‘I’ll take you so you can finish your wonderful story about the protozoans on the way.’
An unhappily married diplomat has dreams about killing his domineering wife. He can put up with finding out that she is having an affair with a family friend, but when she gets rid of his beloved aquarium, he is pushed dangerously close to the edge…
Sly, black comedy Giallo that features a low body count, but compensates with a subtle and witty script loaded with irony. The sub-genre hadn’t yet cleaved too closely to the ‘whodunnit’ serial killer format, and there was still room for an unexpected outing such as this, which should please those aficionados prepared to entertain something a little different.
Diplomat Clive (George (Giorgio) Ardisson) finds it hard to sleep. His dreams are filled with just one thing: killing his rich wife, Diana (Françoise Prévost). Theirs has been a marriage of convenience: his aristocratic status and her money, but now he’s had enough. She dictates his every move outside the office; even down to the clothes that he wears, so when he receives an anonymous note that she’s having an affair with neurologist Franz Adler (Eduardo Fajardo), he can’t be more pleased. His joy is short-lived, however, when he’s told in no uncertain terms that a scandalous divorce will ruin his career.
Things get even worse for our henpecked hubby when Prévost has his beloved tropical fish tank removed, and it’s occupants flushed away down in a sink in the greenhouse. A lover he can accept, but not the death of little Nemo and his buddies. She’s got to go! Luckily, he has the dirt on Fajardo, who worked as a medical doctor under the Nazis in the Second World War, so a little blackmail as all that’s needed to get the deed done. Ardisson collects the two suitcases containing the evidence, and flies to Tangier, meaning to dispose of the corpse in the acid vats of the tannery that Prévost owns. It’s from there that his scheme, and psyche, begin to unravel as circumstances combine time and again to upset his plans.
The success, or not, of a project like this principally hangs on two elements: the script and our leading man. Fortunately, screenwriter Antonio Fos delivers a wry and intelligent plot, leading the audience astray with some imagination and skill. Even twists that the audience sees coming sometimes develop in different ways than expected. Director Alfonso Brescia lets events play out without trying to impose any distracting stylisation or attempts to reflect the pop culture of the time.
None of it would work, however, if it weren’t for a superb performance by Ardisson, who is on screen almost throughout. At first, he’s almost robotic, beaten into a blank slate by Prévost’s constant verbal barrage. However, we’re already familiar with the nearly psychotic glee he demonstrates in his murderous dreams, one of which introduces the action. From there, he’s alternately, nervous, charming, distraught and then desperate and paranoid as it seems everything, and everyone is conspiring against him. Early on, he’s sitting on the plane to Tangier when the flight attendant announces that one of the passenger suitcases has been opened by mistake and quotes the number on the claim check. For a heart-stopping second, Ardisson thinks it’s one of his bags before he realises that he’s reading his number upside-down. It’s a wonderfully inventive moment and the first of several suspenseful sequences that have a faint echo of Hitchcock’s dry sense of fatalism. This is one of the reasons the film works; we start to want Ardisson to get away with it; not because of his wife’s obnoxious behaviour, but because the poor guy just can’t catch a break!
It’s a terrific showcase for Ardisson, who had begun his career in the sword and sandal arena in the late 1950s, first registering significant in work for director Mario Bava: the title role in ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961) and, as Theseus, in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). After the Peplum’s popularity waned, he transferred to playing James Bond wannabees in Eurospys ‘Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell’ (1965) and ‘Operation Counterspy’ (1965), and played leads in Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘May God Forgive You… But I Won’t’ (1968) and ‘Django Defies Sartana’ (1970) opposite Tony Kendall. He was very much an action star, so finding him playing totally against type, and doing it so well, is an added bonus for those familiar with his work.
Elsewhere the rest of the cast also deliver, particularly the women. Prévost’s character may be one-dimensional, but she plays it to the hilt. Yes, it is exaggerated, but it’s undeniably funny when she strictly timetables her adulterous trysts with Fajardo. There’s also a brief, but surprisingly affecting performance from uncredited singer Enriqueta Serrano as a middle-aged woman Ardisson is obliged to seduce and additional good work from Orchidea de Santis playing fashion model Elena Saunders. It’s another of the quiet ironies built into the script that, despite the signs that she’s sending, Ardisson is entirely disinterested in this beautiful woman until he finds out that she shares his obsession with tropical fish!
If you’re familiar with director Brescia’s other work, you’ll likely be surprised at the quality of the finished film. To an English-speaking audience, he’s probably most familiar as Al Bradley, the bane under which he delivered a quartet of woeful ‘Star Wars’ (1977) rip-off’s, the last of which, ‘The Beast In Space’ (1980) would more accurately be described as a porno. Before that, he worked in many different genres, including Peplum, Westerns, Crime thrillers, comedies, sex movies, war dramas and family films. He also directed a pair of poorly-regarded Gialli ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park’ (1972) and ‘Murder In A Blue Light/Omicidio a luci blu’ (1992).
A change of pace for the Giallo but worth seeking out if your taste runs to the blackest of comedy.