In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)‘The sea had always been his idol, and it became his tomb.’

An escaped convict on the run from the police witnesses a woman burying a body at a coastal villa. When he’s apprehended a few minutes later, he keeps his mouth shut about what he’s seen. When he’s released thirteen years later, he returns to blackmail the family involved but finds that he’s picked the wrong people to victimise as he gets far more than he bargained for…

Wild and wacky Giallo/horror mash-up from director Sergio Bergonzelli that almost defies description. The audience is treated to a barrage of bizarre, fragmentary plot points and some incredibly melodramatic over-acting from his cast, coupled with a heavily stylised and distracting filming technique.

On the run jailbird, Pascal (Fernando Sancho) has just enough time to see governess-housekeeper Lucille (Eleonora Rossi Drago) digging a grave in the family garden before the cuffs are back on and he’s dragged back to prison. The police don’t notice what Drago has been up to and Sancho isn’t about to grass her up. He’s got another plan in mind. However, the coastal villa happens to belong to notorious mob boss André (Alfredo Mayo).

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

The wardrobe designer should have probably checked their medication.

By the time Sancho is released from prison and returns to demand money from the family, the gangster’s been missing in action for many years. Ever since that night when Drago was doing her spot of midnight gardening strangely enough. Worse still, there’s more than one skeleton in the mansion’s closest. Or more accurately in the acid bath in the outhouse. Most of them have been put there by daughter, Falesse (Pier Angeli) but cousin Colin (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) is just as likely to be responsible. Drago seems happy to help clean up any inconvenient consequences. The vicious Sancho doesn’t realise he’s on borrowed time, of course, and begins his reign of terror.

This sounds like the formula for a dark, blackly comic thriller with Sancho and the family plating a cat and mouse game of treachery and murder. But that wouldn’t be an accurate description of the film. By the time Sancho returns to the scene, director Bergonzelli, who co-wrote with Fabio De Agostini, has already assaulted the audience with a bewildering and apparently random, series of events. These have mostly involved Angeli flirting with any male visitors to the house, and then killing them. Caba also has some fun hobbies: feeding the pet vulture, keeping in the front garden and strangling dogs. On the other hand, Drago just has recurrent flashbacks to naked women being gassed by the Nazis at Belsen.

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t go any further over the top.’

Not weird enough for you? Well, all this action is punctuated by crazy camera angles, black and white still photographs, split-second inserts of a speeding train and some of the worst decapitation FX in movie history. If the intention was to demonstrate our main characters’ fragmentary states of mind, this scattershot technique is understandable. However, Bergonzelli pursues it so remorselessly over the first half of the film that it’s likely to have induced a similar mental state in his audience. Many will check out early and just turn off the film, believing it to be 90 minutes of meaningless self-indulgence. But, surprisingly enough, they’d be wrong.

It turns out that the first hour or so of the film is just a curtain-raiser to the main story and the film suddenly settles down to tell it. Godfather Mayo, who was supposedly the victim of the first murder at the start of the film, comes back alive and well. He’s been in hiding for the last 13 years, but with a brand new face courtesy of plastic surgery. Now he’s back to reconnect with his family, but he’s in for a surprise or two. And so are we. Because what follows is a series of such outlandish plot twists and reveals that they take the suspension of disbelief to a new level. Does everything make sense now? Yes. Is it even remotely believable? Not a chance. If Bergonzelli was trying to make the point that traumatic events in the past can turn anyone into a mad killer, well, any fan of the Giallo could have told him that!

In The Folds Of The Flesh/Is Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)

‘You don’t really expect me to believe that, do you?’

At the distance of half a century and with little production information on the film available, it isn’t easy to know what the filmmakers intended.
Were the final plot developments supposed to be so insanely ridiculous? Was it a black comedy? That would certainly explain the overcooked performances. After all, Angeli was a very capable actress who was on the cusp of stardom in the 1950s after her breakthrough appearance opposite Gene Kelly in ‘The Devil Makes Three’ (1952). She appeared in ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956) with Paul Newman. She could act, even if she never made it to the top of the tree. Well, you would never know it from her turn here as she unmercifully chews the scenery in a cheap blonde wig and too much makeup.

It’s not just Angeli either. This was Drago’s final film before retirement, and she had over 20 years of experience in Italian cinema, going straight into leading roles with almost her first picture, ‘Altura’ (1949). She’d acted with big-hitters such as Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954), Orson Welles in ‘David and Goliath’ (1960), and Jack Palance in ‘Sword of the Conqueror’ (1961) but, again, you’d question her ability on this evidence. It seems likely then that the cast just gave the performances that the director wanted.

