Delirium/Delirio caldo (1972)

‘My heart is blind and filled with death.’

A psychologist who works with the police picks up a young girl out drinking and savagely murders her in a remote spot. He’s identified by staff at the bar, but while he is in custody being questioned, another girl is killed…

Offbeat, semi-demented Giallo thriller from writer-director Renato Polselli. Hungarian-born actor and famous bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay tries to make sense of it all.

Working with Inspector Edwards (Raul Lovecchio) on murder cases is a regular gig for psychologist Herbert Lyutak (Hargitay), but the latest is slightly different. For one thing, he’s a suspect after being tagged as the man who picked up the young victim (Stefania Fassio) by barman Marcello Bonini Olas and car park attendant John Lacey (Tano Cimarosa). For another, he is the actual killer. Fortunately, while Lovecchio is questioning him, news comes in of another murder in the same locality. A young brunette has been slaughtered in a callbox after calling the police in a panic.

Hargitay might be off the hook for the crime, but he still has a heap of problems at home. His wife Marzia (Rita Calderoni) is still blindly devoted, but she’s pretty sure of his guilt. She’s prepared to overlook his impotence too, and their attempts at intercourse certainly seem to entertain their peeping maid, Laurel (Cristina Perrier). Meanwhile, Lovecchio has set a trap for the killer in the park using blonde Miss Heindrich (Katia Cardinali) as bait. It all goes wrong, and another woman is killed with a knife. Hargitay is on the scene by invitation, but Cimarosa is also discovered lurking in the woods.

Rarely has a film been more accurately titled than Polselli’s Giallo drama. It starts well enough with the opening scenes moving from unsettling to horrific as Hargitay charms the young Fassio into his car with the promise of a lift to a nearby nightclub and then begins to molest her on the way out of town. Chasing her into a shallow creek, he bludgeons her with a rock and then strangles her to death. It’s an effective way to begin, overturning the usual Giallo tradition of unmasking the killer in the final act. The reveal that he works with the police is another nice touch, which makes for an unusual dynamic with Lovecchio during his interrogation and subsequent release.

However, when Hargitay arrives home, the film goes off the rails pretty quickly. This is a very screwed-up household indeed, and the relationships between Hargitay, his wife Calderoni and servant Perrier and played in such an off-kilter way that they are never convincing. Polselli was probably aiming for the overall feel of a dream or, more accurately, a nightmare. However, it’s hard for the audience to stay invested when it’s unclear whether what is happening is real or not. Some scenes are clearly the twisted fantasies of the main characters, but other moments just as illogical, are presented in a far more realistic way, making for a head-scratching incoherence.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, given the oblique nature of the storytelling, the film is also short on many plot basics and details. Lovecchio mentions that Fassio was the seventh victim in this serial killer’s rampage. Who were the other six, and was Hargitay responsible for them? Is helping the police with the case? How has he evaded suspicion, given that his Modus Operandi with Fassio was to pick her up from a public bar in plain sight of a roomful of potential witnesses? There’s also a question mark over Cardanali, who takes part in the sting operation in the park. Is she supposed to be a police officer? She certainly knows Hargitay. When the Inspector sees her surreptitiously take a piece of evidence from the crime scene, he doesn’t call her out and somehow only remembers to question her about it later. On the way to her apartment, he and a colleague stop for a cup of coffee along the way for no significant reason, allowing the killer the time to get there first.

Calderoni’s visions of being chained up in a sex dungeon with Hargitay and her blonde niece Joaquine (Christa Barrymore) are certainly presented as fantasy. However, later, we discover that the room exists, and Barrymore is suddenly promoted (almost out of nowhere) from background scenery to a major player in the final act. Of course, there’s a suspicion that these sequences are only present to provide some significant nudity, and there’s more than a touch of unpleasant sleaze about a later scene involving the attempted murder of Perrier being witnessed by the voyeuristic Cimarosa.

The cast overact shamelessly at times, particularly in the overblown final scenes, which Polselli delivers with all the subtlety of Grand Opera. Gianfranco Reverberi’s progressive rock soundtrack, intrusive throughout, blasts away fearlessly through this wild finale as the doomed characters pull silly faces and throw themselves about with glorious abandon. It’s easy to laugh and blame the actors, but there really isn’t any other way to play such ridiculously over-the-top material.

In an apparent effort to make the film more coherent for overseas markets, Polselli shot some additional material, and the film was recut. Does it help? Well, a little. Now the film opens with Hargitay sustaining a severe combat injury in Vietnam, the effects of which could explain his strangely detached, robotic performance through much of the runtime. The scenes where he sweet-talks a young student into his car make more sense as they do have an actual payoff now, although it comes without apparent consequences.

Then there’s the character of Bonita, played by Carmen Young, who is rewarded with a special ‘introducing’ credit at the beginning of both cuts of the film. However, she doesn’t even appear in the original release and has only one very brief scene toward the end of the American version. The outcome of this additional event does provide motivation for Barrymore’s antics at the finish, but it all comes right out of left field as there is no prior mention of Bonita’s existence. Perhaps the sequence was also intended for inclusion in the original film but was dropped before release, leaving her acting credit intact. The American update still needs far more clarity, but the final twist does tie things up much more effectively, even if it’s seriously underwhelming.

Polselli was born in 1922 in the agricultural centre of Arce in the Central Italian region of Lazio. Little biographical information on him is available, but his first film project found him already established as a writer-director on the obscure drama ‘Delitto al luna park’ (1952). His first notable credit was ‘The Vampire and the Ballerina/L’amante del vampiro’ (1960), where a good level of early tension was squandered in favour of rather obvious horrors. Other chillers followed, such as ‘The Monster of the Opera/Il mostro dell’opera’ (1964), and ‘The Reincarnation of Isabel/Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento…’ (1973). The latter features so many of the principal cast that appears here that it may have been filmed at the same time. Outside of his own projects, he contributed to the scripts of other filmmakers, including actor Rossano Brazzi’s Giallo thriller ‘Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia’ (1969) and the odd ‘Questa libertà di avere… le ali bagnate (The Freedom To Have Wet Wings)’ (1971), which has sometimes been tagged with the same label.

Composer Reverberi conducted the Italian Eurovision Song Contest entry the same year Polselli’s film came out but enjoys a far greater claim to fame. In 1968, he and his brother Gian Piero contributed the song ‘Last Man Standing’ to the Spaghetti Western film ‘Django, Prepare A Coffin/Preparati la bara!’ (1968). Thirty-eight years later, parts of the melody and chord structure were crafted into the song ‘Crazy’ by US Soul duo Gnarls Barkley. The track was a global phenomenon, topping the charts in many countries and winning numerous awards. It’s appeared on the soundtrack of over 50 films and TV shows to date.

The film is certainly different, but its shortcomings make it a little hard to take seriously.

That Man in Istanbul/Estambul 65 (1965)

‘Bogo, show Miss Babyfat out.’

The CIA exchanges a kidnapped atomic scientist for a ransom of one million dollars, but there’s a bomb on the transport plane, and the scientist is killed almost immediately. One agent pursues the matter unofficially, her main lead being a deported gangster and well-known playboy who lives in Istanbul…

The identity of this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is up for discussion in this Italian-Franch-Spanish Eurospy production from director Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi. Our agent in the field might be the glamorous Sylva Koscina, but most of the action falls to suave leading man Horst Buchholz.

