Cross Current/Un omicidio perfetto a termine di legge (1971)

‘Marco, what are you doing with that stick?’

A wealthy sportsman struggles with his memory after surviving an emergency brain operation. He starts to wonder if the speedboat accident that necessitated the medical procedure was really an accident at all. Then an ex-employee turns up dead after arranging a to meet him…

Disappointing Giallo thriller from director Tonino Ricci that weds a flat, matter of fact approach to a story that only kicks into gear late on. This Italian-Spanish co-production needed five writers to bring it to the screen (including the director), but, sadly, they don’t seem to have had one worthwhile idea amongst them.

The big race does not end well for speedboat jockey Marco Breda (Phillipe Leroy) when his craft cracks up, and he plummets into the water. The impact results in a blood clot on the brain and an emergency intervention by Professor Mauri (Franco Fantasia). Leroy comes through the procedure but is left with some memory loss. Fantasia warns his wife Monica Breda (Elga Andersen) that he needs rest and relaxation for a successful convalescence.

Retreating to their luxury home, they spend time hanging out with Leroy’s business partner Burt (Ivan Rassimov), racing rival Tommy Brown (Franco Ressel), and Andersen’s best friend Terry (Rosanna Yanni). Leroy feels a little disorientated despite the familiar surroundings and is bothered by headaches. Things worsen when his ex-gardener Sante Foschi (Franco Balducci) asks for an urgent meeting. It seems that he has important information for sale. But the man turns up dead the following morning, apparently the victim of a hit and run driver. Police Inspector Baldini (Julio Peña) is unconvinced that it was an accident, and Leroy starts to think he may have committed murder during a memory blackout.

From there, the story takes us into familiar territory, the setup favoured by earlier Gialli such as ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah/Il dolce corpo di Deborah ‘(1968) and ‘A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia’ (1970). We have a small number of protagonists in one setting whose actions are predicated by hidden loyalties and apparent shifting relationship dynamics. The question quickly becomes who is doing what to whom and how will their various schemes play out in the final act.

Unfortunately, none of this is very gripping, even when one of the quintet is strangled in the boathouse early on. The script gives none of the cast any strong material that can be used to build an engaging character and the audience response to their respective fates is likely to be bored indifference. The film throws in a whole bunch of plot twists in the last ten minutes, none of which are very imaginative, although credible enough when taken in isolation. And then, with one final flourish, knocks over this fragile house of cards with one last revelation that pushes suspension of disbelief well beyond the breaking point.

Ricci worked as an assistant to horror maestro Mario Bava on ‘Erik the Conqueror’ (1961) and finished the 1970s with a couple of silly movies about aliens living in the Bermuda Triangle. A few years later, he jumped on the ‘Road Warrior’ bandwagon with actor Bruno Minniti as a cut-price ‘Mad Max’ in the post-apocalyptic world of ‘Rush the Assassion’ (1983) and ‘A Man Called Rage’ (1984). There was more than a whiff of ‘vanity project’ about both films, although the latter has some beautiful moments of glorious stupidity.

Leroy appeared in further Gialli, such as the obscure ‘Devil’s Ransom/Senza via d’uscita’ (1970) and the poorly regarded ‘Naked Girl Murdered In The Park/Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco’ (1973). By contrast, Rassimov made a genuinely memorable appearance with Edwige Fenech in Sergio Martino’s classic ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971). He teamed up with both its star and director again for the equally lauded ‘All The Colors of the Dark/Tuttid i colori del buio’ (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key/Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave’ (1972).

A slow trudge through a turgid mystery drama, crowned by an absurd ending.

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.

Marta/…dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora (1971)

‘When you live alone in a house like this, even a visit from the police helps.’

A rich young man is haunted by nightmares of a night of sex and his mother’s fatal accident. Left alone on his estate over the weekend, he takes in a beautiful woman who is on the run from the police. She is unsure of his motives until she discovers her striking resemblance to his absent wife, who either left of her own free will or was murdered…

Understated Giallo mystery from co-writer and director José Antonio Nieves Conde, who focuses on suspense and intrigue rather than working his way through a long roster of murders. It was a Spanish-Italian co-production reuniting the co-stars of Conde’s previous film ‘The Great Swindle/Historia de una traición’ (1971), although this feature made it to the big screen first.

Wealthy landowner Don Miguel (Stephen Boyd) lives the quiet life on his rambling country estate with old married couple Arturo (George Rigaud) and Elena (Isa Miranda). Sure, he has his little eccentricities, such as having a telescope permanently set up so he can view the insane asylum down the road where his father died. There are also those strange, green-tinted dreams where the wife who suddenly left him and his stern, disapproving mother (Nélida Quiroga) seem oddly interchangeable. Perhaps it’s understandable when the one met her fatal interaction with the attic stairs so soon after the other departed.

When the faithful servants take a weekend break to visit their son, Marta (Marisa Mell) comes into his life, being chased halfway across his estate by his pack of guard dogs. He soon finds out that she’s fleeing a crime scene, leaving behind the seriously injured man who tried to assault her. Not only does Boyd put her up in one of the spare rooms for the night, but he also hides her when policemen Jesús Puente and Howard Ross come a-calling. The fugitive soon discovers that she bears a striking resemblance to Boyd’s wife, Pilar (Mell again, as a blonde), who left him two years before.

Boyd is initially reluctant to engage with his new guest, preferring instead to play the perfect host and watch her undress through a convenient peephole and then wander the dark passageways at night carrying a poker. However, Mell knows how to push his buttons, and the two soon tumble into bed. The following day marks Boyd’s annual pilgrimage to his mother’s grave, and Mell wants to go along for the ride. They dress her up as the missing Pilar to avoid official interest, using the missing woman’s old clothes and a blonde wig. Red flags all around, of course, but the fact that Mell cheerfully goes along with the masquerade only confirms something the audience has already begun to suspect; her arrival on the scene was much more than a lucky coincidence.