This is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is an interesting one. It’s likely to polarise opinion and, as such, it might be worth your attention, but fans of the more familiar Giallo formula would be advised to stay away.

Assassination In Rome/Il Segreto del Vestito Rosso (1965)

Assassination In Rome (1965)‘I am the biggest idiot in the whole world!’

An American newspaperman working in Rome becomes involved with an old flame who is visiting the city when her husband vanishes without a trace. They team up to find him, and their investigations connect the disappearance with the recent discovery of a man found dead by the Trevi Fountain with a package of heroin in his coat pocket…

A stale and perfunctory crime thriller that was a co-production between studios in France, Spain and Italy. A familiar setup leads to a series of remorselessly dull, predictable developments bereft of any wit, creativity or invention. The final ten minutes provide what little interest there is, but it takes a very long time to get there, and co-writer and director Silvio Amadio seems to have little idea how to keep his audience on board for the ride.

It’s just another day at the office for square-jawed news editor Hugh O’Brian. Sure, last night’s date was interrupted by a diversion to the Trevi Fountain to visit with a John Doe and old friend Inspector Baudi (Alberto Closas), but it didn’t look like much of a story. Then he hears of the disappearance of a visiting American tourist and realises that the missing man’s wife is Shelley North (Cyd Charisse). Of course, she’s ‘the one that got away’ so he leaps on his milk-white steed and rides to the rescue! Closas throws his hat into the ring when he finds that the man at the fountain was murdered, and had absent hubby’s address in a little red book.

Assassination In Rome (1965)

‘I wonder what’s for lunch.’

O’Brian’s investigations lead him to a series of mysterious thugs, gangsters and men who sit behind newspapers in cafes. All the while he’s fending off the playful attentions of society columnist Erika (Eleonora Rossi Drago).

Then Closas encounters a pair of dimwitted comedy-relief burglars who have accidentally lifted the item that everyone is after and, of course, reporter and policeman team up in the way that only ever happens in movieland. In a particularly riveting scene, O’Brian and Charisse visit with her old family friend Philippe Lemaire, who may as well be wearing a sign around his neck that says ‘You can’t trust me. I am a big liar.’

For the most part, this is all painfully predictable and mundane, and the cast seems to have little enthusiasm for proceedings. Drago tries to lighten things up with a bubbly performance, but O’Brian is no better than solid, and Charisse seems barely awake most of the time. There is an interesting sequence where events take O’Brian backstage at the city’s legendary Cinecittà, founded in 1937 by Benito Mussolini! After the war, it became the largest film studio in Europe and the list of directors who have worked there over the decades is an outstanding ‘who’s who’ of the film world and includes Martin Scorsese, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, Federico Fellini, and many, many others. Sadly, it’s only a brief visit, but we do see a ‘sword and sandal’ picture being shot. The film’s only dramatic virtue is in its climax, which provides a twist that, while not entirely credible, is still reasonably surprising, although a little more justification for it afterwards would certainly have helped.

O’Brian was best known for his extensive work on US Network TV, mostly in Westerns. His film roles were not so frequent but he did appear in prominent supporting roles in the swangsongs of two cinema legends: John Wayne (‘The Shootist’ (1976)) and Bruce Lee (‘Game of Death’ (1978), although Lee died early in the production). Writer-Director Amadio is notable for two back-to-back Giallo thrillers he made later on: ‘Amuck!’ (1972) and ‘Smile Before Death’ (1972).

Assassination In Rome (1965)

‘Can I go home now?’

Charisse was a star of the ballet stage by the age of 14 and famously danced on screen with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; the former in ‘Silk Stockings’ (1957) and ‘The Band Wagon’ (1953), and the latter in ‘Brigadoon’ (1954) and ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ (1952). Her career as a dramatic actress outside musicals never really took off but she usually displayed far more screen personality and acting chops than she is able to muster here. Perhaps she had simply lost her enthusiasm for the business; after all, she made less than a handful of further features after this and concentrated instead on making guest appearances on many Network TV shows.

The most interesting cast member here is actually lesser-known supporting actor Drago. In her mid-twenties. she co-starred opposite three-time Oscar-nominated Italian star Marcello Mastroianni in ‘Enticement’ (1952) and with Oscar-winning Hollywood refugee Claudette Colbert in ‘Love, Soldiers and Women’ (1954). Later on in the decade and at the start of the 1960s, she worked with directors Julien Duvivier and Michelangelo Antonioni and starred opposite Orson Welles, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio Gassman, Jean Marias, and Jean-Louis Trintignant in a variety of projects. However, the size of her roles and the prestige of the pictures had begun to shrink by the time, she encountered ‘The Flying Saucer’ (1964) and her last two credits find her firmly down in the cast list in Massimo Dallamano’s somewhat notorious ‘Dorian Gray’ (1970) and as a housekeeper in Giallo thriller ‘In The Folds of the Flesh’ (1970).

