Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere (1972)

‘What is the monkey to man, contemptuous mirth or painful truth?’

A beautiful woman goes to work for a famous writer living on a small island on the outskirts of Venice. However, she’s investigating the disappearance of his previous secretary, who was her best friend. As she spends time in the household, she’s inexorably drawn into the author’s sleazy world of drugs, decadence and casual sex…

Handsome looking mystery thriller from writer-director Silvio Amadio that attracted a cast as impressive as its Venetian locations. The filmmaker already had previous experience with the Giallo, and this entry easily eclipses his previous efforts.

Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) is a girl on a mission. She’s following in the footsteps of her best friend, Sally Reece (Patrizia Viotti), who worked for the same New York publishing house. This involves getting the gig as new secretary to celebrated author Richard Stuart (Farley Granger) and living at his luxury home on the water outside Venice. Viotti disappeared there without a trace the previous winter, and local policeman, Commissario Antonelli (Nino Segurini), hasn’t been able to make any headway in the case.

On arrival, Bouchet meets the household; Granger’s sexy and uninhibited wife Eleanora (Rosalba Neri), taciturn butler Giovanni (Umberto Raho) and frequent visitor Sandro (Dino Mele). It’s not long before Bouchet’s duties expand from typing and dictation to attending Granger and Neri’s informal soirees, which come with recreational substances and stag films. By then, she’s already been seduced by Neri, who uses the sudden, frightening appearance of slow-witted local Rocco (Petar Martinovitch) to slip something a little spicier than the usual sedative into Bouchet’s medicine glass.

Initially, Amadio’s story is intriguing and has several interesting possibilities. It’s not long before Bouchet becomes a willing participant in the household’s extra-curricular activities. It’s all to aid her investigations, of course, but pill-popping, cuddling up to young stud muffin Mele and falling for the suave Granger is a risky strategy at best. It’s unusual to see such an apparently intelligent heroine exhibit such poor decision making. However, it’s a credit to Bouchet’s well-rounded performance that she never loses the audience’s sympathy and that her actions only seem rather dumb in hindsight.

Amadio was fortunate to have Bouchet, as the dramatic weight of his story falls mainly on her shoulders. Granger and Neri are both excellent as the corrupt, amoral sophisticates, but there is a nagging feeling that they aren’t given enough to do, despite some standout moments. Raho is often surplus to plot requirements, too, although it is nice to see the actor play something other than a cop for a change. It’s the third act and the solution to the mystery that ultimately pulls the film down. It’s not that the resolution is illogical or doesn’t make sense; just the opposite, as a matter of fact. Instead, it’s an entirely predictable and underwhelming conclusion to a second-half in which suspense and intrigue have been allowed to drain away slowly.

The Venetian locations are an asset to the production, though, even if Amadio doesn’t see the unique possibilities that director Nicolas Roeg was able to exploit to such incredible effect in his horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973). Of course, he may have wanted to avoid a ‘tourist board showcase’ of the famous canalled city, and he does exhibit such restraint in a couple of other key areas. Teo Usuelli’s music is distinctly overdone, so Amadio employs it only sparingly. The baroque choral stylings would be more at home with the extravagant flourishes of a director like Dario Argento than accompanying a grounded story like this. Also, the lesbian sex scene between Neri and Bouchet is frank but not exploitative, with slow-motion employed to highlight the participants’ beauty rather than dwell crudely on the act itself.

The film does display quite a few strong elements. Besides the excellent cast, Amadio and veteran cinematographer Aldo Giordani deliver a sensational-looking movie with some very striking visual moments. Bouchet transcribing Granger’s new novel, which seems to be both a description of how her best friend died and a warning of what will happen to her if she keeps on with her investigations, is a fresh idea and executed with some panache. The duck hunt that turns deadly is very well-staged, and the sequence where our heroine is inadvertently locked in the cellar is an excellent example of a minimalist sound design which is present throughout. Unfortunately, all these undoubted virtues need to be allied to a compelling mystery, and that’s the one crucial element that’s missing in action.

Amadio first dabbled in Giallo with the underwhelming ‘Assassination in Rome/Il segreto del vestito rosso’ (1965), a venture probably most memorable for the completely disinterested performance of its star, Cyd Charisse. Four years later, he tried again with the low-budget ‘No Man’s Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L’isola delle svedesi’ (1969), an undistinguished piece most likely hampered by limited resources. After this step up in class, he continued along the same lines with ‘Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena’ (1973), which again starred Neri and featured an uncredited Bouchet in a tiny cameo. After detours into comedy, crime and romantic drama, he returned to the Giallo one last time for ‘So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious…/Peccati di gioventù’ (1975).

Considerably less than the sum of its parts, although undeniably a quality production.

5 thoughts on “Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere (1972)

  1. Assassination In Rome/Il Segreto del Vestito Rosso (1965) – Mark David Welsh

  2. No Man’s Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L’isola delle svedesi (1969) – Mark David Welsh

  3. Don’t Torture a Duckling/Non si sevizia un paperino (1972) – Mark David Welsh

  4. The French Sex Murders/Casa d’appuntamento (1972) – Mark David Welsh

  5. Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena (1972) – Mark David Welsh

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