Conde’s drama poses two self-evident questions; what secret lurks in Boyd’s past, and what is Mell’s game? Given that this is basically a two-hander with no other characters being of much consequence, it’s pleasing to report that Mell and Boyd shoulder the responsibility well. Boyd is particularly eye-catching, alternating between a passive calm and occasional emotional outbursts which arrive unexpectedly. Mell also gets a role she can sink her teeth into, something she was rarely offered during her career. Yes, she has some of her usual ‘bad girl’ moments, but there’s more depth to Marta than that, and she presents a complete, rounded character with surprising vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, the performers are better than the script. It’s a slow burn for the most part but starts kicking into gear around the hour mark with some surprising revelations. These arrive a little earlier than might have been expected, but it’s excellent timing as it sets up some intriguing possibilities for the final act. Sadly, Conde fumbles the ball, discarding these opportunities in favour of a generic, all-too-predictable climax that lacks imagination and any true creative spark. On the plus side, however, the shifting dynamics of the Mell-Boyd relationship over the runtime are nicely handled. There are a couple of wonderful moments where an excited Mell confronts her new lover with a secret she has uncovered in the hope of provoking an unguarded response. Instead, he simply shrugs his shoulders, reveals he knew about it all the time and off-handedly throws her another crumb of new information.

Considering that the film has little action and what does happen is almost exclusively confined to the rambling house, Conde does an excellent job of maintaining a level of suspense and audience interest. The drama could easily come across as a small scale, made for television production, but it’s to his credit that it never does. The principal cast is an immense help in this regard, of course, and there is also solid, professional work from cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri. He was a camera assistant on Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960) and received full credit on the director’s ‘Ginger and Fred’ (1986). By then, he’d worked many times for Franco Zeffirelli, including celebrated films such as ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ (1972) and ‘La Traviata’ (1982). He finished his career with over 120 feature film credits, including Vittorio de Sica’s ‘The Garden of the Finzi-Continis’ (1972), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Having starred in two films together, Boyd and Mell began a real-life tumultuous love affair which culminated in an (unofficial) gipsy marriage shortly after filming wrapped, the union being sealed with blood! The couple even attended an exorcism ritual, and Mell reflected in later years that they had been lovers in several previous lives. However, the relationship didn’t last, with Boyd deciding to leave and never see the actress again. He’d made his mark on the big screen as Messala in William Wyler’s epic ‘Ben Hur’ (1959) and featured in other notable big-budget projects in the 1960s. There was the musical ‘Billy Rose’s Jumbo’ (1962) with Doris Day, a starring role alongside Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness and James Mason in ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ (1964) and as the lead in science-fiction favourite ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966). He died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of just 45.

A promising Giallo, which unfortunately turns out to be much less than the sum of its parts. Worth watching for the leading performances, however.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet/4 mosche di velluto grigio (1971)

‘My dear, I’d like you to meet Jerkoff.’

A young rock musician confronts a mysterious man who has been following him. During the confrontation, they struggle and the stalker is killed. The musician flees the scene and doesn’t tell the police, but a strange masked figure has witnessed the event…

The final part of young Italian director Dario Argento’s so-called ‘Animal’ trilogy that kickstarted the Giallo phenomenon of the early 1970s. ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’ (1969) had received international acclaim, and follow up ‘The Cat O’Nine Tails (1972) also enjoyed a positive critical and commercial reception. He gets a sole screenplay credit this time around, although fellow directors Luigi Cozzi and Mario Foglietti share an original story nod.

After a studio session pounding the drum kit with his progressive-rock combo, Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) is followed on the way home by a man in black wearing sunglasses. It’s not the first time, either; Brandon has been noticing this shadow for about a week and decides to put an end to the not-so-covert surveillance. Chasing the figure into an abandoned theatre, the two struggle, a knife flashes, and the man falls dead into the orchestra pit. What’s worse is that when Brandon looks up, he sees a masked figure in the gallery taking photographs.

Convinced he will be jailed for the killing, Brandon keeps his mouth shut. However, it’s soon clear that the eyewitness intends blackmail when one of the incriminating photographs turns up in the drummer’s record collection during a house party. He employs failed private eye, Arrosio (Jean-Pierre Marielle), to help unravel the mystery on the advice of his friend God(frey), played by Bud Spencer. After a break-in at their home, Brandon sends his wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer) out of town for her protection, and it’s not long before her cousin Dalia (Francine Racette) is sharing his bed instead. Unknown to everyone, family maid Amelia (Marisa Fabbri) has discovered Brandon’s secret and plans to blackmail the blackmailer.

After Argento’s unhappy experience with producers on ‘The Cat O’Nine Tails’ (1972), this project found the young filmmaker firmly in the driving seat and able to indulge his flair for experimental editing and filmmaking. These choices result in some truly outstanding set pieces that build extraordinary levels of fear and suspense. The sequence where Fabbri waits for her blackmail payoff in the park is a particular tour-de-force. Argento uses skilful edits that both convey the slow crawl of the hours and express how the boredom of the long wait lulls the maid into completely losing track of time until it’s too late.

The other murder setups are striking and memorable, with some stunning shots from the killer’s POV and there’s also a superbly orchestrated dream sequence. Argento also exhibits his usual flair for identifying interesting locations and using exterior and interior space in fresh and original ways. He also employs the highest-speed camera then available to capture the outstanding slow-motion of the film’s final moments.

If this sounds like a recipe for a true Giallo classic, it would be, if not for some major flaws. The first problem is with the flat performances of Brandon and Farmer, who fail to invoke any emotional investment from the audience. This could have been Argento’s intention, however. Italian cinema of the period was highly critical of the young and idle rich, and our golden couple here are living off an inheritance Farmer has received from a relative. Their house parties tend to be typically indolent, lacklustre affairs. The uncomfortable Brandon thumbs through his record collection, dodging glances from the lovelorn Maria (Laura Troschel) and trying to ignore the crass and mean anecdotes of smug boor Andrea (Stefano Satta Flores).

In contrast, Brandon’s interactions with his friends and bandmates are far more animated and natural. He grooves with keyboard player Mirko (Fabrizio Moroni) in the studio and jokes with the demonstrative Spencer and the Professor (Oreste Lionello), who share a shack down by the river. Apparently, the duo exist off Spencer’s fishing and sometimes eat the results raw! The contrast between their earthy existence and that of his wife’s arrogant smart set is hardly subtle, but it gets the point across. However, it’s rather a high price to pay if Brandon’s rather dour performance was the result.

