While waiting for her boyfriend Alberto to arrive, Kitty (Susan Scott) witnesses a traditionally attired giallo killer attacking a woman. Unfortunately just as the assailant leaves the building the telescope she was using needs more money and by the time she has fed another coin in the killer has fled. Nevertheless Kitty manages to identify the number of house where the crime occurred – 57 – and other witnesses in the form of a chestnut vendor and a girl.
Typical giallo self-reflexive voyeurism
En route to see inspector Merughi (George / Jorge Martin) Alberto (Robert Hoffmann) starts asking questions – did she see the man's face? can she identify the street? – and acting suspiciously.
This, coupled with other circumstantial evidence – an unexplained limp, just like the killer; a penchant for bizarre performance art involving stabbing mannequins (cf. Spasmo); and Hoffmann's sheer shiftiness – sets him up as obvious suspect as the killer starts covering their tracks, leading to a succession of investigative and murder scenes.
Equally however, this is a giallo. Thus, we also have the sexually impotent Marco (Simon Andreu), partner of scoop seeking Paese Sera journalist Lydia, whose sister Silvia (both played by Anuska Borova) also has a limp and is partner of Luciano Rossi; I did not catch the name of his character, but it is not really important given his sheer presence, look and inter-textual associations.
The De Chirico-esque mannequins
The moment where Death Carries a Cane begins to really lose it can perhaps be pinpointed as the point when Kitty agrees to pose as a prostitute to entrap the killer but instead almost gets picked up by the chief of police, as suspense – we know the killer is there, while the police chief has a cane – dissipates into awkward comedy without developing into the kind of critique of police corruption (cf. What Have You Done to Your Daughters) that might otherwise have compensated.
Fortunately the craftsman who made the distinctive bag – can we say McGuffin – that Kitty was using to identify herself recognises it and calls in at the offices of Paesa Sera. This providing a new avenue of investigation that leads Lydia to arrange a meeting with the only remaning eyewitness. But when the woman arrives, the sight of a photograph causes her to flee in terror – might the killer be among those pictured?
Classic giallo imagery and iconography
Worse the killer is in fact waiting. Again, Predeaux shows a flair for suspense and the set-piece, making a Psycho-style association between the assassin's straight razor and the blade of the windscreen wiper, ironically useless against the spatter of blood left on the inside of the car.
Happily yet another plot contrivance, the realisation that three of the female victims were all dancers or dance students, means that the investigation can continue. This in turn leads to a protracted old dark house showdown in a dance academy – or “school at night,” to cite the title of one of Deep Red's musical themes – that again juxtaposes the effective establishment of mood with its puncturing as Kitty develops the need “to go pee-pee” at the crucial moment.
It is not that comedy and giallo are inherently inimical, as is demonstrated by the Commedia dell'arte supporting characters of the Animal Trilogy and the screwball battle of the sexes in Deep Red. Rather it is that the filmmakers here lack Argento's sense of judgement (and even there many Anglophone viewers may well find the laughing / screaming dynamic a touch strange i.e. unfamiliar). Predeaux and company just do not know when to keep things serious – searching through old records and photo albums for clues to the murderer's identity Kitty even finds the time to take pictures of some “absolutely adorable” costumes!
Looking at things the other way round, it this selfsame Argento-style reflexivity, with lines like “you know Kitty, I think you read too many detective novels” or “The investigation is at a standstill, to use an old cliche” everywhere, supplement the artistic protagonists and recurring themes of mediation and voyeurism, and general sense of psychosexual edginess that prevents Death Carries a Cane from succeeding as trashy fun giallo in the vein of Ercoli's otherwise comparable vehicles for the ever-watchable Scott.
Anuska Borova displays her charms
If the reasons for the film's awkwardness are thus fairly self-evident, the biggest mystery is what happened to Anuska Borova, whose only credit(s) this would appear to be, as on this evidence she had both the goods and the willingess to display them to have made a career in this kind of cinema.