CIA Chief George Rigaud is not a happy man. Not only did atomic scientist Professor Pendergast (Umberto Raho) go up in flames after the ransom payoff, but diplomatic sensitives (and an order from the President no less!) preclude any further investigation into the matter. This does not sit well with special agent Kelly (Koscina), who decides to follow up in Instanbul on an unofficial basis, with Riguad happy to look the other way. Clandestine photographs snapped at the exchange put handsome young nightspot owner Tony Mecenas (Buchholz) at the scene, so she secures a job at his club. Buchholz is an old hand at dealing with law enforcement, though, and he immediately sees through the charade.

From that point on, the two exchange the usual romantic barbs as they begin falling for each other, and he becomes sucked further and further into her investigation. She’s suspected from the first that Raho isn’t really dead and that the sadistic Gunther (Agustín González) and his cronies are taking orders from a secret mastermind. The challenge is to unmask the villain and rescue Raho as Buchholz runs all over Istanbul, dodging bullets and bad guys.

Isasi-Isasmendi’s movie may be formulaic plot-wise, but it has a playful, tongue-in-cheek approach that helps with the entertainment level. Buchholz makes for an athletic hero, aided by some decent stunt work, including some impressive high-speed driving on mountain roads. There’s a running gag that beautiful women know him wherever he goes, and there are even a couple of occasions where he breaks the fourth wall to address a remark to the audience. There’s also a direct romantic rival for Koscina after Buchholz rescues rich girl Elisabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier), who the gang have snatched off her father’s yacht.

What does derail proceedings to some extent is the length. Without a great deal of plot development, a two-hour run time almost inevitably leads to a saggy middle act, and the film begins to drift and drag as Buchholz makes one last-minute escape after another. The script also keeps Koscina off screen for long periods when more of the romantic back and forth between the pair might have provided the necessary sparkle and encouraged more audience investment in the drama.

Still, there is a surprisingly lively supporting cast of characters. As well as the afore-mentioned González, the rogue’s gallery of villains also includes award-winning German actors Mario Adorf and Klaus Kinski as assassins. Although they don’t share any significant screen time and Kinski is dreadfully underused, his face-off with Buchholz is one of the film’s undoubted highlights. On the side of the angels are the dry-witted Brain (Gustavo Re) and magician Bogo (Álvaro de Luna). Isasi-Isasmendi also finds slots for French actor Gérard Tichy, and familiar Spaghetti Western face Luis Induni in minor roles.

In terms of action, there’s enough bang for your buck, although it sometimes verges on parody. Surrounded by four speeding cars closing in for the kill, Buchholz manages to shoot out all their headlights in super quick time and make them all crash into one another. He also jumps from a crashing sports car onto the back of a truck in what would have been a fantastic stunt if we actually got to see it! Jazzing up all this nonsense with blaring horns and strident strings is a faux-John Barry score from composer Georges Garvarentz, which helps instil some dynamism when the mayhem is a little lacking.

Of course, Buchholz is best remembered as the youngest member of John Sturges’ ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) but enjoyed a film career of more than half a century. Through the 1950s, he worked his way up the ranks in the European film industry from short subjects and unbilled roles to leading parts in such prestigious productions as ‘Auferstehung’ (1958), a big-budget adaptation of the Tolstoy novel. Hollywood came calling with award-winning crime drama ‘Tiger Bay’ (1959), and his trip out west with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen followed hard on its heels. Joshua Logan’s romantic drama ‘Fanny’ (1961) and Billy Wilder’s excellent ‘One, Two, Three’ (1961) completed a formidable kick-off to his American career, but scheduling conflicts led to his being unable to take the lead in ‘West Side Story’ (1961) and another plum assignment on David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962). Instead, big budget flop ‘Nine Hours to Rama’ (1962) and poorly-received Bette Davis vehicle ‘The Empty Canvas’ (1964) hurt his prospects, and he returned to European films. Back in the US in the mid-1970s, he took roles in mediocre movies made for television, on network shows such as ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and appeared in the dreadful but hilarious mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). Back in Europe for most of the remainder of his career, he acted in such notable projects as Wim Wenders’ ‘Faraway, So Close!’ (1993) and Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning ‘Life is Beautiful’ (1997). He passed away in 2003.

A fun Eurospy, but tighter script control and a greater focus on the romantic elements might have made for something far more notable.

El pueblo fantasma (Ghost Town) (1965)

‘Where I put my eye…I put the bullet!’

A young cowboy is looking for information about his late father, hoping to discover evidence to contradict his reputation as a vicious bandit. Tracking one of his old gang down to a border town, he finds the residents in the grip of a much deadlier terror…

An offbeat amalgamation of Western and horror from Mexican director Alfredo B Crevenna. The film was apparently cut together from a three-episode television show, but, for once, the small scale and appropriate budget are a help, not a hindrance.

Manuel Saldívar Jr (Rodolfo de Anda) is a man on a mission. Sick of hearing stories all his life about his late father’s murderous deeds down on the border, he is determined to find evidence there to the contrary and set the record straight. Unfortunately, it’s an uphill battle; peasants sing corridas in the street detailing his old man’s crimes, and he has to travel as ‘El Texano’ rather than reveal his true identity.

Crossing the desert, he saves the life of ex-convict Néstor Ramírez (Carlos López Moctezuma), who is returning home to the border town where his family still live. When they arrive, the new friends find a community living in fear. Moctezuma is surprised to find that his old nemesis, the Rio Kid (Fernando Luján), is still in residence and that a steady stream of outlaws and bandits are still arriving to test his mettle. But what’s worse than that, the corpses of the defeated gunfighters vanish after death, and the locals believe that these dead men walk the streets at night.

Mixing the supernatural and the Old West on the big screen was hardly new by the mid-1960s. Real-life ‘ghost towns’ had provided atmospheric backdrops for many a Hollywood Western in the studio era, and some had even featured fantastical elements, although these were always explained away. However, Edward Dein’s surprisingly effective B-Film ‘Curse of the Undead’ (1959) delivered an actual gunslinging vampire, and the concept was familiar enough that in the next few years, John Carradine was cashing his paycheque from ‘Billy the Kid Versus Dracula’ (1966).

The action opens in the local saloon of Crevenna’s unnamed border town where fast gun El rapido (Jorge Russek) is chugging whiskey and out to make his reputation as the man who bested the famous Rio Kid (Luján). Unfortunately for him, Lujan has a hidden ally in the film’s editor, and one quick jump cut later, Russek has been outdrawn and is on a one-way trip to Boot Hill. The same fate also awaits the brutal Rivera Brothers, Hermano (José Chávez) and Atenógenes (Guillermo Hernández), but what has the townsfolk spooked is the regular disappearance of the corpses of Luján’s victims.

A couple of factors really assist the drama in Crevenna’s film. The first is the restraint that is evident throughout. Proceedings are low-key for the most part, perhaps dictated by the limited production resources available, but ensuring a somewhat grounded result. The word ‘vampire’ isn’t even mentioned until the final act, although the bloodsucker’s physical appearance is pretty laughable, with his prominent canines more accurately described as tusks rather than teeth! A little goofy it may be, but it’s still a welcome change from the usual dinner-suited, aristocratic Lugosi template almost exclusively favoured by Mexican horror cinema since the box-office breakout of Abel Salazar’s ‘El vampiro’ (1957).

The director also knows how to marshal his resources to their best effect. There are very few location shots, with most of the drama taking place on studio sets, but it’s all quite convincing except for a couple of out-of-town scenes in the desert. It helps that most of the action takes place after dark, of course, and Crevenna can wreathe the pueblo’s narrow streets in heavy, atmospheric shadows. It also helps that we have a quietly compelling performance by Luján, who exudes a sense of evil while being rather a small, physically unimposing man.