The only character engaging audience empathy is useless private detective Marielle who cheerfully admits that he’s never solved a case. The character is saddled with some tiresome gay stereotyping, however. On arriving at the investigator’s office, Brandon finds him painting the walls, which is apparently enough to type him as gay and probably useless as a detective. Those facts may be true, but it seems a baffling conclusion to draw from a bit of home decorating. Pleasingly, Marielle proves a good deal sharper than his professional record would suggest.

Some Argento humour arrives in the person of Gildo Di Marco, who was so memorable as the stuttering pimp in ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). However, his appearance this time is little more than a cameo as a harrassed mailman. There’s also a scene set at a trade show where coffin makers peddle their new models, which could have been very funny if developed further but would have been out of place in the overall story if allowed too much screen time.

Unfortunately, there are some fundamental issues with Argento’s screenplay. Although the resolution to the mystery doesn’t create any glaring plot holes, it’s still wildly implausible and takes a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. Additionally, there’s a significant problem with the way the killer is unmasked. This involves something called Optography, taking a photograph of a victim’s eye after death to capture the last image it saw from the retina. This outlandish idea originated with physiologist Wilhelm Kühne in the 1870s and was actually used to help convict a mass murderer in Germany as late as 1924, despite the lack of scientific evidence that the technique has any credibility whatsoever. The notion did become popular in fiction, if not in real life, and had been thoroughly debunked by the time of Argento’s film. The fact that a modern-day police force would employ it as an investigative tool in 1971 is plainly ridiculous, but what’s worse is that, in the film, it actually works!

One unfortunate outcome of the project was a falling out between Argento and famous composer Ennio Morricone. The great man’s music had graced both of the director’s previous films, but they violently disagreed over his contribution here. The argument led to Morricone walking out, and the two didn’t work together again until ‘The Stendahl Syndrome’ (1996), a quarter of a century later. The good news is that this led to Argento’s introduction to experimental rock group Goblin, who provided memorable scores for his films’ Deep Red’ (1975), ‘Phenomona’ (1985) and ‘Sleepless’ (2001). Sought out by other filmmakers, the band also provided the music for films such as George A Romero’s classic ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s cult response ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979).

Brandon was overseas talent, an American actor a little short in screen experience, but one who had impressed in the Broadway show ‘Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? (1969), a production which is largely credited as launching the acting career of a certain Al Pacino. He is probably best remembered for the UK action series ‘Dempsey and Makepeace’ from the mid-1980s where he co-starred with wife-to-be Glynis Barber.

Farmer was also born in the United States and was of French extraction. Her career began in juvenile roles in the 1960s, including a featured supporting part in ‘Spencer’s Mountain’ (1963) with Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. Choosing to place school and travel before her screen career, her next significant role wasn’t until Barbet Schroeder’s ‘More’ (1969), which featured a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. She came to Argento’s attention when she relocated to Italy after becoming disillusioned with the political scene in America. Subsequent appearances included the lead in Francesco Barilli’s Giallo ‘The Perfume of the Lady in Black/Il Profumo della signora in nero’ (1974), Lucio Fulci’s ‘Black Cat/Gatto Nero (1981) and mercenary action flick ‘Code Name: Wild Geese’ (1984) with Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine and Klaus Kinski. She left acting behind in the early 1990s to pursue a career as a sculptor.

A flawed film in many ways, it’s still a must-see for fans of Argento and the Giallo. The shortfalls in acting and story are easily compensated by some notable examples of the director’s dazzling technique.

The Cat o’Nine Tails/Il gatto a nove code (1971)

‘Hey, we’re in luck! They haven’t walled her up yet.’

A break-in at a genetics laboratory seems unsuccessful, but one of its scientific staff dies unexpectedly a short time later. A blind man has reason to think that the man was murdered and enlists the help of a journalist to try and prove it…

After the surprise international success of ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969), young writer-director Dario Argento went straight back to the Giallo thriller with another twisted murder mystery. However, expectations were considerably higher the second time around, and producers recruited some better-known American talent to help sell the finished results to overseas markets.

Blind man Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) is out for his usual evening stroll with young neice Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) as his guide. Their route takes them past the neighbouring Terzi Institute, a top scientific facility researching hereditary and disease control. The sharp-eared Malden overhears a suspicious conversation as they pass a parked car and asks the child to look at the men inside, although she can only see one of them clearly. Later that night, someone slugs the laboratory’s watchman and breaks into the building. Due to the prestigious nature of the institute, the case lands on the desk of Inspector Spimi (Pier Paolo Capponi) and attracts the attention of hotshot reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus). But nothing seems to have been taken, so it doesn’t seem like much of a story.

Then things take a decidedly sinister turn with the sudden death of scientist Doctor Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero), who worked at the laboratory. He falls from a railway station platform and under the wheels of an incoming train. It seems to be an accident, but De Carolis recognises him as the man she saw in the car, and Malden senses a story. Joining forces with Franciscus, the trio head off to see news photographer Righetto (Vittorio Congia), who happened to snap a shot of Alighiero’s accident. But when Francisus arrives, he finds Congia murdered, and the photo negatives are gone.

Digging deep into the Institute, Fransiscus finds they are carrying out crucial governmental research linking chromosome imbalance to criminal behaviour. He begins to suspect industrial espionage as Dr Braun (Horst Frank) lives the high life and meets surreptitiously with that late Alighiero’s girlfriend, Bianca (Rada Rassimov). Then there’s the autocratic Terzi (Tino Carraro) and his beautiful wild child daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak), who is stringing along Dr Esson (Tom Felleghy). Young genius Dr Casoni (Aldo Reggiani) proves none too friendly either, but Dr Momebli (Emilio Marchesini) seems harmless enough. Of course, Franciscus and Spaak fall into bed together, but events take a far darker turn when the killer targets both the journalist and the blind man.

