A handsome young man about town picks up a beautiful girl in the park. Together, they go out on a first date, but she comes home afterwards with her dress torn. She relates her version of the night’s events to her mother, while the man tells a very different story to his friends. His apartment building’s doorman also has his own take on what happened…
Dated Italian romantic comedy which serves as a time capsule of an era, and perhaps a nation, by showcasing some very different attitudes towards women, sexual politics and relationships to those that we hold today. It also proved a rather odd, and unprofitable, diversion in the career of horror director and visual stylist Mario Bava.
Good looking playboy Gianni (Brett Halsey) is out for some action, cruising the daytime streets and trying to pick up women. After several rebuffs, he targets the beautiful, dark-haired Tina (Daniela Giordano) who is walking a dog. She flees into the park, but he chases after her, and they eventually meet when he trips over her pet. She returns home in the early hours after their first date with a torn dress and relates her version of events to her straight-laced mother. After getting her back to his place on a pretext, he tried to rape her. When she resisted, he hit her a few times before she escaped. Yes, my friends, it’s just your typical romantic comedy.
Meanwhile, Halsey is in a bar with friends, explaining how he got scratched on the forehead. In his story, he’s a shy, awkward man pursued by women, particularly the voracious Giordano. She’s an aggressive, sexual predator who almost forced him into sex after their date, wounding him in her violent passion. A third version of the evening’s event is provided by doorman Beppe (Dick Randall), who enlivens the long hours looking after the building where Halsey lives by moonlighting as a part-time peeping tom. According to him, as soon as the couple get back, Halsey invites neighbours Giorgio (Robert H Oliver) and Esmeralda (Pascale Petit) to join them. Halsey and Oliver disappear behind closed doors because they’re gay, while Petit attempts to seduce Giordano by drugging her drink, so she passes out. Yes, my friends, it’s still just your typical romantic comedy.
The fourth version of events comes from lab-coated scientist Calisto Calisti, who explains the flexibility of the truth by citing the differing viewpoints of some of the animals on Noah’s Ark! His version of the evening’s events with Halsey and Giordano is far more grounded and less dramatic. She tears her dress by accident, and Halsey is injured at the same time. When she wonders how she will explain the damage to her mother, it’s Halsey who suggests a story of attempted rape. They both laugh because it’s so hilarious. Obviously. Don’t forget; it’s a romantic comedy!
This last segment has led some commentators to theorise that Bava was using this scenario to examine notions of objectivity and the impossibility of arriving at absolute truth, much in the manner of Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ (1950). The figure of the scientist does appear to be providing an accurate record of events. However, he’s revealed at the climax as just another unreliable narrator; just a metaphor for the art of storytelling itself. That’s as may be. It could have also have been that Bava was simply trying to have a little fun with the lightweight material.
Fans of the maestro will spot a few of his signature touches here. There’s a 360-degree camera pan around Halsey and Giordano as they share a shower, and some foregrounding of objects in the nightclub scene to create the illusion of size and depth. There’s also a brief sequence where Giordano gazes at Halsey through a vase of red glass, but it’s slim pickings for fans of his more visually stylish work.
The film is more interesting today for some of the attitudes laid out on casual display. Violence towards women is no big deal, rape is a source for humour, and our leading man is introduced kerb-crawling and trying to pick up women as if they were prostitutes. Giordano also gets some very unfortunate dialogue about homosexuality. Times have sure changed. Of course, it’s probable that this was also a reflection of the famous Italian ‘machismo’ as much as anything else. It’s interesting to note that Halsey is easily the most effective as the swaggering playboy and looks rather uncomfortable in the segment where he plays a homosexual. On the other hand, Giordano sails through the picture, convincing in all the various iterations of her character.
It was also a very troubled production. Money ran out early on, and the picture had to be re-financed. Additionally, despite being filmed in 1969, it wasn’t released in Italy until three years later, despite hitting cinemas in Canada in 1971. The delay was caused by director Riccardo Freda, who was working as head of the Italian censorship board at the time. He blocked the film’s release; in later years, claiming that he did it as a favour to his old friend Bava, because of the low quality of the finished work.
Halsey was an American actor whose career began with small, unfeatured roles in big studio films before he transitioned to more notable work on US Network television, including appearances in ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘Highway Patrol.’ His big break in films came in the title role of monster sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959) and, eventually, to co-lead in ‘Follow the Sun’, a production from 20th Century Fox Television that followed the adventures of two dashing young journalists based in Hawaii. Offers of leading film roles followed from Europe, and he spent the rest of the 1960s starring in a variety of projects, including Spaghetti Westerns, crime dramas and spy flicks such as ‘Bang You’re Dead’ (1965) and ‘Espionage in Lisbon’ (1965). His continental tour ended with another Bava project ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) before he returned to the US and guest slots on countless Network TV shows throughout the 1970s and 1980s, like ‘Columbo’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Airwolf.’
Viewed half a century later, it’s necessary to make some allowances for the prejudices and attitudes on display. However, the film is simply not very funny and, as that’s the primary function of a comedy, that’s the standard by which it should be assessed.