Some of the story elements are a little trite, though, with a completely pointless semi-romance between de Anda and Moctezuma’s pretty daughter, Marta (Elsa Cárdenas). Instead, the heroine’s duties are split with singer Carmen (Julissa), who travels with her father, blind guitarist Don Beto (Rubén Márquez). Their inclusion also allows for some musical numbers, including a couple of takes of the corrida about de Anda’s bandit father, which drives our somewhat uptight hero to distraction.

As is usually the case with Mexican horrors of the era, there is little to no production information available for the film beyond its apparent genesis as a TV show. The finished product partially bears out this assertion as probably being the case. The introduction of Julissa and Márquez is rather sudden, and the three musical numbers are all clustered together in the middle of the film, which throws off the pacing. There’s also a complete lack of information regarding the vampire’s origins and only a scant explanation of what happened to all those corpses. It’s possible that those issues were more fully addressed in the original show.

Intriguingly, the film also appears to be a sequel to a more straightforward Western called ‘El texano’ (1965), which featured much of the same cast. Although sources list Moctezuma, Russek, and Cárdenas in different roles, de Anda again played Manuel Saldívar Jr, and the prolific Alfredo Ruanova is credited as screenwriter on both projects. Given those credits, it’s likely the projects were filmed back-to-back. However, there’s no production information available to suggest the exact circumstances or if the former film also originally appeared on the small screen.

Crevenna was a workhouse of a director who delivered around 150 films in a career that lasted half a century. Along the way, he was involved in many interesting genre projects, inevitably some featuring legendary wrestler Santo, including ‘Santo vs. The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs’ La invasión de los marcianos’ (1967) and ‘The Beasts of Terror/Las Bestias del Terror/Santo Y Blue Demon En Las Bestias del Terror’ (1973). He first embraced science-fiction with the highly professional ‘Invisible Man in Mexico/El hombre que logró ser invisible’ (1958) and went on to deliver ‘Adventure In the Centre of the Earth/Aventura al centro de la tierra’ (1965). Space operas ‘Planetary Giants/Gigantes Planetarios’ (1966), and sequel ‘Planet of the Female Invaders/El planeta de las mujeres invasoras’ (1966) followed shortly afterward. Other horror projects included ‘Bring Me the Vampire/Échenme al vampiro’ (1963), ‘La huella macabra’ (1963), another tale of vampires written by Ruanova, and ‘La dinastía de Dracula’ (1980). He passed away in 1996 at the age of 82.

Of the cast, it’s Julissa who is likely to be best known to a modern audience. She was a rock singer and performer originally signed to the Mexican arm of CBS records. She was also successful in producing, directing and starring in many stage musicals, such as ‘Grease’, ‘The Boyfriend’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. Most fans of genre films, though, will remember her for appearing in three of the infamous quartet of Mexican films Boris Karloff shot in 1969, which were completed after his death. Fortunately for her, she does not appear in ‘The Incredible Invasion’ (1971), which is undoubtedly the worst of the bunch.

Surprisingly effective, quiet little vampire movie, which is worth catching if you’re a fan of Mexican horror cinema.

So Sweet So Dead/Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile (1972)

‘He has this morbid passion…for corpses.’

A killer targets the wives of some of the leading men of a small provincial city. Evidence of their adulterous affairs is left behind at each crime scene, but the men’s faces in the photographs have been mutilated beyond recognition…

Run-of-the-mill Giallo thriller, courtesy of director Roberto Bianchi Montero, working from a script he co-authored with Luigi Angelo and Italo Fasan. Ex-Hollywood leading man Farley Granger stars, along with Sylvia Koscina and Silvano Tranquili.

The pressure’s on at police headquarters after a General’s wife, Floriana (Ulla Johannsen), is found naked on a bed with her throat cut. The killer has scattered a collection of compromising photographs around the corpse, with the face of her lover erased from each one. The case lands on the desk of Inspector Capuana (Granger), whose wife Barbara (Koscina) moved in the same social circles as the victim. Medical examiner Professor Casali (Chris Avram) theorises that the killer is a sex maniac, and it’s not so long before he strikes again, butchering Serena (Femi Benussi), shortly after a late-night tryst with her illicit lover, Gianni (Andrea Scotti).

Prominent criminal lawyer Paolo Santangeli (Silvano Tranquilli) becomes connected to the case by representing Scotti. However, he would much rather be in conference with mistress Lilly (Nieves Navarro), who lives next door to his family home with her disabled husband. Tranquilli’s wife Franca (Annabella Incontrera) knows all about his cheating and has started her own out-of-town affair, while their teenage daughter Bettina (Angela Corvello) is seeing ‘unsuitable’ scooter boy Piero (Fabrizio Moresco). Koscina’s friend Renata (Krista Nell) is also on the killer’s wish list due to her ongoing liaisons with young stud Mauro (Paul Oxon).

At first glance, it might seem that the large number of extra-marital affairs and infidelities tag the film as more daytime soap opera than Giallo. However, this apparently tangled web of romantic intrigues serves only one purpose: to provide victims for the killer. Director Montero focuses firmly on the mystery and the ongoing investigations of Inspector Granger and his efforts to unmask the mysterious slasher. Unfortunately, the results are routine at best, with a mechanical plot, shallow characters and little creativity. There are few surprises, with the victims clearly signposted one at a time before the killer strikes and a staggering lack of detail regarding the investigation. Granger is told to tread carefully because the victims were from high society, advice he seems to take to heart as he prefers to haul in various pimps and streetwalkers rather than talk to some of the husbands involved. We never even see him interview Corvello after she witnesses one of the slayings!

However, spending more time on Granger’s efforts at detection would probably have meant less footage of the female cast with their clothes off. Yes, there’s plenty of casual nudity for our unfaithful wives, although only Navarro gets an actual sex scene. This naked romp proved far too hot for some, and the scene was heavily trimmed for release in certain territories. Ironically, the film was later re-edited with new scenes featuring adult stars Harry Reems and Tina Russell and released in America as ‘Penetration’. Not best pleased that he had been re-cast as a porn-watching detective, Granger threatened legal action and the film was withdrawn, although apparently, the re-cut version still played in parts of Europe.

Giallo is often attacked for its gender politics and attitudes toward women, and this is one such film that merits discussion in that regard. The victims here are explicitly targeted because of their infidelity and often meet their ends in various states of undress and just after sex. On the other hand, the men escape scott-free with no consequence for their actions other than the fear of being unjustly accused of the crime. In slight mitigation to the filmmakers, none of the women concerned has multiple lovers, and at least some justification is provided for their actions. Incontrera’s husband is already sleeping around, Navarro’s is virtually bedridden and probably impotent, and the initial victim, Johannsen, was married to a General, which suggests a considerable age gap. Even Granger is so obsessed with his job that it’s unlikely Koscina is having a great time between the sheets. However, given the slapdash nature of the production, it’s probably pushing it a bit to assign the filmmakers with conscious intent on any of these matters.

The film boasts little in the way of memorable visuals, although Montero does deliver one excellent sequence as Benussi flees the dark silhouette of the killer along a beach at night. It’s the one extended use of slow motion in the film, and it works very well, although the killer’s look is almost a direct steal from Mario Bava’s far superior ‘6 Donne Por L’assassino/Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). There’s also an entertaining supporting role for Luciano Rossi as Avram’s rather too enthusiastic right-hand man Gastone. Not only does he help the Professor with his autopsies, but he also ‘beautifies’ the dead bodies afterwards and takes photos of them! I’m pretty sure that’s the role of funeral parlour staff rather than the Police Medical Examiner’s Assistant, but maybe they do things differently in Italy.