Argento’s debut film was such an overwhelming success, both at home and abroad, that the young Italian filmmaker was under a lot of pressure to deliver a high quality follow up. Subsequently, the director has gone on record to that effect, mentioning production interference and disappointment with the final result. However, this is still a solid, entertaining Giallo with some outstanding aspects, even if it is burdened with a few noticeable flaws.

On the credit side of the scale is that Argento shows an increasing grasp of filmmaking techniques. The murder at the railway station and the high-speed car chase through the streets of Turin are cut to absolute perfection. The single-frame ‘flash forwards’ to upcoming scenes can be a little distracting, but, sensibly, Argento does not over-use the device, so it remains effective. The combination of slick visuals with another fantastic soundtrack by Ennio Morricone builds suspense, and, once again, Argento delivers some memorable kills. Malden is also superb as the retired journalist, both convincing as a blind man and presenting a fully-rounded character with the subtlest of gestures and expressions.

However, there are issues with the story. Argento’s screenplay (co-written with an uncredited Bryan Edgar Wallace) provides almost too many suspects, with the inevitable result that most are severely underdeveloped. The romance between Franciscus and Spaak is also a drag. Spaak seems strangely disconnected from the material, and Franciscus lacks the necessary charisma to paper over the cracks. It doesn’t help that the love scenes are so poorly written that their interactions are awkward and uncomfortable rather than emotionally engaging.

There’s also the business of our killer’s superpowers. Arriving at Congia’s studio to kill the photographer just as he’s developing the incriminating negative could be put down to coincidence, of course. Following Rassimov just when she discovers a vital clue to the mystery could be an example of superior foresight. But to be waiting in a cemetery at midnight just when Franciscus and Malden turn up to search for the same clue is pushing credibility just a little bit too far!

Argento injects a little humour into the proceedings with quirky minor characters, much in the manner of the pimp in ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). Here we get a cop with a culinary fixation, a barber who is too keen to discuss slashing throats while on the job and housebreaker Gigi the Loser (Ugo Fangareggi), whose side-hustle is winning swearing contests in the back of a pool room.

Although an imbalance of chromosomes leading to criminal behaviour sounds like the worst kind of contrived pseudo-science dreamed up by the movies, it does have some basis in scientific fact. Although the earliest studies in Scotland in the mid-1960s suggested a direct cause and effect, that conclusion has been heavily disputed. It is generally accepted now that individuals with the extra chromosome can experience emotional difficulties. These issues can lead to aggressive behaviour, but anything more specific is thought to be an overly simplistic interpretation of the facts.

Malden was a Hollywood veteran who began his screen career after success on the Broadway stage as part of the Group Theater, which included director Elia Kazan. By the late 1940s, Kazan was a Hollywood A-Lister, winning the Best Director Oscar for ‘Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). When he came to film ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951), he cast many actors who had appeared in the hit Broadway production, Malden included. Despite only having around half a dozen film credits in small roles to that point, Malden waltzed away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Three years later, he reunited with Kazan and Marlon Brando for ‘On The Waterfront (1954) and was again nominated for the same award. A long string of prestigious projects followed, along with a succcessful transition to the small screen as Det. Lt. Mike Stone in over 100 episodes of ‘The Streets of San Franscisco’ where he was partnered with a young Michael Douglas. He died at the age of 97 in 2009.

Amongst cult movie fans, Franciscus is best remembered for following in Charlton Heston’s footsteps, as he went ‘Beneath The Planet of the Apes’ (1969) and for roping Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs in ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ (1968). In the mainstream, he had a successful television career that lasted over 20 years, from a regular supporting role on ‘The Naked City’ (1958-59), to leading ‘The Investigators’ (1961) and then in the title roles of no less than four network series: ‘Mr, Novak’ (1963-65), ‘Longstreet’ (1971-72), ‘Doc Elliott’ (1973-74) and ‘Hunter’ (1976-77).

Perhaps not the follow-up fans of Argento’s remarkable debut feature might have wanted, but still a high-quality Giallo with some genuinely memorable moments.

Black Belly of The Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero (1971)

‘With needles dipped in deadly venom, the victims are paralysed – so they must lie awake and watch themselves die!’

A businessman confronts his wife with photographic evidence of her infidelity. The following day she is found brutally murdered. Naturally, the investigating detective suspects the husband, who has gone into hiding, but a second corpse is discovered shortly afterwards. There seems to be no connection between the two women, but the method employed by the killer is identical…

Middling Giallo thriller from director Paolo Cavara coming hot on the heels of Dario Argento’s international breakthrough ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). It was far from the last time such a production would make obvious nods to Argento’s film, but it was probably the first. There’s an unknown killer in a black raincoat and gloves, a title that combines a colour with a critter and, of course, a cast frontloaded with beautiful women.

Marital bliss is a distant memory for the uptight Paolo Zanni (Silvano Tranquilli) and blonde bombshell Maria (Barbara Bouchet). Already separated, someone has been sending compromising photos of the promiscuous Bouchet to her husband. There’s a violent argument, and she turns up stabbed to death the next day. Tranquilli is the prime suspect in the eyes of the jaded Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini), of course, and his guilt seems confirmed when he takes it on the lam. But then another girl turns up dead, killed in the same unique manner, stabbed after being paralysed by an acupuncture needle inserted in the neck. Victim number two ran a shop selling expensive furs while dabbling in drug smuggling, which seems to have no connection to Bouchet.

As his investigation progresses, Giannini starts to focus on a possible blackmailing ring connected to the beauty salon run by Laura (Claudine Auger), where Bouchet was a regular client of blind masseur Ezlo Marano. Certainly, friendly waiter Ginetto (Eugene Walter) seems too good to be true, and receptionist Jenny (Barbara Bach) seems less than happy about the continuing investigation. Then there’s the darkly handsome Mario (Giancarlo Prete), who could have been Bouchet’s photographic partner and certainly seems to be showing an unhealthy interest in wealthy older woman, Franco Valentino (Rossella Falk). Giannini pursues the investigation with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm and is on the verge of quitting the force. Only his bubbly wife, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), provides any respite from the depravity all around him.

