The Double/La controfigura (1971)

The sea is the colour of the sea, and the sky is the colour of the sky.’

A handsome man is shot in an underground parking garage. As he lies on the ground injured, his thoughts flashback to the events that brought him there. It all began on a beach holiday with his new, young wife…

More psychological drama than horror thriller, director Romolo Guerrieri delivers an unusual Giallo based on a novel of the same name by Libero Bigiaretti. A cast of familiar faces people the fractured narrative as Italian cinema takes another potshot at the empty, amoral lives of the idle rich.

Bleeding out on the concrete isn’t the way Giovanni (Jean Sorel) had planned to spend his day. Gunned down by the elderly Professor Bergamo (Antonio Pierfederici), his recent past starts flashing before his eyes. Where has he seen the old man before? His thoughts return to a beach in Morocco and time spent frolicking in the sand with his blonde wife, Lucia (Ewa Aulin). The couple only recently married, and the older Sorel is protective of his new bride, unhappy that she is interested in beach bum Eddie Kennan (Sergio Doria). It’s soon clear that Aulin isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but her seeming flirtatious nature is little more than youthful high spirits. However, the jealous Sorel can’t see it that way.

Meantime, there’s more trouble on the horizon for our not-so lovable hero. Despite an apparent talent for architecture and a good education, he’s preferred living off his family’s money to applying himself to the world of work. Unfortunately, economic conditions are putting the squeeze on the family business. His brother (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) suggests that he takes a more active role in affairs, but, of course, Sorel isn’t very interested.

His life begins unravelling further when thanks to his new mother-in-law, Nora (Lucia Bosè). No, it’s not the usual problem with parental disapproval, but more to do with the fact that he’d much rather sleep with her than her daughter. When Bosè joins them on their Moroccan retreat, his desire soon escalates into an obsession, especially when she starts spending time with beach boy Doria. It all culminates in a sexual assault, although Sorel finds himself unable to perform at the crucial moment. Yes, this is one screwed-up dude!

Some commentators have advanced the opinion that any movie made in Italy during the early 1970s that features murder is categorised as a Giallo film by default. There is some merit to this opinion, and it certainly could be advanced in this case. There is no mysterious killer whose flashing knife provides a quickly escalating body count or any element of ‘whodunnit’; director Guerrieri shows us the shooter in the opening scene. There is no ambiguity regarding the culprit, only his place in Sorel’s story and the motivation for his crimes.

Director Guerrieri presents this tale as a series of disjointed puzzle pieces, and it is to his credit that he keeps a firm hand on the narrative so it never becomes confusing. Particularly necessary when we’re seeing through the eyes of a storyteller whose memories are jumbled with the occasional fantasy. Ultimately, it’s more of a character study than a mystery, delving deep into the troubled mind of a fully committed narcissist. Giovanni is a man who sees the world, and everyone in it, only in terms directly related to himself and his desires. It’s has a similar feel to ‘A Rather Complicated Girl (1969), which also starred Sorel in the principal role.

The film’s major problem is its lack of plot and incident. How the puzzle pieces fall into place at the end has a pleasing irony, but it all takes place rather suddenly with little foreshadowing beyond that opening scene. The main character’s lack of backstory is also a problem. It’s perhaps understandable that Guerrieri wanted to avoid such familiar tropes as childhood trauma or repressed memories. However, there’s no suggestion of anything that has formed Sorel’s dysfunctional personality other than the ease of a life cushioned by inherited wealth, and that seems a little simplistic and shallow.

There’s also the criminal waste of supporting actors Silvano Tranquilli and Marilù Tolo, who play friends who join Sorel and Awlin on their summer break. Yes, it’s nice to see Tranquilli as something other than a cop, but the script gives neither actor any material to use. It’s a particular shame for Tolo, who still manages to demonstrate once again that she can communicate more with her eyes than many actors can do with pages of dialogue. The writing also does Awlin very few favours, saddling her with an underwritten ‘barbie doll’ role and, it’s a credit to her ability that she brings some nuance to it.