Granger was a veteran of Giallo by this point in his fading career, and he anchors the drama with a solid performance, effectively selling his character’s emotional conflict at the climax. Sadly, there’s very little for the female cast to do except disrobe, die and fire the odd, half-hearted bitchy comment each other’s way. Navarro makes the best of it with her effortless sensual charisma, but all the women are drawn in broad, identikit strokes. The script has all the hallmarks of a project thrown together hastily, with the writers ticking a series of boxes to guarantee an easy hop onto the Giallo bandwagon. Unknown killer with a blade? Check. Beautiful women with their clothes off? Check. Intricate mystery laced with subtle clues, fascinating characters and gripping drama? Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Koscina’s four-decade-long screen career began with a featured role in the Second World War comedy ‘Siamo uomini o caporali’ (1955), which starred famous Italian funnyman Totò. Her big break arrived only three years later when she starred as Iole, Daughter of Pelias, opposite Steve Reeves in the international smash ‘Hercules/Le fatiche di Ercole’ (1958) and the sequel ‘Hercules Unchained/Ercole e la regina di Lidia’ (1959). She confirmed her comedic credentials in many other projects at this time, including several with old friend Totò. When tax breaks and low production costs brought Hollywood to Italian shores in the early 1960s, she picked up supporting roles in American features and soon graduated to starring with Dirk Bogarde in knowing British spy flick ‘Hot Enough for June’ (1964). Abel Gance’s ‘Cyrano et d’Artagnan’ (1964) followed, and she appeared in a minor role in Federico Fellini’s ‘Juliet of the Spirits/Giulietta degli spiriti’ (1967). She also had time to romance Bulldog Drummond in ‘Deadlier Than The Male’ (1967) and led cult item ‘He and She/L’assoluto naturale’ (1969). Notable leading men included Paul Newman in ‘The Secret War of Harry Frigg’ (1968), Kirk Douglas in ‘A Lovely Way To Die’ (1968) and Rock Hudson in ‘Hornet’s Nest’ (1970). The 1970s brought Giallo ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat/Sette scialli di seta gialla’ (1972) and work for Mario Bava in ‘Lisa and the Devil/Lisa e il diavolo’ (1973). She struggled with tax problems in the following years but was still working up to her death from heart trouble in 1994.

So sweet, so dead…and so anonymous too.

The Avenging Conscience, or ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ (1914)

‘You’re after my boy like a common woman.’

A wealthy old man forbids his spoilt nephew to see the young woman he loves, fearing that she has designs on the family fortune. As the thwarted Romeo broods on the injustice of it all, the idea of murder begins to occupy his thoughts…

Feature-length melodrama based around the works of Edgar Allan Poe from famous cinema pioneer D W Griffith. Members of the director’s stock company, Henry Walthall and Blanche Sweet, take the leading roles, but curiously, no one gets a character name.

After his mother’s death in childbirth, a young man (Walthall) is brought up by his rich, one-eyed Uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken). The old man has indulged the boy’s every whim and, with such a privileged upbringing, the youth has little use for work, preferring instead to the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He’s already lost his romantic heart to the shy smiles and dimples of Sweet, a girl of lowly birth, who signs her love notes ‘She who you have chosen to name Annabel’. This refers to Poe’s poem ‘Annabel Lee’, which Walthall reads constantly and excerpts of which appear at regular intervals on the screen as inter-titles.

Unfortunately for the lovebirds, Aitken is incensed when he learns of their association, believing Sweet to be a heartless gold digger. He lays down the law to Walthall, and the couple agrees to part. But Walthall’s anger and resentment towards his uncle grows, and he strangles his benefactor and hides the body. However, the deed was witnessed by a passing labourer, The Italian (George Siegmann), who demands to be paid for his silence after Walthall has inherited Aitken’s fortune. Worst still, the killer finds himself increasingly plagued by visions of the ghost of his victim.

According to Griffith’s regular cameraman Karl Brown, this project was mounted solely for commercial reasons, a way to keep money coming in while the director was preparing to shoot his forthcoming epic, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915). The film was Griifth’s longest feature to date at 78 minutes, but it wouldn’t be accurate to consider it a ‘dry run’ for the more extended form storytelling of the latter movie as that clocks in at over 3 hours. The earlier project is also a very small-scale drama, shot on a few small sets and a handful of outdoor locations with a principal cast of just over half a dozen.

Griffith had prior acquaintance with Poe and his works, having directed the 7-minute biopic ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ (1909), which came complete with misspelled title courtesy of the film’s producers. That short subject had briefly portrayed the author’s real-life literary struggle, but this time Griffith as the only credited screenwriter, riffs on the great author’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ instead. Some sources mention ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ as another item of source material, but the film’s resemblance to that story escapes me.

The film could be a little more subtle when citing its inspiration. Walthall’s wilful heir is reading ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ in the film’s opening scenes, and Griffith even puts the first page of the story on the screen to hammer the point home. The director also gives Aitken an eye patch, presumably as a nod to the pale blue ‘vulture’ eye that provokes the narrator to his act of murder in Poe’s story. The clearest lift from the original story is the climactic scene where Walthall sits in his front room with The Detective (Ralph Lewis). The lawman drums his pen on the desk, the grandfather clock ticks remorselessly on, and Walthall slowly goes to pieces, knowing that Aitken’s rotting corpse is just a few feet away behind that ‘peculiarly shaped fireplace.’ The sequence seems a little overdone now, but given the era, it’s allowed to play out at a surprising length and achieves a measure of suspense.

Perhaps inevitably, the film has dated very badly in several aspects, most notably those dictated by the societal climate of the era. American movies, in particular, were inclined to impart a moral lesson to their audience. Of course, wrong-doers had to be punished, but a path to redemption was often available, depending on the severity of the deed. Walthall sees Aitken’s ghost, courtesy of some standard ‘double exposure’ effects, and his mind begins to disintegrate under the crippling burden of his guilt. But Griffith can’t stop there. Walthall also sees Christ on the Cross and old man Moses with his ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ tablet, shown in a booming closeup. Again, it’s not exactly subtle.

Still, despite the slight nature of the proceedings, it’s pleasing to report that the film does retain an adequate level of interest. Griffith is credited with the invention of some of the basic building blocks of cinematic language, and the range of shots he employs here, including closeups, do help with the narrative flow. The only obvious limitation is when the action returns to a set or a location that’s already been featured, and the camera setup is identical to the one presented previously.

One of the film’s main talking points is the ending. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with film or television will have seen the ‘twist’ to this tale many times and will likely let out a weary sigh and roll their eyes. However, it does provide Griffith with an opportunity to deliver a genuinely baffling coda which defies obvious explanation. Earlier in the film, Griffith presents a couple of scenes contrasting different views of nature. Walthall is inspired to thoughts of murder by watching insects eat each other, and the innocent young Sweet rescues a puppy caught in a fence beneath a hedgerow. These may play into the film’s final moments in some way, which feature the Greek god Pan, playing on his flute. Young children in strange costumes dance around him. Yep, your guess is as good as mine.

Griffith’s reputation as one of the founding fathers of American cinema has taken quite a bash in recent years due to the racist sensibilities of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915). It’s hard to argue against such a view, given the film’s content, but it’s worth pointing out that the ‘racist’ label is a strange fit for Griffith. His previous works include ‘Rose o’Salem Town (1910), where the heroine is condemned to death by white Puritan settlers. She’s saved from being burnt alive by the intervention of heroic Native American tribesmen. There’s also the little-seen short ‘Rose of Kentucky’ (1911), in which vigilantes dressed like the Klan are portrayed negatively, and ‘Broken Blossoms’ (1919) with its’ inter-racial romance. Some modern film historians who have researched Griffith’s life consider him to have been ‘a man without politics’ who was easily influenced. How much leeway that gives him is a matter of personal opinion.

