After meeting on a skiing holiday, a couple fall in love and get married. But, as time passes, she loses interest in him and takes a lesbian lover. Then she dies in a car crash, her body burned beyond recognition. He inherits her extensive business empire, but was the wreck an accident and was it her who was driving the car anyway…?
Late 1960s Giallo picture that rounds up some of the usual suspects, but gives them little worthwhile to do in a convoluted tale of murder, false identity and intrigue. Director and principal screenwriter Riccardo Freda was a man with experience to spare but the intricacies of misdirection and mystery seem to have eluded his grasp on this occasion.
The film opens with a thrilling car chase, the pursued vehicle ending up in a fireball after a close encounter with a speeding passenger train. Following are Police Inspector Gordon (Luciano Spadoni) and John Alexander (Klaus Kinski). As the wreck burns, we flashback to more than a year before when Kinski met and wed the gorgeous Helen (a criminally under-employed Margaret Lee) after a whirlwind romance. She’s a very wealthy woman indeed, whose business interests she leaves in the hands of her father, played by Sydney (son of Charlie) Chaplin. Lee cools on their union pretty quickly, becoming far more interested in sexy brunette Liz (Annabella Incontrera). Kinski still loves her, but another vehicular mishap later, he’s a widower with a big, fat chequebook.
On the night of his wedding anniversary, he finds mysterious blonde Christine (Christiane Krüger) using the shower in his palatial home. Although this would be just another day at the office if he were a secret agent, Kinski is rather put out by the whole business instead. Especially when she lifts his car keys and forces him to attend some kind of late 1960s ‘happening’.
This event features a couple of guys riding motorbikes in a room full of people, loud psychedelic music and an underground movie show. As well as lots of groovy guys and gals freaking out. Not an event likely to meet with the approval of the seriously uptight Mr Kinski, and his mood’s not likely to get any better when he sees that one of the sex films on show apparently features his late wife!
From there, Kinski increasingly finds himself entangled in some kind of a plot, but he can never be sure exactly what is going on. He gets beaten up going after a reel of the film in question and does start to believe that Lee is still alive. However, he can never lay his hands on evidence that will convince anyone else. It all culminates in a showdown in a church confessional and the car chase that opened the film.
This is a middling Giallo at best with a labyrinthine plot that resolves itself in a rather ridiculous fashion. It’s hard to imagine a more unnecessarily complicated conspiracy to reach a required outcome than the one employed here. Kinski makes an uneasy hero too; director Freda deserving some credit for casting against type, but it’s hard to identify with such a cold, withdrawn leading man.
There’s also a problem with the film’s early stages. No effort is made to establish the initial Kinski-Lee relationship or the length of time that has passed when we switch to their early scenes in London. By then, the marriage is failing and Kinski is having an affair with secretary Alice (Barbara Nelli), but, although hinted at, the affair is only clear much later on in the film. It is nice that Lee and Kinski get to see ‘Red Alligator’ win the 1968 Grand National, though, even if that particular horse race is actually held 220 miles away from London at the Aintree course in Liverpool.
In short, this is all a bit messy and, what with some truly atrocious model work trying to pass for one of the car accidents, this has the feel of something that’s been rather slapped together. The warehouse party continue for far too long as well, the scene desperately needing the attention of an editor’s scissors. If all this gives the impression of a film that has been re-edited since its original release, then that appears not to be the case; the cut I saw ran the 88 minutes that is listed as the official version. Some of the raunchier scenes were removed for US television and newly filmed sex scenes added when the film was released in France, but it doesn’t seem likely that any of those changes would have substantially improved the coherence of the final product.
Freda was a veteran of Italian cinema, most known in cult film circles for his work with Mario Bava on ‘I Vampiri’ (1957) and ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959). In the 1960s, he delivered ‘The Terror of Dr Hichcock’ (1962) and ‘The Ghost’ (1963), both starring Barbara Steele, and two Eurospy adventures featuring Secret Agent Francis Coplan. He was also behind the typewriter for most of his projects and contributed the original screenplay here, although four other writers (including fellow director Lucio Fulci) are credited with the story.
The film’s advertising also made much play of the fact that it was based on the work of thriller novelist Edgar Wallace, who enjoyed a huge revival of popularity in Europe in the 1960s. In fact, the box office failure of this film put paid to adaptations of his work for a short time. This was ironic, considering the film actually has nothing to do with Wallace at all! It was just marketing.
Sporadically interesting Giallo picture that looks rushed at times and would have benefitted from a stronger story.