This is Sorel’s show, though, and Giallo’s favourite poster boy gives another assured turn. Equally assured in more sympathetic or more ambiguous roles, the handsome Frenchman has enjoyed a long screen career beginning in the late 1950s. He first teamed up with director Guerrieri on ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah’ (1968), a film that proved very important in popularising the Giallo, as the casting of Hollywood star Caroll Baker helped sell it to lucrative American markets. Similar projects followed for the actor, including ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia’ (1970) and ‘In The Eye of the Hurricane/El Ojo del huracán’ (1971). He worked consistently through the decades since and became a familiar face on the French small screen in the 1980s and 1990s with frequent appearances in made for television films and mini-series.

A different type of Giallo with some good qualities that falls a little short in the story department.

Death Laid An Egg/La Morte Ha Fatto L’Uovo (1968)

Death Laid An Egg (1968)‘Now we want to try to conceptualise the chicken as the principal actor in the drama of modern life.’

A couple who run a state of the art chicken farm are unhappily married and both obsessed with her pretty blonde cousin. The arrival of a handsome publicity agent proves to be the catalyst that prompts intrigue, plans and betrayals that lead to murder…

Curious early Giallo picture from director and co-writer Giulio Questi, which tends to polarise audience opinion. The story itself is not too unusual; from the moment we learn that wife Gina Lollobrigida is the one with the money and husband Jean-Louis Trintignant is without, then we know we’re on familiar territory. Add live-in cute cousin Ewa Aulin and handsome suit Jean Sobieski to the mix, and it’s obvious there’s some plotting, double crosses to come and murder in the wind. The relationship dynamics of the quartet shift as often as their suspicions of each other and the story is quite well developed. There’s a couple of clever twists along the way too, even if the final wrap-up is a bit of a non-event.

What set this one apart is the way Questi handles the material. For a start, there’s his directorial style. He frequently favours extreme close-ups of the actor’s faces, which can be more than a little distracting and can over-exaggerate the performances of his cast. At tines, there’s some truly manic editing too; an early sequence of Trintignant driving is cut together with roadside publicity hoardings at such a rate as to almost qualify as subliminal advertising. It’s hard to see what Questi was going for here, unless he was attempting to show Trintignant’s fracturing psyche but, if that was the case, there are subtler ways to get that across.

There’s also a definite undercurrent of sleaze to these proceedings. Trintignant is regularly consorting with prostitutes, despite his declared love for Aulin, and these secret visits always involve his trusty blade. When Lollobrigida finds out about his infidelities, the two women talk it over. Their solution? To visit some downtown bars so they can learn to ‘dress like whores’ with Aulin insisting on choosing Lollobrigida’s underwear for her afterwards. It’s more like two teenage girls playing dress up than a serious response to a marital crisis. Additionally, a lot of the action is accompanied by Bruno Maderna’s avant-garde soundtrack. This is not music so much as an exercise in dissonance, an experimental cacophony that distracts from the story rather than serving it.

Death Laid An Egg (1968)

‘I feel like chicken tonight…’

But all that really takes second place to something that sits front and centre throughout the movie. And what is that something? Well… it’s chickens. Lots and lots of chickens. lf it’s not endless shots of the birds pecking seed in their cages at the farm, then it’s a visual reference to eggs of some kind. In almost every scene.

There are also several sub-plots about the fowl creatures that go absolutely nowhere; Sobieski presents Trintignant with some publicity drawings of chickens dressed as men for a new ad campaign, the farm’s former workers gather silently outside the new automated facility and allegedly commit vandalism on the premises. We also have mad scientist Renato Romano conducting some vague experiments with radiation. These lead to the birth of quick-growing birds with no heads or wings, which a disgusted Trintignant destroys in a fairly unpleasant scene. What has any of this to do with the main plot? Not a lot, as far as I could make out.

Death Laid An Egg (1968)

‘There’s nobody here but us chickens…’

Furthermore your enjoyment of the film may well be affected by how you feel about animal welfare. Although there are no specific scenes of cruelty, this is still a long, long way from free-range chicken farming and the sight of the birds cooped in their small cages may be upsetting for some. And its also probably best not to dwell on what happens to Lollobrigida’s dog.

Is the adoption of these ruthless methods of egg production supposed to reflect the greed and moral vacuum shared by our main protagonists? Was Questi’s intention to highlight issues of animal cruelty in modern agricultural processes? Does the brief musical fanfare that accompanies the closing credit card confirm that it was all meant to be a black comedy anyway? Not a clue.