The film is not without some interest, but it’s hardly essential.

Target Goldseven/Tecnica do Una spia (1966)

‘A skin diver has just swum into the protected zone without giving the required signal.’

A secret criminal organisation attacks an English freighter and steals its cargo of uranium. Authorities assign a top secret agent to recover the precious mineral, and his investigations suggest it’s the work of ‘The Snake’, a notorious criminal mastermind and his arch-enemy…

Spanish-Italian Eurospy adventure from director Alberto Leonardi that ticks most of the genre’s usual boxes. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is American actor Tony Russel who juggles the standard selection of ‘Guns, Girls and Gadgets’ in the name of freedom and democracy everywhere.

After a mid-ocean uranium heist gives the security forces a sleepless night, they dump the mess in the lap of special agent Alan Milner (Russel), who immediately suspects it’s the work of his arch-nemesis ‘The Snake’. His investigation begins in Lisbon with the usual ride to the airport, showcasing the city’s charms on behalf of the local tourist board. The trail is cold, but fortunately, he finds Erika Brown (the spectacular Erika Blanc) searching his underwear drawer. The couple shares a bottle of Don Perignon, but Russel seems unsure whether to kiss her or slap her around, so he does both. A couple of goons arrive, and she takes a powder while he deals with them.

Suspicion falls on shipping line owner Otis (Conrado San Martín), whose pet scientist (Giuseppe Fortis) is working on a cure for radiation at the tycoon’s secret island base. Using information provided by Mitzi (Dyanik Zurakowska), who is working undercover in the villain’s organisation, Russel infiltrates the installation. Unfortunately, he’s soon captured, and San Martin decides to use him as a lab rat in the experimental radiation process. The forces of law and order are preparing an attack on the island, but can they arrive in time, or might rescue come from a source much closer at hand?

Given the remorseless wave of spy adventures and Bond knockoffs that saturated mainland European cinema in the wake of ‘Goldfinger’ (1964), it’s inevitable that some projects got lost in the shuffle and have been almost completely forgotten. In the case of this dreary, unimaginative production, it’s perfectly understandable as Leonadi and his writers fail to create one real moment of interest in 82 minutes of relentless, low-budget mediocrity. The ‘Goldseven’ of the title is simply the name of San Martin’s shipping company and has no other significance whatsoever. That’s a good indication of the kind of laziness on display here.

The script comes courtesy of Preston Leonide and María del Carmen Martínez Román. Unfortunately, it appears they only had the back of an envelope handy to write it all down on, so the audience misses out on basic story details they might have felt they had a right to expect. Villain’ The Snake’ is teased throughout the film but doesn’t make an appearance, and Blanc’s identity and motivations are simply never explained. There is a curious, blink, and you’ll miss it, moment at the climax when we get a brief appearance by a character named Alex (Antonio Pica). He seems to have some kind of a relationship with Blanc that might explain things, but Russel kills him immediately, so we never find out who he was either. To give the writers and filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps some earlier scenes providing the necessary exposition were cut or maybe never even filmed if the production ran into financial issues.

There is one priceless sequence, however, when Russel and colleague Louis Kerez Fischer (Franco Cobianchi) interrogate one of San Martin’s captured lieutenants. He won’t talk, so the discussion turns to a general review of the investigation. Not only do they mention that they have an agent undercover in San Martin’s organisation, but they actually name her and decide to give her a call on the radio. All right in front of their prisoner. Be afraid for the fate of the free world if it’s in the hands of these clowns. Be very afraid.

Elsewhere, we get Rosa Klee blades flicking out the heels of shoes (not the toe, so it’s totally original) and machine gun fire on the soundtrack with no sign of the weapons involved (though we do see some later). The invading forces of law and justice dress in white coats that make them look like waiters or ice-cream salesmen. Gadgets are limited to the usual low-budget communication and surveillance devices, and Russel disguises himself as the captured lieutenant by going for a coffee while the original actor fills in. Russel removes his ‘disguise’ with a quick cut courtesy of the editor and by pulling off a comedy beard.

If this all sounds like it might be a recipe for some cheesy fun, then think again. There’s a disheartening weariness about the whole enterprise, which translates into a highly tedious viewing experience. Even the clock counting down Russell’s life at the end during the climax can’t be bothered to keep good time. Perhaps the only way the film could have passed muster was with some charismatic leading performances, but, sadly, neither Russel nor San Martin brings anything much to the table. The former is capable enough, but the script gives him nothing but a generic action hero with no identifiable characteristics. Blanc does far better as the conflicted femme fatale, but she’s offscreen for long periods, and her character remains ill-defined.

It’s no great surprise that director Leonardi and co-writer Leonide have no other industry credits. Co-author Roman did work in Italian film for about a decade, though. She provided the original story for Christopher Lee vehicle ‘Crypt of Horror/La cripta e l’incubo’ (1964) and did script duty on the rather shabby ‘Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964). Her other Eurospy projects included ‘Goldsnake ‘Anonima Killers’ (1966) and some uncredited work on ‘Operation Poker’ (1965). She enjoyed greater success with Spaghetti Westerns but quit the film business in 1971.

Russel entered the world as Antonio Pietro Russo but was American born to an Italian immigrant family. After a stint in the US Air Force, he began studying drama at the University of Michigan and scored several uncredited bits in major productions such as ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘King Creole’ (1958) with Elvis Presley. Tired of the Hollywood grind, he packed his bags for the old country and found almost immediate success leading ‘The Last Charge/La leggenda di Fra Diavolo’ (1962). Similar swashbucklers followed, but Russel also found gainful employment in many other genres. There was the international crime thriller of ‘Secret of the Sphinx’ (1964), the romantic comedy ‘Honeymoon, Italian Style/Viaggio di Nozze all’italiana’ (1966) and the science-fiction adventure ‘The War of the Planets/I diafanoidi vengono da Marte’ (1966). He returned to the United States in 1967 but mostly found work only in television, taking guest slots on popular network shows like ‘The High Chaparral’ and Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery.’ Today, he’s probably best remembered as one of the actors who turned down Clint Eastwood’s role in Sergio Leone’s ‘Fistful of Dollars’ (1964) and as the lead in Antonio Margheriti’s bonkers pop art space opera ‘The Wild Wild Planet/I Criminali Della Galassia(1966).

One for Eurospy completists only.

Miss Mend/The Adventures of the Three Reporters/Мисс Менд (1926)

‘A notary may die, but his wallet is immortal.’

A typist at a factory becomes involved with journalists investigating the mystery surrounding the death of her employer. The secret criminal group responsible are developing bacteriological and chemical weapons and is planning to test them on a foreign country…

Early Soviet silent serial with a science-fiction twist, released initially in three feature-length chapters. Their combined running time exceeds four hours, with the chapters titled ‘Dead Man’s Letter’, ‘Double Crime’ and ‘Death By Radio’.

Trouble is brewing at Rockefeller’s Cork Factory in Littletown, USA. When the workers strike, the police intervene with a heavy hand, which doesn’t sit well with feisty office typist Vivian Mend (Natalya Glan). She intervenes to try and broker peace, and her activities bring her to the attention of the Littletown Herald’s ace reporter, Barnet (Boris Barnet) and his photographer Fogel: Fogel (Vladimir Fogel). But when a riot breaks out, Glan is saved by a mysterious young man who pretends to be an engineer. In reality, he’s Arthur (Ivan Koval-Samborsky), the son of the factory’s owner, Gordon Stern (Mikhail Rozen-Sanin). This act of chivalry doesn’t please Glan’s co-worker and not-so-secret admirer, Tom Hopkins (Igor Ilyinsky).