I have seen this picture categorised as both a part of the Eurospy and of the Giallo genres. Although an argument can be made for its inclusion in either or even both, it’s not really worth taking the time or trouble to worry about it. This is simply a painfully dull crime thriller with a mildly interesting conclusion.

The Flying Saucer/Il Disco Volante (1964)

Il Disco Volante (1964)‘Our province is nice and full of oxygen and stop with those ugly things coming from Rome.’

A small town in the rural area of Treviso is experiencing mysterious power blackouts, and residents are reporting UFO sightings and close encounters with Martians. The local Police Sergeant doesn’t believe a word of it, but, after the media descends on the community, he is tasked with getting to the bottom of things…

Mildly amusing satirical ltalian comedy, which is not just a showcase for the talents of comedian Alberto Sordi, but a vanity project of sorts. The film was shot exclusively in his hometown and many of the crowd scenes seem to be populated with the real residents just going about their usual business. Sordi plays Police Sergeant Vincenzo Berruti, a stolid, unimaginative plodder who has no time for all these extraterrestrial shenanigans. However, by the end of the film, his investigations have brought him up close and personal with the spacecraft in question and its Martian crew. In one of the film’s best jokes, he accepts all this with the same lack of emotional reaction that he displays in his earlier disbelief.

Proceedings begin with the media’s invasion of the town, but there’s little evidence to back up their wild proclamations of first contact. Sure, there have been power outages and strange circles in crop fields, but eyewitnesses seem less than credible. A young child is more concerned with finding an excuse to escape the punishment promised by her father than providing accurate testimony of what she claims to have seen. A middle-aged housewife comes over as more sexually frustrated than reliable, what with her talk of a naked, well-endowed alien who she’s happy to confirm was definitely the male of whatever species he happens to belong to.

Il Disco Volante (1964)

‘Who’s on First?’

But it soon becomes obvious that these space-suited beings are the real deal. One of them even pops round to take a spot of tea with widowed farmer Silvana Mangano and her brood of unruly kids. This charming domestic scene is observed by the local priest (Sordi, again), but no-takes him seriously due to his close relationship with the products of the local vineyard.

Mangano then ‘sells’ the Martian to local aristocrat Count Crosara (Sordi, yet again), but her brand new furs and motor car are confiscated by Sordi (as the Police Sergeant this time). By this point, he’s hot on the trail after convincing testimony from an accountant (and yes, he’s played by Sordi as well!) who has been carrying out regular inspections of barn interiors with the Mayor’s glamorous wife (Monica Vitti).

As the film progresses, it becomes pretty clear that the science fiction element is merely a plot device to allow Sordi to poke fun at various small town archetypes: the drunken priest, the self-serving Mayor, his young sexpot wife, the slow-witted policeman, and the vaguely mad posh people who live in the big house on the hill. This means that there is very little plot development as such, and the aliens do nothing more than wander about a bit and get mistaken for revellers in fancy dress at the local carnival. Beyond being identified as Martians, we never find out anything about them or what they want.

There’s also a very odd sequence where Sordi (playing the accountant this time) is subjected to electroshock therapy after being committed to the local asylum. Now, a patient receiving ECT (it’s now known as electro-convulsive therapy) is not really my idea of comedy gold and director Tinto Brass drags the sequence out with some fairly nightmarish visuals. Perhaps it just goes to prove that comedy and good taste do have national boundaries!

Il Disco Volante (1964)

‘No idea who these two weirdos are, but look at me! I’m in a movie!’

Sordi was a top-flight star in Italy for many years, and enjoyed international recognition; winning a Golden Globe for ‘Il Diavolo’ (1963) and appearing prominently in the multi-starring ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965)’ along with Terry-Thomas, James Fox, Robert Morley and Gert Fröbe.

Vitti was thrust onto the global stage as ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966) opposite Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde by director Joseph Losey, but remained in continental Europe after the film flopped. She was already a star there after appearing in several projects for famous director Michaelangelo Antonioni. Brass is still renowned for his many excursions into erotica, but ironically is still most famous for the notorious ‘Caligula’ (1979), even though the film was taken out of his hands and had the hard core content inserted afterwards by producer Bob Guccione.

A decent light comedy with a satirical slant that would have benefited greatly from more attention to its overall story development.