This is an adequate horror-thriller with some good points, but it falls short in several important areas. The screenplay by Lucile Laks (based on a story by Marcello Danon) is serviceable enough but lacks complexity, with the final scenes revealing that there was a lot less going on than the audience might have thought. The climax is also somewhat contrived, and although it makes sense, it’s a little unconvincing. This lack of conviction seems to be reflected in the performances, with Giannini displaying little charisma and only Ettore Mattia registering in a minor role as a seedy private detective.

There are some weak developments in the story, too, including a sequence where the blackmailer films Inspector Giannini and his wife making love. This is quite a complex surveillance operation, with a camera pointed down into their bedroom from the high rise across the street. How did the blackmailer find out where the couple lived? I have no idea. Why does he do it anyway? No clue. All it does is lead into a scene where the film is taken from a crime scene and shown to a large room filled with senior police officers. They seem to find the whole thing pretty hilarious as the mortified Giannini storms out in a huff. Perhaps they just don’t like him; after all, someone does need to tell him that when you have an informant with crucial information about a murder spree, you don’t let them go with an agreement to meet them the next day when they will tell you everything. That’s going to go about as well as Bouchet’s ‘corpse acting’ (try not to breathe, Barbara!)

The film’s main virtues are on the technical side. As is often the case in Giallo, the killings receive the director and cinematographer’s fullest attention. These aren’t up there with the very best you will see, but they are well-mounted and reasonably stylish with some good use of extreme lenses and POV shots. By far the best aspect of the production, though, is another haunting soundtrack from the staggeringly prolific composer Ennio Morricone. On this occasion, the central motif is the sound of a woman exhaling over the music. These sounds convey a sense of dread and menace that the visuals never evoke.

A minor point of interest arises when Giannini visits entomologist Daniele Dublino. The scientist is using shipments of tarantulas to smuggle cocaine under the highly reasonable assumption that customs agents won’t want to check the cargo too closely. He also shows Giannini how a black wasp kills the arachnids (spiders aren’t insects, Mr Scriptwriter!) by paralysing them first. Of course, this ties into the murderer’s method, but it’s just a blind alley and comes over as a lame attempt to justify the film’s title.

Cavara’s film does have one significant aspect, though; its connection to the James Bond franchise. The cast features three past and future Bond Girls. Auger had appeared as Domino opposite Sean Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965), Bouchet was Miss Moneypenny in the spoof version of ‘Casino Royale’ (1967), and Bach went on to spar with Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977). And it doesn’t end there; Giannini played secret agent Rene Mathis in two of Daniel Craig’s outings as 007: ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) and ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008).

The killer’s unusual M.O. and the scenes where it’s employed are probably the only things likely to leave a lasting impression on most viewers. A reasonable Giallo, just not very memorable.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971)

‘And I was afraid I’d have to do without any bratwurst.’

A neglected diplomat’s wife returns to Vienna with her husband during a series of unsolved murders of young women. She takes a lover but gets a phone call threatening to expose the affair. She suspects the culprit maybe her old boyfriend with who she had a violent sexual relationship…

High-quality Italian-Spanish Giallo thriller that launched the career of director Sergio Martino and took leading lady Edwige Fenech to the next level. Previously Martino had delivered a little regarded Spaghetti Western and a trio of documentaries, and Fenech was best known for her beauty rather than her acting chops. She had primarily appeared in sexy comedies, although she’d made an undeniable impression in supporting roles in Giallo pictures ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970).

Returning to Vienna, diplomat Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) is immediately rushed from the airport into a top-level meeting, leaving bored young wife Julie (Fenech) to go home in a taxi. On the way, she has a vivid flashback to her affair with the handsome but sadistic Jean (Ivan Rassimov). It’s a striking scene and the first sign that the audience is in for something special. It’s almost operatic in the way it combines slow motion, dissonant music and sexual violence as the two wrestle on the ground during a rainstorm.

‘Go away, my flashbacks are far more interesting than you…’

With hubby almost permanently absent at work, there’s little for Fenech to do now she’s back home but hang out with cynical, liberated BFF Carol (Conchita Airoldi). Apart from the usual round of shopping and afternoon tea, this involves attending a vaguely naughty party with the smart set where girls wear paper dresses and tear them off during a catfight. Here, she meets Airoldi’s cousin, the ruggedly handsome George Corro (George Hilton) who’s in town to claim an unexpected inheritance that he’s sharing with Airoldi. Fenech attempts to resist his charms, but Hilton is persistent, and self-restraint is not her forte. Unfortunately, Rassimov is still in town and sending her flowers, although his intentions could hardly be described as romantic. Meanwhile, young women are being brutally murdered with a razor by an unknown killer.

After her first night with Hilton, Fenech gets an anonymous phone call demanding money in exchange for silence about the affair. She suspects Rassimov is behind it and confesses all to her best friend. Airoldi goes in her place to deliver the blackmail payoff in a public park at sunset, but she is attacked with a razor and murdered. Fenech suspects Rassimov is the serial killer, of course, but the police find he has an unshakeable alibi. As events twist and turn, Fenech starts to believe she is marked for death.

‘A blackmail payoff? No problem, afterwards we can talk about men some more.’

An excellent mystery coupled with some beautiful visuals, an unflagging pace and good performances make for one of the finest examples of the Giallo sub-genre. Director Martino handles the material with flair and style, and the screenplay by old hand Ernesto Gastaldi is tight and well-disciplined. In terms of credibility, the complex plot takes one twist too many at the end, but it makes for a satisfying resolution. It’s also been such a highly enjoyable journey to get there that it hardly matters. The dubbing in the English language version is not great, and the viewing experience improved significantly by watching the subtitled original.

The film was a watershed moment for Fenech as an actress and a tricky assignment. After all, our weak-willed heroine takes almost no positive action throughout, even on her own behalf; perfectly happy to abdicate responsibility for her actions and let Airoldi deliver the blackmail payoff, even though it’s likely to be a dangerous task with a mad killer on the loose. She also needs constant validation from her relationships with men, and usually in a physical sense. There’s little attempt to address her character’s psychology or analyse her sexual needs, particularly concerning her violent relationship with Rassimov. This is showcased in another memorable flashback where the couple has sex in a blood-soaked bed filled with glass fragments from a broken wine bottle.