Meanwhile, while returning from a trip abroad, Rozen-Sanin is murdered by ‘The Organisation’, a secret criminal conspiracy who have their eyes on his massive fortune. The tycoon was betrayed by his wife, Elizabeth (Natalya Rozenel), who has fallen in love with the cabal’s chairman, Chiche (Sergey Komarov). After writing a phoney will, the late magnate’s funds are in their hands. Glan plans to contest the will as she is looking after a five-year-old child, who is the result of her late sister’s affair with the departed tycoon. The journalists join forces with Ilyinsky to protect her interests and uncover the deadly machinations of Komarov and his gang.

This silent epic boasts a total running time of over four hours and was made at a time when cinema was exploding in popularity across the Soviet Union. The first movie theatre opened in Moscow in 1921, and just two years later, there were almost a hundred. The government quickly recognised the possibilities of the new medium, and all film production companies were collected under the auspices of the State Committee for Cinematography by 1924. Still, filmmakers do not seem to have been significantly hampered by state interference initially, not until Sergei Eisenstein was forced to cut sequences from ‘October/Oktyabr’ (1928) at the behest of the ‘movie-obsessed’ Josef Stalin.

In the years prior, presenting less ideologically focused films with an emphasis on crowd-pleasing entertainment was still acceptable. Co-directors Boris Barnet and Fyodor Otsep, who also scripted along with Vasili Sakhnovsky, chose to follow that path, delivering a product whose content would be easily recognisable to Western audiences of the period. There may be fewer daring escapes, chases and death-defying cliffhangers than their Hollywood counterparts, but then the plot does drift and meander into side stories on several occasions. Given its multiple protagonists and considerable length, this is perhaps inevitable, but it results in some elements almost entirely tangential to the main story. The most obvious example is the time we spend on Fogel living with street kids in Leningrad, which s a curious inclusion, given the implicit criticism of Russian society this suggests.

The prevailing political climate does make the entire enterprise seem a little odd. Here, we have American heroes, albeit played by Russian actors, travelling to the Soviet Union to save the day. Of course, the Russian authorities are never portrayed as less than capable of dealing with Komarov and his grand design, but arguably, the American characters take the lead. The most intriguing aspect of this unusual setup is that it allows the Russian filmmakers to depict their fictionalised version of America. There are only a few missteps in their vision, too, the most obvious being the Cork Factory apparently being owned by a misspelt Nelson Rockefeller and the local forces of law and order operating out of a ‘Police Office.’ There’s a scene of club patrons rocking out to the stomping sounds of the Pasadena Jazz Band, but if the intention was to show Western degenerates at play, to modern eyes, it looks like a pretty standard night out at your local. Of course, the underlying message is that capitalism is evil and the wealthy aren’t to be trusted, but it’s always secondary to the action and the entertainment factor.

Over such a long running time, events get repetitive and lack focus on occasion, but technically the film has some notable points. The laboratory set is particularly striking, with its bare, clinical white walls and steep, open staircases. The gas masks worn by the scientists also have a pleasing plague mask/steampunk vibe, and it all leads to one of the production’s most memorable scenes. Suddenly, Komarov decides to test the plague germs’ efficacy by infecting his scientific team, who prove they were good at their job by dropping dead. Why Supervillains think it’s good employment policy to slaughter their underlings arbitrarily is almost as puzzling as why they explain their secret plan to the helpless hero before trying to kill him in some ridiculous and over-elaborate way. Komarov then decamps for the Soviet Union to unleash the plague, which, considering the risks involved, was a job probably best left to the hired help (if he hadn’t killed some of them).

There are some pleasing set pieces and stunts, including Barnet apparently launching himself out of a second-floor window into a snowbank and a car getting pulverised by the front of a speeding locomotive. A woman is also thrown bodily into the harbour from a high quayside. It was probably a double for Glan rather than the actress herself, but clearly, it’s a real person, and it was quite a long way down. There’s also a curious follow-up to this stunt where Barnet blackens himself with soot and walks down a city street wearing just a collar and tie (no shirt), a straw boater and a towel around his waist. Yes, he’s just given his regular clothing to Glan after she’s almost drowned, but his choice of attire is still quite baffling. Is he supposed to be an Eastern mystic now? Is this supposed to be some comedy relief?

Barnet was only 24 when he co-wrote, co-directed and starred in this feature, and his previous industry experience was limited to a handful of acting roles. However, this serial was a big hit domestically and launched him as a director. The following year he enjoyed another hit with ‘The Girl with a Hatbox/Moscow That Laughs and Weeps/Девушка с коробкой’ (1927) in which he starred Anna Sten, who’d had a small role in this film as one of Glan’s office colleagues. Although Barnet went on to acclaim as a filmmaker in his native land, the name of Sten is far better known in the West, particularly to devotees of classic era Hollywood.

Sten married Barnet’s co-director Ozep, and the couple settled in Germany. She enjoyed significant success there in films such as E A Dupont’s ‘Salto Mortale’ (1931) and ‘The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov’ (1931), co-directed by her husband. Convinced she could be the ‘new Garbo’, mogul Sam Goldwyn brought her to America, had her taught English and starred her in a trio of films, beginning with ‘Nana’ (1934). All were box office failures, and his failed attempts to make her a star were so notorious that Cole Porter even immortalised her in his classic song ‘Anything Goes’. Although she never enjoyed notable mainstream success, Sten kept plugging away for the next quarter of a century, appearing in lower-budgeted films and on television in the 1950s and early 1960s, even becoming a member of New York’s famous Actor’s Studio.

A significant achievement in Soviet silent cinema. It has its moments, but it’s a very long haul at over four hours.

The Dead Are Alive!/L’etrusco uccide ancora/The Etruscan Kills Again (1972)

‘If music affects archaeologists like this, I wonder what archaeology does to some musicians.’

A small archaeological team uncover the tomb of a supposed Demon God while digging near some Etruscan ruins. Shortly afterwards, a young couple is murdered at an adjacent site and laid out in one of the burial chambers as if for ancient sacrifice…

Multi-national Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Armando Crispino built on a more traditional horror premise. American, British and German actors take the leading roles with production financing courtesy of sources in Italy, West Germany and Yugoslavia.

It’s been a rough couple of years for hotshot young Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord). A worsening addiction to alcohol has prompted changes in his behaviour, including a tendency to violence, accompanied by blackouts and memory loss. Reduced to running a small archaeological dig in the Etruscan ruins in Spoleto, he uncovers the secret tomb of what he believes is an ancient Demon God. A few hours later, in the ruins nearby, a teenage couple is brutally beaten to death, and their bodies are laid out on sacrificial stones. The young woman is dressed in a pair of red ballet shoes.

The unusual footwear leads Inspector Giuranna (Enzo Tarascio) to focus on the local theatre, which is mounting a production under the leadership of eccentric maestro Nikos Samarakis (John Marley). Cord gets into Tarascio’s crosshairs when he discovers the next set of victims, Marley’s son Igor (Carlo De Mejo) and his girlfriend Giselle (Wendy D’Olive). Despite being seriously injured, De Mejo survives but can’t identify the killer who took D’Olive’s life.

