Who Killed the Prosecutor and Why?/Terza ipotesi su un caso di perfetta strategia criminale (1972)

‘I hope you can explain to me this absurd farce.’

A young couple on a remote beach witness the murder of a government official. The man takes photographs of the incident, but instead of taking them to the police, he decides to offer them to the highest bidder…

Severely undernourished thriller from director Giuseppe Vari mixing organised crime with a touch of the Giallo. The idea has possibilities, but the results are half-baked at best.

Photographer Carlo (Lou Castel) and girlfriend Olga (Beba Lončar) are enjoying an impromptu fashion shoot on a lonely stretch of seashore. Matters have progressed toward the intimate by the time they notice the arrival of two cars. A pair of thugs manhandle the unconscious body of another man into the first car, run it up against a parked steamroller, douse it with petrol and set it on fire. Castel takes photos of the whole thing, capturing what turns out to be the murder of a state prosecutor. Rather than contact investigating detective, Inspector Vezzi (Adolfo Celi), Castel decides to cash in on his luck.

The young photographer has links to local organised crime boss Don Salvatore (Fortunato Arena) through pornographer Uncle Fifi (Massimo Serato). Believing the killing to be a mob hit, he offers the pictures to Arena, but the kingpin is not interested in making a deal. So Castel arranges a payoff from journalist Roversi (Carlo Landa), but a mysterious figure kills the newspaperman shortly after he gets the pictures. Landa’s editor Mauri (Antonio La Raina) teams up with Celi to trap the killer, avenge his colleague and solve the case.

Given the unusual title, this project may have been conceived in the spirit of Elio Petri’s internationally acclaimed ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion/Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto’ (1970). There are passing suggestions of high-level police corruption and links between organised crime and the political machine. However, these themes are far too underdeveloped to be taken seriously and what remains is a doodle of a whodunnit driven by the photographs that act as the film’s MacGuffin.

It’s a curious picture because it is professionally made but seems to be suffering from a strange malaise in all the fundamental creative areas. It’s almost as if everyone turned up on the first day of shooting and simply decided to go through the motions rather than make any significant effort. It doesn’t help that Thomas Lang’s screenplay is thin on incident and plot, but it’s not a completely lost cause, so much of the blame has to fall on Vari’s sluggish, offhand direction. The film seems relentlessly padded, even at under 90 minutes, and the dutch camera angles he throws in from time to time do nothing to enhance the atmosphere or create any tension. Their inclusion just comes over as desperate.

Similarly, there’s little engagement from the cast. Castel and Lončar couldn’t be a less engaging screen couple, two blank slates with zero chemistry between them. Even the ordinarily reliable Celi wanders through proceedings wearing a mild smile and gives his investigation about as much urgency as a trip to the corner store to pick up a pint of milk. Serato has a little more to work with as the top photographer reduced to shooting pornography after an accident has confined him to a wheelchair. However, he doesn’t get enough screentime to make any lasting impression.

Technically, the film is competent, but the main problem is the total lack of energy. The audience is invited to spend far too much time with Celi as he spins dull theories in his office to assistant Marshal Notarantonio (Renato Baldini) and boss Superintendent Portella (Consalvo Dell’Arti). There’s an extended scene of topless dancing in a club for no dramatic reason and some incidental material with Arena’s lawyer Romano (Umberto D’Orsi) that goes nowhere. Lončar also throws the negatives of the murder photographs onto the fire because she doesn’t think they are important. Sure, it’s clear she’s not supposed to be a budding Einstein, but it’s hard to believe that she doesn’t understand how photography works. Especially given that she’s a fashion model.

Director Vari is possibly best remembered for historical dramas such as ‘Roma contro Roma’ (1964), which was creatively retitled as ‘War of the Zombies’ for its Stateside release. He also directed several Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Django the Last Killer/L’ultimo killer’ (1967) and ‘Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead/Prega il morto e ammazza il vivo’ (1971), which starred Klaus Kinski. In later years, he delivered the adult drama ‘Sister Emanuelle/Suor Emanuelle’ (1978) and ended his career with the poorly-received post-apocalyptic adventures of the ‘Urban Warriors’ (1987).

Some of the cast had previous experience with the Giallo; Castel starring alongside Carroll Baker in important early example ‘Orgasmo/Paranoia’ (1969) and Lončar in ‘Interrabang’ (1969). Serato and Celi both had extensive careers in international cinema; the latter still celebrated for his role as Bond Villain Emilio Largo in ‘Thunderball’ (1965). He also appeared in several other Gialli, including ‘Who Saw Her Die/Chi l’ha vista morire?’ (1972), ‘Eye in the Labyrinth/L’occhio nel labirinto’ (1972) and ‘Naked Girl Murdered in the Park/Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco’ (1972).

The original Italian title translates literally as ‘Third hypothesis on a case of perfect criminal strategy’. Yes, that’s about as exciting as this one gets.

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