‘And they told me there was a wardrobe budget this time…’

It’s a challenging task to keep an audience onside with such a passive, flawed character, and it’s a testament to Fenech’s increasing skill as an actress that she remains sympathetic throughout. The poise and personality she displays is a marked improvement on her showing in previous roles. It proved a stepping stone to a remarkable cult film career that included starring roles in several notable Giallo films. She worked with Martino again on ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key’ (1972). Other examples were ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972) and ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ (1975). She also continued to appear in many sex comedies throughout the 1970s and early 1980s and eventually began a second career as a highly successful producer for Italian television.

The male members of the cast also deliver strong turns here, with all three principals displaying an economy of performance and quiet charisma that serves their characters and the story. Airoldi also makes something out of the ‘best friend’ who keeps her undies in the fridge; world-weary and carefree on the one hand, but also practical and loyal at heart. The scene where she is stalked at the payoff rendezvous is one of the film’s highlights; a tense and unsettling sequence where Martino’s camera deftly captures the isolation and vulnerability of the victim as she walks through the public grounds of Vienna’s famous Schönbrunn Palace.

‘Just because he forgot our anniversary last week….’

After the Giallo craze subsided, Martino carved out a long career in Italian cinema. He teamed with Fenech again for some of her sexy comedies, as well as delivering such cult titles as the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1978), Dr Moreau knock-off ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and that glorious slab of sci-fi cheese ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). Like Fenech, Hilton became primarily associated with the Giallo, appearing with her again in ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972). He also appeared in Martino’s ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), Tonino Valerii ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), and Luigi Cozzi’s ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975).

As a side-note, if the spelling of the title character’s name seems a little odd, then it was allegedly because a woman approached producer Luciano Martino and asked that it be changed to spare her embarrassment! If this seems a little far-fetched, it isn’t easy to come up with an alternative explanation.

A highly accomplished, entertaining Giallo delivered by a fine cast and a talented director who displays a fine visual sensibility and storytelling prowess. Highly recommended.

A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin/Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (1971)

‘Carol, there were no red-haired hippies in the park today.’

The daughter of an eminent politician dreams of having a lesbian affair with her promiscuous next-door neighbour, eventually stabbing her to death in a final nightmare. Then the police find the woman killed in just such a way after a drug-fuelled orgy in her apartment…

High-quality Giallo from director Lucio Fulci, who was one of the first to exploit the opportunity created by the international success of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). It was probably inevitable as he’d already delivered the excellent Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) before Argento’s breakthrough hit. This project would prove to be another winner.

Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) is a troubled woman and feels abandoned by the men in her life. Father Leo Genn is a prominent barrister whose time is taken up with his move into politics, and husband Frank (Jean Sorel) is also focused on his career. To make matters worse, she’s tormented by dreams of neighbour Julia (Anita Strindberg), a tall, statuesque blonde whose wild parties and uninhibited lifestyle have earned the disapproval of all the other residents of Belgravia Square.

Bolkan’s fantasies of lesbian sex with Strindberg progress into a vision of murder, but analyst Dr Kerr (George Rigaud) takes this as a sign that she has overcome her repressed desires. Unfortunately, police inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) is called to Strindberg’s apartment after she’s stabbed to death in precisely the same way. Bolkan’s fingerprints are on the weapon, but suspicion falls on other family members as Baker tries to solve the puzzle and apprehend the killer.

Fulci teamed with four other writers to thrash out the film’s complex screenplay, including Roberto Gianviti and José Luis Martínez Mollá, veterans of ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969). Nearly everyone becomes a viable murder suspect, including Sorel, who is playing away with Bolkan’s best friend Deborah (Silvia Monti) and his teenage daughter Joan (Ely Galleani), who may have read the notes Bolkan made about her dreams.

Matters are further complicated by two hippies; red-haired Hubert (Mike Kennedy) and knife-wielding artist Jenny (the excellent Penny Brown). They appeared as silent witnesses in Bolkan’s murder dream and seem to know more than they are telling about the night in question. After Bolkan is bailed and Baker comes to doubt her guilt, the investigation begins to focus on them, particularly after Kennedy pursues a frightened Bolkan into an empty church. This sequence is one of the film’s high points as our heroine takes refuge behind the pipe organ, gets attacked by bats and flees across the roof with Kennedy in hot pursuit. Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller assists with some wonderfully contrasting lighting here, with Bolkan as much in danger in the bright sunlight as when she’s hidden in deep shadow. The excellent use of the London locations is enhanced by another masterful score from composer Ennio Morricone.

There are some other memorable set-pieces too, and even the more commonplace scenes are delivered with genuine panache. The work of Fulci’s technical team is excellent throughout, but it’s the combination of Bolkan and Fulci that truly delivers. The combination of the director’s restless camera and off-kilter visuals married to Bolkan’s commitment to the role allow the audience a doorway into the living nightmare of a neurotic woman on the edge of collapse. Screen veterans Baker and Genn provide the necessary grounding, and there’s a nice contrast between Baker’s virile charisma and Genn’s sly wit. Sadly, Sorel can’t do much with the philandering Frank, and Monti is somewhat wasted, although, like Strindberg, her finest hour in the Giallo was yet to come.

The film is also notable for its escalation within the Giallo of both nudity and gore. Argento’s debut had bloodless for the most part, and genre pioneer Mario Bava had generally employed heavy restraint in such matters. Here, the stabbing in Bolkan’s dream is pretty explicit, and there’s a notorious scene involving some disembowelled dogs at the clinic where Bolkan is sent to rest. Animal lovers are likely to find this scene genuinely upsetting, and its presence in the narrative makes no sense at all. The effects were so flawlessly executed that SFX technician Carlo Rambaldi had to produce the canine props to defend Fulci over accusations of animal cruelty.