The Professor is also being threatened by Otello (Vladan Holec), a local grifter who wants to supplement his income as a tour guide to the ruins with some proceeds from blackmail. He’s obtained an incriminating letter Cord wrote to Marley’s new wife Myra (Samantha Eggar), with whom he was once romantically involved. The ballet’s dance director Stephen (Horst Frank) is also spying on him, and who is the stylish but mysterious Leni (Nadja Tiller) who visited De Mejo in the hospital?

Despite the setup’s obvious potential for a straight-ahead monster horror film, it’s pretty clear from the opening act that this is a Giallo murder mystery. There’s never any serious suggestion that the perpetrator of the mayhem is an Etruscan demon back from the grave. However, it was a conceit embraced by the marketing team and distributors, who most likely came up with the somewhat misleading release titles. Gorehounds will probably be happy enough, though, as a couple of the kills are very bloody indeed, and Crispino’s camera lingers on the action for a good deal longer than many contemporary productions.

Instead, the focus is on running down a more earthly killer, and Crispino’s script, co-written with Lucio Battistrada and Lutz Eisholz, provides the audience with a multitude of suspects. Unfortunately, when supplying so many possibilities, it’s necessary to give each equal weight, and, at times, Crispino struggles to find the right balance. The lack of detail regarding the basic setup doesn’t help either, leaving nagging questions dangling throughout the film. Why is a disgraced Professor with a well-documented history of substance abuse and violent behaviour supervising an important dig happening adjacent to an established archaeological site and tourist attraction? Who exactly are his young team members, and why do most of them seem to be associated with the theatre in town? Why is the paranoid, violently jealous Marley letting Cord stay at his palatial home when he is aware of the man’s prior intimate relationship with his much younger new wife? The answers to these, and other similar questions, aren’t essential in understanding the plot. However, addressing them in at least some fashion would have helped to bring the disparate story elements together in a more coherent and plausible manner. Everything does come together logically enough at the climax; it’s just not particularly satisfying.

There are some significant things to admire, though. Crispino and cinematographer Erico Menczer make the most of the scenes in the ruins and deliver an impressive car chase through a narrow labyrinth of ancient streets. It’s an excellent decision to have the details of Cord and Eggar’s back story emerge as a slow reveal, and the two leads effectively provide the drama with a much-needed emotional core, even if their characters aren’t particularly sympathetic. There’s also notable support from Frank. The blonde German was usually cast as sinister businessmen, assassins or thugs, but here he rocks tight t-shirts and short, curly red hair as the theatre’s effeminate choreographer. He’s playing against type and pulls it off very well, giving the character more depth than the one-dimensional stereotype it could easily have been.

Cord is best remembered to the generation that grew up in the 1980s as the white-suited, eye-patched Archangel, assigning missions to Jan Michael-Vincent and Ernest Borgnine on hit TV show ‘Airwolf’. His career began on the stage before his skills as a horseman landed him guest slots on network shows such as ‘Laramie’ and ‘Frontier Circus’. His big break seemed to arrive when he was cast as the Ringo Kid in the big-budget remake of John Ford’s classic Western ‘Stagecoach’ (1939). The part had made a star of John Wayne, but the film flopped hard, despite a cast that included Ann-Margret and Bing Crosby. Cord headed to Europe, where he starred in Spaghetti Western ‘A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die/Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire’ (1967), which also featured Hollywood legend, Robert Ryan. A handful of other film roles on the continent followed before he returned to the United States to play Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s unsuccessful TV pilot ‘Genesis II’ (1973). A long career guesting on small-screen shows followed, with appearances on ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Murder, She Wrote’, ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ and many, many others. He passed away in 2021.

Born in 1939 in London, Eggar was attending stage school as a teenager when she was cast in the romantic drama ‘The Wild and the Willing’ (1962). She then appeared as Ethel Le Neve opposite Donald Pleasance in the true-crime drama ‘Dr. Crippen’ (1963) before hitting it big as kidnap victim Miranda Grey in William Wyler’s ‘The Collector’ (1965). Her performance brought her multiple awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Subsequently, she appeared opposite Cary Grant in his last film ‘Walk Don’t Run’ (1966), and Rex Harrison in the big-budget musical ‘Doctor Doolittle’ (1967). Unfortunately, the latter disappointed at the box office on release and allegedly almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Eggar returned in ‘The Molly Maguires’ (1970) with Sean Connery and Richard Harris and starred opposite Yul Brynner on the small screen as he reprised his role from hit musical ‘The King and I’ (1956). Although concentrating more on television through the 1970s, she was still in demand for movies, starring in ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ (1976) opposite Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes, the interesting science-fiction drama ‘Welcome To Blood City’ (1977) and most memorably, in David Cronenberg’s early body horror ‘The Brood’ (1979). She’s worked steadily ever since, appearing on countless, high profile TV shows, including ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ where she played Jean-Luc Picard’s sister-in-law.

A solid, professional Giallo that never threatens to rise above the pack.

The Five Days/Le cinque giornate (1973)

‘Even an idiot like you can have his say.’

A petty thief is freed from prison when the people of Milan take to the streets to overthrow the occupying forces of Austria. Unable to escape the resulting mayhem, confusion and violence, he roams the city with a young baker, seeking sanctuary or escape. At first, the situation does not seem all that serious, but events escalate quickly…

After his runaway success with his ‘animal’ trilogy of Giallo thrillers, young Italian director Dario Argento attempted to break away from dark horror with this historical comedy-drama. Set in the streets of Milan during the 1848 revolution, it’s a heady mix of comedy, tragedy and political commentary.

Cynical thief Cainazzo (Adriano Celentano) is one of the handful of odd men out in his communal prison cell. Most of the few dozen inmates have been incarcerated for engaging in acts of civil unrest against their Austrian overlords. Celentano, however, is taking the rap for a job that went south. Rumours of revolution are running rife, but it’s all the same to him; he’s only interested in looking after number one. However, when the prison walls are demolished by sudden cannon fire, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a powder. Once on the street, he determines to look for his ex-partner, Zampino (Glauco Onorato) but ends up saddled with naive young baker Romolo Marcelli (Enzo Cerusico) instead.

Amazed to discover that Onorato is now a hero and a leading light of the revolution, Celentano searches through the chaos, almost connecting with him several times. Meanwhile, he and Cerusico encounter various eccentrics and unusual situations. They meet the Countess (Marilù Tolo) and her entourage as they build a barricade in the street and, later on, they help a pregnant woman (Luisa De Santis) deliver her baby. They’re pressganged into the detachment of deranged revolutionary Baron Tranzunto (Sergio Graziani) and take part in the successful defence of Tolo’s barricade. Afterwards, the noblewoman entertains the survivors one by one in her bed-chamber after becoming sexually aroused by all the blood and violence.

Celentano and Cerusico eventually take refuge in the home of a young widow (Carla Tatò) whose husband was hung as a spy. It’s not long before she’s making love with Cerusico, her experience enhanced by Celentano reciting a list of different types of bread. After leaving the couple to it, Celentano finds himself invited to a public ‘banquet for the people’ only to discover that he’s expected to serve the wealthy guests rather than eat at their table. As the Austrians prepare a strategic withdrawal from the city, he finally links up with revolutionary hero Onorato, only to discover that all it’s not what it seems.

