A senator is murdered, and the police catch a man fleeing the scene. An arrogant young journalist’s work helps secure his conviction, and he is sentenced to the death penalty. However, one the day of his execution, the reporter receives evidence that throws the man’s guilt into doubt…
Noir-ish Giallo thriller from director Alberto De Martino that tries to update the one style, without fully committing to the other. As a result, it’s partially successful and has its moments, but it doesn’t make for compulsive viewing, the final act piling on the action with a breakneck speed that severely harms its credibility.
Senator Robertson meets the end of a bullet on his doorstep and Mexican activist, Valdes (Giovanni Petrucci) is the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police can’t find the dead man’s missing briefcase, but the gun was ditched in a nearby bush, and Petrucci and the politician have a history. Hot-headed Sentinel reporter Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) gets the story for his paper, and sub-editor, John Hammond (Victor Buono) is impressed with his work, even if there’s no love lost between them.
The evidence to convict Petrucci is strong but circumstantial, the prosecution alleging that he passed the briefcase to a confederate in a car, who drove off in a panic. Sabato does the round of his contacts on the street and digs up naked model Anne Sachs (Barbara Bouchet) who, after initially refusing to help, places herself near the scene and witnessing the car just before the murder. Petrucci is convicted and sentenced to die in the gas chamber.
Returning home on the day of the execution from assignment in New York, Sabato discovers that new evidence has come to light and begins to believe that the condemned man is innocent, after all. But witnesses are nowhere to be found or are turning up dead, and there are only 12 hours to go before Petrucci’s rendezvous with the gas chamber. It’s a desperate chase for Sabato as he tries to get at the truth and catch the assassin.
The concept of the smart-talking, wise-ass reporter chasing down a killer is as old as talking pictures. Although we’re spared any of the tiresome comedic elements that usually came with such a character in the golden days of Hollywood, this is still the essential core of De Martino’s film. It’s been modernised with a grounding in the realms of the conspiracy thriller, but we’d be firmly in Film Noir territory if the action took place on the black and white canvas of downtown LA rather than the sunlit streets of New Mexico.
Several of the main protagonists are typical Noir archetypes, most notably Sabato as the self-serving newshound starting to grow a conscience and Bouchet as the femme fatale-love interest whose motives are open to question. Unfortunately, neither character is written with any more complexity, leaving both actors struggling to make much of an impression. The acting plaudits belong to Buono who, despite having his familiar voice dubbed, still manages to bring a sly, sardonic humour to his role, linking up with Sabato as an unofficial sidekick/partner in the slightly silly closing stages.
Buono was joined by two more notable US actors on the film, as De Martino manfully attempts to convince the audience that they’re watching an American movie. Keenan Wynn has a supporting role as the newspaper’s editor, mostly hiding behind thick glasses and a cigar (the dubbing really doesn’t help his performance) and Faith Domergue scores in a couple of scenes as the accused man’s wife. She’s almost unrecognisable from her roles in such midnight movie favourites as ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), ‘Cult of the Cobra’ (1955) and ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955). She’d had a similarly small role in Lucio Fulci’s stand-out Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) and only made three more films before retiring in the mid-1970s.
One aspect of the film that remains curious is astrologer, Isaac Thetman (Corrado Gaipa). Sabato consults him on the case because he and the senator were connected. The two don’t hit it off, and Giapa predicts the reporter’s death, which will occur at the very moment of Petrucci’s execution. Apparently, that’s the sort of thing you can get in your horoscope because ‘astrology is akin to the occult!’ Really? Ok. Having said that the fortune teller’s presence does lead to the film’s most inventive moment when he inadvertently reveals a crucial clue by walking under a neon sign.
De Martino collaborated on the screenplay here as he did on all his films, including quite a few cult titles, although these were not always of the best quality. These included cheesy Peplum ‘Perseus Against the Monsters’ (1963), above-the-fold Eurospy ‘Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere’ (1965), undistinguished Giallo ‘The Insatiables’ (1969), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) and, best of all, the hilariously ridiculous adventures of ‘The Pumaman’ (1980). Sabato made the usual range of Spaghetti Westerns and crime pictures and starred in Umberto Lenzi’s Giallo ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids’ (1972) and Alfonso Brescia’s dreary ‘War of the Robots’ (1978).
Apart from the wonderful Buono, whose best days were already behind him, the real success story here is Czech actor Bouchet. After starting in bit parts for major Hollywood studios and appearing on episodes of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Star Trek’, she returned to Europe to build a meaningful career via Gialli such as ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula’ (1971), ‘Amuck’ (1972) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (1972). She regularly worked for the rest of the decade before her career began to slow down in the mid-1980s. In recent years, she has returned more often to the big screen, including a part in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ (2006), and is still active in the Italian industry as of 2020.
A rather tepid thriller which takes too much time to get going and then tries too hard to make up for it in the last half-hour.