Yes, De Martino is trying to show us the cold, superficial world of wealth and success, but the audience needs to retain some sympathy and engagement with at least one of the protagonists. It also doesn’t help that the film asks us to invest in a half-baked romance between Hoffman and Paluzzi when the two performers stare at each other like they’re looking at yesterday’s furniture.
The film has also dated a little, what with Bruno Nicolai’s overdone score and De Martino’s over-busy camera. The director was already credited with peplum adventures like ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961), ‘Perseus Against The Monsters’ (1963) and ‘Hercules vs The Giant Warriors/Il trionfo di Ercole’ (1964). He also tried his hand at Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospys such as ‘Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces’ (1966) and ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). There was Exorcist rip-off ‘L’anticristo/The Antichrist’ (1974), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) (with Kirk Douglas!) and, best of all, bad movie classic ‘The Pumaman’ (1980).
It seems that every film made in Italy in the late 60s featuring a little nudity, imported American stars and a mystery plot is considered a Giallo film by some. This example is a marginal case, indeed, coming over as more of a conspiracy thriller, but without the thrills. Or much of a conspiracy. At times, it seems little more than an extended Network TV episode or a pilot show.
If you are a Giallo completist then, by all means, check this out. But don’t expect very much.