It’s fair to say that comedy doesn’t always cross national boundaries and Italian humour, in particular, leans heavily on the slapstick rather than the subtle. This quality is very evident in some of the early set pieces, such as when Cerusico is covered in flour when his bakery explodes, and Argento undercranks the camera to speed up the action in a way reminiscent of silent films. Some performances fit this approach, particularly Tolo’s hyperactive, sex-mad Countess, which is memorable if little more than a scene-stealing cameo. For the most part, the political satire is also a little heavy-handed, although there are a couple of very effective sequences. At one point, Celentano is alone in the street, carrying the revolutionary flag, utterly unaware that a silent mob has begun to follow him, assuming him to be a leader on his way to the fight. In reality, he’s only holding the colours to avoid getting shot as a spy.

At almost two hours long, the film feels like a series of vignettes for the longest time, with events loosely connected by the time and place but not a developing plot. The two protagonists lurching aimlessly from one new situation to the next robs the film of any fundamental structure, and, overall, it feels clumsy and directionless. This problem is exacerbated by the final act when actions suddenly begin to have consequences and events move to a very dark conclusion. It feels far too late in the day to introduce an actual plot, and striking the right balance between slapstick and tragedy is extremely difficult. The film would have benefited greatly from some heavy editing in the first half to alleviate this tonal clash.

Despite the shortcomings of the project, it’s worth mentioning that Argento still displays his skill as a filmmaker. There’s his usual good use of locations, and he mounts the later action scenes with a confident touch. The editing choices and camera movements serve the story by resisting the stylistic flourishes and innovations employed in his Giallo thrillers. It’s ironic, then, that the film’s most memorable moments occur when he does indulge himself with two slow-motion sequences. In the first, the Austrians gun down a young mother in the street while her young child runs away screaming; in the other, a man is shot in the back of the head in an extreme close-up. Unfortunately, the first half of the film was a knockabout comedy!

The film was a significant box office failure in his homeland, and Argento retreated into the world of the Giallo with ‘Deep Red/Profondo rosso’ (1975). He has concentrated on such material ever since and, to date, has not ventured into the commercial mainstream again. It’s interesting to speculate on what might have happened if the film had been a success. The world may have missed out on such incredible works as ‘Suspiria’ (1976), but, then again, his decline over the past couple of decades may not have been so significant if he’d diversified his subject matter and output to some extent.

An undoubted misfire but still of interest to fans of Argento’s work.

The Killer Is On The Phone/L’assassino… è al telefono (1972)

‘It’s something disgusting, poking about in a person’s soul.’

An actress collapses when seeing a strange man on a visit to England. When she regains consciousness, all memory of the last five years of her life has gone. The trauma seems linked to the death of an old lover and suppressed recollections of his murder…

Journeyman director Alberto de Martino returns to the Giallo for the third and final time, delivering his most atypical example of the Italian mystery thriller. British actress Anne Haywood takes the lead, with the most recognisable cast member being American Telly Savalas.

Stage star Eleanor Loraine (Heywood) arrives at Dover on the ferry as part of a promotional trip to England. On assignment at the port is jobbing assassin Ranko Drasovic (Savalas), who is waiting to provide a warm welcome to a high-ranking European diplomat about to sign an oil treaty. When the two lock eyes, Heywood hits the ground in a dead faint, and Savalas makes himself scarce. When Heywood wakes, she seems fine, blowing off the attention of medical staff and heading to her London home. Only the house is gone, and the men working on the road tell her it was demolished ages ago. She calls her sister Dorothy (Willeke von Ammelrooy) back home, wanting to talk to her lover Peter Vervoort (Roger Van Hool), only to discover that he died in a car accident five years earlier.

Back in Belgium, she’s put under the care of Dr Chandler (Antonio Guidi) while colleagues and associates fret and worry. She was in rehearsals with self-centred leading man Thomas Brown (Osvaldo Ruggieri) in a high-profile stage production of ‘Lady Godiva’, but now the opening is in doubt. The theatre is bankrolled by prominent industrialist Margaret Vervoort (Rossella Falk), but she’s only involved because the stage was the passion of her late brother Van Hool. Initially, Heywood seems to be recovering, but memories of the afternoon that Van Hool died keep bubbling to the surface. Soon she’s convinced that Savalas murdered him. Since their accidental encounter, the assassin has stayed close at hand, determined to eradicate all evidence of his old crime.

Amnesia is a hackneyed old plot device in big-screen thrillers, so it’s pleasing to report that De Martino’s film handles it better than most. The condition is still presented in a fairly simplistic manner, but at least there are no convenient Hollywood ‘bump on the head’ moments. It is odd, however, that it takes the results of an injection of sodium pentothal to prompt an accurate diagnosis from Dr Guidi when it’s pretty obvious what’s happened. Later on, he also suggests that someone may be threatening her life, but god only knows how he comes to that conclusion so early in the film.

The good news is that Heywood does an excellent job of conveying the bewilderment and self-doubt that the condition creates. For once, our protagonist has good reason not to call in the police; she’s afraid of what she might have done in the past and can’t recall. This dilemma is highlighted by a clever double twist about halfway through the second act when it suddenly appears that Heywood might not be the innocent victim of events after all. It’s also a neat way to highlight the unreliability of memory, a theme which could have been developed more fully with a more consistent screenplay.

Unfortunately, much of the script, by de Martino and four other writers, is a little vague on plot details, particularly regarding the events succeeding Van Hook’s murder five years earlier. Everyone believes he died in a car accident, but Heywood’s fractious memories suggest he was stabbed and that she was right there when it happened. It’s also heavily inferred that the assassin raped her afterwards, which begs a very obvious question: why didn’t he kill her if she was in his power? Why leave an eyewitness alive? Did she somehow escape from him or the car accident he successfully staged somehow to cover his crime? The film provides zero information on any of it or Heywood’s behaviour and mental condition in the aftermath of these traumatic events. Perhaps this was an intentional choice to heighten the ambiguity of events, but it feels a little haphazard and lazy instead.

Savalas’ participation is also somewhat disappointing. It’s not that he fails to convince as a professional hitman, more that he gets so little to do. For the most part, he remains almost a one-dimensional background character, although, of course, he gets to face off against the leading lady at the climax. These scenes are by far the film’s best, with the desperate Heywood using her knowledge of the working mechanics of the darkened theatre to fight back against the ruthless killer. The struggle culminates in a wonderfully ironic finish which de Martino delivers expertly, drawing out the final moments to an excruciatingly effective length.

Giallo fans focused on high body counts, and creative kills will most likely find the film disappointing, although anyone familiar with the director’s other efforts in the area should know what to expect. Both ‘The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit’ (1969) and ‘The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio’ (1972) leaned more toward crime than horror. Both were presented with an absence of stylistic extravagance, and his choice of soft focus and slow motion to convey Heywood’s flashbacks indicates that such flourishes were not one of his strengths. Instead, the emphasis is on suspense and mystery; although there are script issues, he delivers an efficient dose of both.

Heywood was a former beauty queen and stage actress who entered British films and television in the 1950s. She worked her way up to leading roles reasonably quickly, including the heroine of ‘Vengeance/The Brain’ (1962), the most satisfying film version of Curt Siodmak’s famous science fiction novel ‘Donovan’s Brain.’ Soon afterwards, she became known for projects tackling progressive themes, such as D H Lawrence’s ‘The Fox’ (1967), the transgender drama ‘I Want What I Want’ (1972), and the interracial love story ‘Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff’ (1979). The end of the decade also brought the starring role in Pier Carpi’s controversial and poorly received horror film ‘Ring of Darkness’ (1979). Beset by production and financial problems, the film boasted a cast including John Phillip Law, Irene Papas, Marisa Mell, Frank Finlay and Valentina Cortes, but is most likely remembered for the nude participation of Lara Wendell, who was significantly underage at the time.

Solid, professional Giallo with some good aspects, sold by a powerful central performance.