Fulci directed two more examples of the Giallo: ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ (1972) and ‘The Psychic’ (1978). The former starred Bolkan, and both were written in collaboration with Gianviti. However, his lasting fame rests on the series of horrors he delivered during the early days of the video home rental boom. In the United Kingdom, titles such as ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), ‘City of the Living Dead (1980), ‘The Beyond’ (1981) and ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) were targeted for heavy cuts and censorship during the ridiculous, media-created ‘Video Nasty’ circus. Kuveiller teamed with Fulci again on ‘The New York Ripper’ (1982) and was the cinematographer on Billy Wilder’s ‘Avanti!’ (1972) but it’s probably best celebrated for his work on Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red’ (1975).

Bolkan was a Brazilian actor who was playing leading roles soon after debuting in all-star hippie romp ‘Candy’ (1968) with Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. She acted opposite Peter Falk and Britt Ekland in ‘Machine Gun McCain’ (1969), with Franco Nero in ‘Detective Belli’ (1969) and in Luchino Visconti’s acclaimed production of ‘The Damned’ (1969). That same year she won an Italian Golden Globe for her role in ‘Metti, una sera a cena/Love Circle’ (1969) and starred in Elio Petri’s Oscar-winning ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). More acclaim followed throughout the decade, but her career slowed in the 1980s. However, she remained active in the local industry, writing, directing and starring in the feature film ‘I Didn’t Know Tururu’ (2000). She has also spoken of an alleged affair with US President John F Kennedy.

Although he fails to make much of an impression here, Sorel was almost a permanent fixture in Giallo. His credits include ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), ‘A Rather Complicated Girl (1969), ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Short Night of The Glass Dolls’ (1971), as well as finding time for a supporting role in Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-nominated ‘The Day of The Jackal’ (1973).

Baker had been a mainstay of British cinema since the 1950s after his breakthrough role in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower RN’ (1951). His intense personality found the perfect showcase in ‘Zulu’ (1964), a film he also co-produced. He died far too young in 1976. Genn brought poise and dignity to many authority figures on the screen from the 1930s onwards and was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor for ‘Quo Vadis’ (1952). He typically played Brigadiers, Generals, barristers and cabinet ministers over the years, but occasionally tackled something different, such as Starbuck in John Huston’s problematical ‘Moby Dick’ (1956).

An outstanding Giallo that brings together a complex, satisfying story with excellent filmmaking technique and a superb leading performance.

Oasis of Fear/Un Posto ideale per uccidere (1971)

Oasis of Fear/Un Posto ideale per uccidere (1971)‘She’s just expressing youth’s innate rebellion against authority figures in general.’

A young, free-spirited couple fund their international travelling by selling pornography. Getting into trouble with the police in Italy, they are told to leave the country but travel south instead. Subsequently, misidentified as bank robbers, they go on the run, taking refuge with a Colonel’s wife who offers them sanctuary. But is her offer of help as selfless as it seems?…

Fourth in a quartet of Giallo thrillers from prolific director Umberto Lenzi who also co-wrote this French-Italian co-production with Lucia Drudi Demby & Antonio Altoviti. Sadly, the law of diminishing returns had set in and yet another thriller centred around the machinations, and sexual interactions of two beautiful women and a handsome man holed up in a luxury villa can’t help but feel a little stale and over-familiar.

Feckless Dick (Raymond Lovelock) and wild child Ingrid (Ornella Muti) are hitting the glamorous hot spots of Europe, living hand to mouth by selling pornography which they obtained legally in Copenhagen. They make a fortune, blow it on the high life, fall in with a biker gang and sell naked pictures of Muti taken in a photo booth. Eventually, they run afoul of the authorities in Italy and are told to leave the country.

Travelling south, they are misidentified by a gas station attendant as suspects in a bank robbery and forced to go on the run. Temporary sanctuary arrives in the unexpected shape of military man’s wife, Barbara (Irene Papas) who catches them siphoning petrol from her car. Rather than report them to the police, she invites them to stay instead and the younger couple are only too happy to agree to another slice of the good life.

However, when the Colonel fails to come home, Papas asks them to spend the night to keep her company. The evening turns into an impromptu drinking session and party with the older woman putting the moves on Lovelock. This doesn’t bother Sixties Child Muti too much until she discovers the two naked in bed later on. In the morning, Lovelock wakes up alone with a wad of cash in his pocket and a nasty surprise waiting in the garage when he and Muti decide to blow town.

This is a rather underpowered Gaillo from writer-director Lenzi that fails to bring anything new to the table and suffers in comparison with his earlier entries into the sub-genre ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) which it most closely resembles. The plot is a little thin, and it’s not that hard to see what’s coming before the twists arrive. Similarly, although Papas is excellent, the script gives none of the principals all that much to work with to develop fully-rounded characters. This is particularly unfortunate for Muti and Lovelock, although Muti does take advantage of the limited opportunities she is given.

Lenzi might have given the younger characters a far stronger introduction if he hadn’t chosen to deliver the first twenty minutes of the film in a scattershot, almost cinema verite style. The action jumps rapidly from one scene to another in an almost bewildering, over-busy collage of images and camera zooms. Many tiresome counter-culture boxes are ticked; including acid rock, dissing the Man, a gang of bikers upsetting the ‘straights’ and some typically vague hippie philosophy about the outlaw lifestyle. Some commentators consider that the film is making a statement concerning youth versus the establishment but, given the lack of sub-text in Lenzi’s other outings, it would seem that it was probably unintentional if it’s present at all.

Lovelock was born in Rome to an Italian mother and a British father and took his first steps into the film industry with a notable supporting role in Giulio Questi’s odd Spaghetti Western-horror hybrid ‘Se sei vivo spara/Django Kill!’ (1967) and worked his way up quickly to more prominent roles, such as the lead in Sergio Capogna’s ‘Plagio’ (1969). He followed this film by joining the cast of hit musical ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ (1971) and, although this did not open the door to Hollywood, he enjoyed a long, successful career in Italian cinema. His most significant projects were probably cult horror ‘The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue’ (1974) and crime drama ‘Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man’ (1976).

