Cold Eyes of Fear/Gli occhi freddi della paura (1971)

‘I’m sorry, but they teach frightful manners in the Scrubs.’

The nephew of a judge picks up a young woman in a pub and takes her back to their house. He doesn’t know that their manservant has been murdered, and the killer is patiently waiting for their arrival. On the agenda is a plan of deadly vengeance…

A borderline Giallo from co-writer and director Enzo G Castellari that leans heavily into a more conventional crime genre. An Italian-Spanish co-production, the action is focused mainly on the interactions of a quartet of characters in one space rather than on the ‘whodunnit’ exploits of a free-ranging serial killer. As a result, it often has more of the feel of an unproduced play than a dramatic film.

Young lawyer Peter Bedell (Gianni Garko) likes what he sees when good-time girl Anna (Giovanna Ralli) starts making eyes at him across a crowded pub. Ditching her drunken date, the two embark on a quick tour of night-time London before retiring to the house owned by his uncle, Judge Bedell (Fernando Rey). Things start to get pretty cosy, but dead butler Hawkins (Leonardo Scavino) spoils the mood by falling out of a cupboard. Worse still, they run into his killer, Quill (Julián Mateos), on the stairs, who keeps the couple covered with a gun and tells them to settle in for a long night.

Meanwhile, Rey is busy working late at the office on an important case and needs Garko’s help. Aware of his nephew’s playboy lifestyle, he sends a note home with a Constable (Frank Wolff). The Judge doesn’t realise that Wolff is not a policeman but criminal Arthur Welt, who he sentenced from the bench 15 years before. Not only has the villain arranged for a thorough search of the Judge’s home, but he’s also wired a bomb to the office door on his way out!

Despite a potentially intriguing setup, this is a relentlessly padded home invasion, with the drama primarily confined to the Judge’s home. The situation could have made for a claustrophobic picture with plenty of suspense, but crafting a screenplay strong enough to support such a setup over 95 minutes is a challenge indeed. Unfortunately, the script by Leo Anchóriz, Tito Carpi and director Castellari doesn’t even come close. An effort is made to chart the shifting dynamics of the four protagonists via small plot developments and minor incidents, but few of these have any real consequences or lasting impact. It’s all just padding. In the later stages, events deteriorate into one long shouting match before a final ten minutes of fighting in semi-darkness.

Castellari also uses rapid cutting and a heavy reliance on the zoom lens in an effort to evoke some level of excitement from the dull proceedings, but it’s doomed to failure. The cast sometimes tries too hard, probably because they were only too aware of the story’s shortcomings. Only Garko’s character is provided with any development as he goes from polite and passive to more physically aggressive as the picture unfolds. The reliable Wolff does his best with the little he’s given, but both Ralli and Mateos struggle to give their characters any shading. There are also some dated optical effects towards the climax, which serve little purpose other than the most obvious: more padding.

The film does have a smattering of noteworthy elements, though. The opening scene is a clever double-bluff and could be viewed as a sly commentary on the Giallo itself, presenting its violent tropes as cheap entertainment for the masses. It is unlikely that something like it would transpire in an English pub or a nightclub, but it’s well shot and well-performed by actress Karin Schubert. There’s also a nice moment of suspense with the bomb, which is heightened by the activity of Rey’s pet cat.

Best of all, there’s a percussive, dreamy score by workhorse Ennio Morricone that nicely offsets the visuals of Swinging London. Although all the interiors were filmed at Cinecittà Studios outside Rome, the production brought Garko and Ralli to the capital for the opening scenes. Sadly, much of this authenticity is undone by the English dub track. There are other English accents apart from ‘Posh’ and ‘Cockney.’ The inverted commas are intentional.

Director Castellari has been championed in recent years, mainly because of the proliferation of his genre output during the early days of home video rental. After a handful of Spaghetti Westerns in the late 1960s, he spent the rest of the decade mostly jumping between pictures inspired by big hits of the day, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s global smash ‘The Godfather’ (1972) and Michael Winner’s ‘Death Wish (1974). He delivered perhaps his most celebrated film with war picture ‘The Inglorious Bastards/Quel maledetto treno blindato’ (1978) before departing for the post-apocalyptic world of ‘Mad Max.’ The gang violence of ‘1990: Bronx Warriors/1990: I guerrieri del Bronx’ (1980) and its sequel ‘Escape From The Bronx/Fuga dal Bronx’ (1983) were split by the hilarious ‘Warriors of the Wasteland/The New Barbarians/I nuovi barbari (1983) a film that will always remain a bad movie classic. Throw in ‘The Last Shark/L’ultimo squalo’ (1981) with James Franciscus, dumb science-fiction action flick ‘Light Blast’ (1985), and the unfinished adventures of ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno as ‘Sinbad of the Seven Seas’ (1989) and you have a cult film career well worth celebrating.

Ralli began her career as a child actress in the 1940s and had graduated to leading roles by the late 1950s when she appeared in two films by famous neorealist director Roberto Rossellini. ‘General Della Rovere/Il generale della Rovere’ (1959) and ‘Escape By Night/Era notte a Roma’ (1960) were well-received, and Ralli won the Best Actress award for the latter at the San Francisco International Film Festival. She tried her luck in Hollywood in the mid-1960s, starring in ‘What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?’ (1966) for director Blake Edwards and opposite Michael Caine in thriller ‘Deadfall’ (1968). She also appeared as Deputy Attorney Vittoria Stori in Massimo Dallamano’s mash-up of the Giallo and the Poliziotteschi, ‘What Have They Done to Your Daughters?’ (1974), and enjoyed a highly successful film and stage career until she announced her retirement in 2015.

An underwhelming exercise in suspense that has little to engage the audience.


One thought on “Cold Eyes of Fear/Gli occhi freddi della paura (1971)

  1. The Devil With Seven Faces/Il diavolo a sette facce (1971) – Mark David Welsh

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