Questi only had a short career behind the camera, his most notable other picture being ‘Django Kill!’ (1967) from the popular series of Westerns. Aulin starred as ‘Candy’ (1968) opposite Marlon Brando and had already appeared with Trintignant in ‘I Am What I Am’ (1967) another rather unusual stab at a Giallo film. She quit the business at the tender age of 23 and has kept out of the spotlight since. Lollobrigida, still looking fabulous in her forties, was coming to the end of a long career that included starring roles opposite David Niven, James Mason, Alec Guinness. Bob Hope, Rock Hudson, Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart.

Unusual, one-off thriller that’s baffling and irritating in equal measure, but maybe worth a watch for curiosity value alone.


Col Chore ln Gola/Deadly Sweet/I Am What l Am (1967)

Deadly Sweet (1967)‘Water on a woman’s body is like dew on rose petals.’

A young Frenchman in debt to a London club owner finds the man murdered and a beautiful young woman on the scene. Rather than go to the police, he takes her home and begins his own investigation…

Terribly dated Italian murder-mystery that’s often mentioned as an early example of a ‘Giallo’ thriller but is really more of an exercise in over-indulgence by director Tinto Brass. The story is simple enough; unemployed actor Jean-Louis Trintignant stumbles across pretty blonde Ewa Aulin in the back office of a sleazy club owner. Problem is that someone’s hit the bossman over the head with a blunt object and he’s not going to be cutting crucial shapes on the dancefloor anytime soon. Given that he is likely to be a prime suspect himself, Trintignant decides to solve the crime rather than call the authorities, although I suspect the fact that Auliin is rather a cute little blonde may have something to do with his rather insane decision.

From there, the mystery develops into a seemingly complex plot involving a stolen photograph, a midget, a kidnapping and the local underworld. Unfortunately, all this is just set dressing and misdirection; in fact, the story is nothing more than a series of opportunities for director Brass to get his cinematic rocks off. We get split-screen, quick cuts, coloured filters, split-second inserts and random switches from colour to black and white and back again. Allegedly these changes to the colour pallet were because of technical issues with lighting some locations, but it was more than likely a deliberate artistic choice. Quite often this seems to be nothing more than a knowing homage (or satire) of the Hollywood Film Noir, but as seen through a 1960s ‘New Wave’ lens.

There are also endless references to pop culture; Trintignant’s tiny flat is decorated with shots of Bogart, Gable and other classic film stars. There are brief ‘pop art’ insert when punches are thrown during fight scenes, much in the manner of the ‘Ker-Blam!’ captions in Adam West’s TV ‘Batman’ show. There’s a scene in a photographer’s studio where Aulin strips behind a screen while Trintignant flails away on a drum kit, eventually getting his clothes off and making like Tarzan as the film speeds up in the manner of a silent comedy. The stolen photograph also turns out to be just the MacGuffin that drives the plot, much in the manner of Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ (1966), which gets referenced more than once. Rather tellingly, not only do we never see this picture, we never even find out what it’s supposed to show! Yes, my friends, it’s THAT kind of movie.

In the end, the audience doesn’t engage meaningfully with any of the characters because we find out next to nothing about them; they are just archetypes. Trintignant spouts Chinese poetry and shoots a man dead without batting an eyelid, which is odd as l thought he was just supposed to be an out of work actor? Aulin brings a mischievous beauty to her femme fatale that goes some way to explaining Trintignant’s rather wayward decisions, but she gets little opportunity to do anything else. The performers, and their roles, are simply props for the director to use.

Deadly Sweet (1967)

‘Pretentious, moi?’

Trintignant has had an epic career in European cinema and is still acting as of 2019 at the age of 88. He was showered with awards for his role in ‘Amour’ (2012) and starred in Costa-Gravas’ ‘Z’ (1969) and Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colours: Red’ (1994) amongst many other prestigious projects.

Aulin, on the other hand, retired in 1973 at the age of 23, just five years after taking the title role in ‘Candy’ (1968) starring Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. Brass went onto notoriety as director of the infamous ‘Caligula’ (1979), although he did ask that his name be removed from the film when he discovered the producer’s intentions to insert hard-core pornographic footage filmed without the knowledge of the film’s big-name cast. After that, he carved out a niche as a filmmaker specialising in erotica and has enjoyed considerable artistic and commercial success in that arena ever since.

When interviewed about this production, Brass claimed that he ‘wanted to make a film in ideograms; like Chinese writing where a symbol indicates a whole concept.’

And that’s pretty much all you need to know.