This was only Muti’s third film, having made a sensational debut at 14 years of age opposite actor Alessio Orano in ‘La moglie più Bella/The Most Beautiful Wife’ (1970), which means she was barely 16 when this film was released. Given the number of nude scenes she has here, her age would have been a definite issue if the film had been made in certain countries. International recognition eventually followed as the irrepressibly sexy Princess Aura in Mike Hodges’ revisionist version of ‘Flash Gordon’ (1980) and later years brought a long line of starring roles in Italian cinema and multiple award nominations and wins.

Lenzi returned to the Giallo for ‘Seven Blood-Stained Orchids/Sette Orchidee macchiato di Rosso’ (1972), ‘Knife of Ice’ (1972), and ‘Eyeball’ (1975) before jumping on the horror bandwagon in the 1980s. This came with questionable jungle adventures like ‘Eaten Alive!’ (1980) and the controversial ‘Cannibal Ferox’ (1981) which featured actual animal killings and was banned in 31 countries.

Ultimately a disappointment, this is a passable thriller that may well try the patience of fans of Giallo who expect a little more bang for their buck.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l’ariete (1971)

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)‘Don’t bother to express your sympathy; poor Sofia was a living corpse.’

A handsome young teacher at a language school is brutally attacked and hospitalised on his way home from a New Year’s Eve celebration. The following month another party-goer is found strangled to death and thrown down the stairs in her home. A black leather glove is discovered next to both victims, leading the police to suspect the same culprit…

Smooth, professional Giallo from director Luigi Bazzoni with some fine technical credits and a standout performance from star Franco Nero. Under the influence of Dario Argento’s international smash ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970), the sub-genre was beginning to conform more closely to the template it’s recognised for today. Specifically, a serial killer with black gloves, a twisted plot lining up a series of suspects and the big reveal of the killer’s identity and motivations at the climax.

It’s just another New Year’s Eve, and drunken journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is propping up the bar trying to catch the eye of ex-lover Helene Volta (Silvia Monti). Lovers Edouard Vermont (Edmund Purdom) and Isabel Lancia (Ira von Fürstenberg) wrestle each other across the dancefloor, and Doctor Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano) tries to ignore his invalid wife Sofia (Rossella Falk). Meanwhile, John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is headed for the vomit comet in the Gentleman’s facilities. And it gets worst for Bonuglia from there as he’s beaten with a length of pipe in an underpass on the long walk home, an attack interrupted by track driver Walter (Luciano Bertoli) who’s been racing the engine of underage prostitute Giulia (Agostina Belli) nearby.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘Half a gallon of whiskey is not a working expense…’

The police are no closer to finding the culprit a month later when Falk is murdered in her home, but link the cases due to the single black glove left at each scene. Nero begins to investigate the situation, using it partly as an excuse to spend time with old flame Monti. His initial enquiries reveal that brand new widower Romano is paying off Bertoli for unknown reasons and that Bonuglia was upset by the announcement of von Fürstenberg’s engagement to Purdom. It also turns out that Bertoli’s sister is none other than Nero’s sometime live-in girlfriend Lu (Pamela Tiffin). Worse still, after another suspicious death, Police Inspector Haller (Wolfgang Preiss) has the journalist pegged as his prime suspect.

This is a complex scenario with events focused on this small, intertwined group of acquaintances, and moving quickly throughout the film’s tight 91-minute running time. However, after the final reveal, audiences could be forgiven for concluding that most of these complications and blind alleys are little more than meaningless diversions. The core mystery is pretty simplistic, to say the least, and not particularly creative. In short, the plot is a little messy, and the killer’s motivations, such as they are, are thin and barely explored. Elements in the final act such as astrology and a young child in danger seem to have been almost thrown in at random with no foreshadowing, adding to the vaguely shambolic feeling.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘This Blade Runner sequel is bound to be great…’

But while the story may not be the best, the film scores very highly in many other departments. Director Bazzoni and award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro combine to create a highly atmospheric visual package, highlighted particularly during the climactic confrontation on an abandoned factory site. There’s another classy score from Ennio Morricone, and a selection of striking locations, including the overgrown wasteground beneath the road bridge where the killer stalks Belli. This is one of the film’s outstanding suspense scenes, only surpassed by the early sequence where the invalid Falk is trapped in her house, which Bazzoni turns into a real tour de force.

However, it’s the outstanding Nero who catches the eye, giving a performance of rare intensity and conviction. His drunken journalist is a man on the edge of disintegration, battling the bottle with a weary fatality that’s ever-present in his eyes and drawn features. His chemistry with Tiffin is also terrific, playful and caring for the most part, but with the potential to explode into sudden violence without warning. Again, it’s played just right, providing insight into his fractured state of mind without compromising his role on the side of the angels or overshadowing the mystery. It’s a balancing act and one that Nero seems to accomplish without effort.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘I’m sorry, this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship…’

Bazzoni had less than half a dozen feature credits in his short career. However, these included outstanding early Giallo ‘The Possessed’ (1965) (a co-directing credit with Franco Rossellini) and the potentially stunning ‘Footprints On The Moon’ (1975) a film fatally compromised by its dreadful twist ending. Storaro also worked on the latter before picking up Oscars for ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), ‘Reds’ (1981), ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) and ‘Dick Tracy’ (1990) as well as many other international awards. He has created a new 35mm film format with the intention of its adoption for both television and film as a universal aspect ratio and developed a series of custom colours gels for cinematographers that bears his name.

Nero was no newcomer to the Giallo, having appeared in early example ‘The Third Eye’ (1966) but was launched to international stardom of the back of his title turn as ‘Django’ (1966). He played Lancelot du Lac in Joshua Logan’s all-star musical ‘Camelot’ (1967), where he met wife-to-be, Vanessa Redgrave. He’s appeared in such diverse projects over the years as Luis Buñuel’s ‘Tristana’ (1970), ‘Enter the Ninja’ (1981) and ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990) with Bruce Willis. When working on this film, he flew to England and back on weekends to shoot his scenes for Otto Preminger’s ‘Saint Joan’ (1972). He has recently won several prestigious ‘Best Actor’ awards for his role in ‘La Danza Nera’ (2020).

Technically, a Giallo out of the top drawer, but all those qualities are somewhat undermined by a weak mystery and untidy story development.