‘You’d better cut that jazz out and get back into bed, y’hear?’
A woman witnesses a murder through coin-operated binoculars, but the police don’t believe her. When they find the body, it links up with a previous killing, and the woman’s boyfriend becomes a prime suspect…
A weary and generic Giallo from director Maurizio Pradeaux that still musters a few notable moments. Nieves Navarro stars under her usual screen name of Susan Scott, and she’s supported by Robert Hoffmann and Jorge Martín.
In an idle moment when waiting for her boyfriend Alberto Morosini (Hoffmann), photographer Kitty (Navarro) looks through a tourist viewfinder that provides a panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, it’s not such a beautiful sight when she sees a woman through a window brutally murdered. The killer is a figure in black, but she can’t see its face nor be sure exactly where the incident happened. Police Inspector Merughi (Martín) is sceptical of her story, and artist Hoffmann is likewise offhand about it. However, a few days later, a body is found, confirming the truth of her account.
Evidence left at another killing suggests that the killer walks with a cane, which brings Hoffman into the Inspector’s cross-hairs as he is walking with a limp after allegedly spraining an ankle a few days earlier. The detective is also trying to field off the persistent questioning of nosy reporter Lidia Arrighi (Anuska Borova). Her composer boyfriend Marco (Simón Andreu) is working on a show that Navarro and Hoffman hope will include some of their artwork.
Despite a professional presentation and some positive aspects, this is primarily a turgid experience that looks thrown together hastily and with little enthusiasm. The story is obviously inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage/L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo’ (1970), with Navarro unexpectedly witnessing a murder and unable to intervene. The culprit is another unknown figure in black, complete with a hat, and a programme of slaughter follows, with the killer’s identity revealed at the end. So far, so Giallo. It’s the standard template. Yet rarely has it been delivered in such an offhand fashion.
The problems are evident within the first few minutes. After witnessing the murder, Navarro tries to grab someone to help, but no one wants to get involved. When Hoffman arrives, instead of going straight to the police, they take Navarro’s aunt and uncle to the airport to catch a plane. When they discuss the situation on the way back into the city, their chat has all the urgency and passion of a discussion about last week’s weather. When they finally talk to Inspector Martín, he seems as bored as they are. Is their indifference supposed to be satire? It’s certainly not very thrilling.
As the story unfolds, there’s an increasing sense of characters being introduced simply to bump them off. The justification for most of their appearances is a photograph that was apparently snapped by a tourist when the killer was escaping. It appears on the front page of a newspaper and conveniently provides the killer with a list of targets. Although it might be assumed that hotshot reporter Borova is behind its publication, the script never addressed how the photograph got into print or who took it in the first place. It’s no surprise that it doesn’t feel as if any of these developments are occurring organically, more that the filmmakers needed to fill one chunk of running time after another until reaching the denouncement. When that finally arrives, it’s hopelessly rushed, probably because it has little foreshadowing and doesn’t make more than rudimentary sense.
The characters could also be better-defined and more sympathetic. Navarro and Hoffman are artists, apparently; their latest project involves Hoffmann disembowelling mannequins and Navarro photographing the results. They try to interest Andreu in their work for his show, but that seems to consist of a single dancer doing a half-hearted striptease on a darkened stage while he plays classical piano. Later on, we learn she’s a ballerina! Oh, and the connection between the victims is blindingly obvious from the start, but Martín misses it completely, and it only hits Hoffman with about twenty minutes of the film remaining. Of course, he follows it up himself, rather than bothering with the police.
Perhaps the silliest scene involves Martín recruiting Navarro to act as bait during a stakeout in a park. When he suggests the idea to Hoffmann, her wonderful boyfriend is happy to accept on her behalf because ‘she’ll leap at the chance.’ And what girl wouldn’t? Especially when it involves pulling on a red Afro wig and a leather micro-skirt and posing as a prostitute! Strangely enough, the scene ends on a humorous note, again suggesting satire, but that quality is almost entirely absent elsewhere.
No one involved seems to be showing much interest, and that’s strange in Martín case as he gets a script credit. Thankfully, at least director Pradeaux knew where his priorities lay: sex and death. So there’s a lot of the usual nudity and writhing around for Navarro and more of the same for journalist Borova, who also plays her bitchy twin sister, Sylvia. Her boyfriend is Giallo gun-for-hire, Luciano Rossi, who manages to look suspicious just by existing.
The undisputed highlights of the film, though, are the murder scenes. The killer favours a cane and straight razor combination, a unique method which allows Pradeaux to stage some impressive sequences. These include the murder of the Chestnut Vendor (Gualtiero Rispoli) and a victim slashed through a bedsheet (which makes it seem all the more brutal). The final confrontation between the killer and Navarro in a greenhouse is shot better than anything else in the film. Unfortunately, even in this regard, Pradeaux fumbles the ball with one attack coming from the back seat of a car. It would be reasonable enough, except the victim is driving at the time, and the vehicle is moving at high speed. Obviously, it’s a given that Giallo killers are psychologically damaged, but I didn’t know that made them incredibly stupid too.
Pradeaux began his film career with a handful of production jobs before debuting as a writer and a director on Spaghetti Western ‘Ramon il Messicano’ (1966) starring Robert Hundar. He followed that with two vehicles for action star Richard Harrison, the second of which was the war movie ‘Commando Attack/I Leopardi di Churchill’ (1970), which also starred Klaus Kinski and Helga Liné. He also returned to the Giallo with ‘Death Steps in the Dark/Passi di morte perduti nel buio’ (1977), and made his final movie in 1989. None of his films seem very well-regarded today.
A few great moments in search of a decent film.