"What happened is unpleasantly obvious, but how and why it happened is something else"
What was ex-insurance investigator Paradisi doing hiring an excavator to nose around in a recently flooded quarry?
Why did his investigations compel someone to have him murdered – decapitation by digger jaw, no less – and then murder the digger operator, Mancini, making it look like he had committed suicide as a traumatised response to the incident?
What relation do the murders bear to an unsolved kidnapping / murder case from last year involving a wealthy industrialist and his young daughter?
These are the questions which the dogged Inspector Peretti (George Hilton) seeks to answer in this 1971 giallo from Tonino Valerii, a director better known for spaghetti westerns like Day of Anger and My Name is Nobody but who, like many talented craftsman, proved his versatility and adaptability within a range of genres.
The titles make you wonder if this is a spaghetti western or a giallo?
But it's a giallo - in which Django can be seen playing on the TV
The key to his success and the key to understanding his work - at least from what I have seen of it - is, I think, a pervasive grown-up sensibility that endeavours to go beyond the lowest common denominator.
Thus, while there are obvious concessions to genre expectations here - quirky and sleazy supporting characters; subjective killers-eye handheld camera and brutal murders by a black-gloved assasin etc. - there is just something different about the way Valerii uses them that raises his work out of the conventional.
... giallo and black gloves...
... and Donald Duck (well, Scrooge McDuck); the child's schoolbook drawing contains a vital clue a la Deep Red
In terms of quirky it's that the elderly couple who cohabit in a shack by the quarry also serve to provide further commentary on the changing gender politics of the time, in that the relationship between Peretti and his own partner Anna is strained not only by his dedication to his work - the cliche of the cop married to the job - but also because she has a career of her own and is unwilling to meekly accede to a traditional anatomy-as-destiny role:
"I suppose I'm being silly, but it's the first time in more than a month you and I have had an evening like this. Like Wanda, the girl who used to come to my place to clean. She worked all day long. Her husband worked all night long. That means for them to have a baby, Luca, things had to give one way or another! We've got to spend more time together, before our relationship is beyond repair."
"You know, you've screwed up our last three evenings together like this. What about when I call?! 'This is an automatic recording: I'm out of the house right now'"
In terms of sleazy it's that we have situations and characters that are too unpleasant and disturbing than to be read as sources of humour, with one supporting character / suspect clearly a paedophile and another the victim of blackmail on account of being caught in flagrante with a 12 year old in a brothel.
In terms of the violence it's not just that it is hard-hitting - the murder of a schoolteacher with a circular saw is particularly wince-inducing - but also that it is shown to have consequences. Oddly, we don't see the murder of the digger operator, only Peretti's reconstruction of what must have happened, while the murder of her husband and daughter has reduced the industrialist's widow, unable to accept the (abject) reality of what has happened to an amnesiac, blank state.
"When they found them they were already in an advanced state of decomposition. The postmortem showed that Allessando Morosi had a fractured skull and had died violently. The girl had died of starvation. Her hands and feet had been tied with wire. It was obvious that she had suffered terribly."
As a murder-mystery the film is perhaps less satisfactory. While there's a nice interplay / dialogue / dialectic between the different detective modes discussed by Todorov, with Peretti's investigations proceeding by an almost literal process of elimination through the killer's remaining one step ahead of him until the Agatha Christie-style denouement in which the inspector assembles all the suspects in a room and forces the guilty individual to reveal their hand, some viewers may find that the detective's moments of insight, as signalled by a sudden insert or zoom, are somewhat heavy-handed and may short circuit our own involvement.
Leaps of induction and deduction abound - from the torn corner of a clue fragment to its source in one shot
Against this, however, we must also note some nice visual touches: the way in which Valerii racks focus through the hood ornament of the killer's car, the BMW logo serving like a kind of gunsight; or the deft way in which one of the numerous flashbacks is introduced the camera panning through the same space to a different time. Those pursuing a psychoanalytic approach to the filone will no doubt find the importance accorded a (circular) mirror within the proceedings to be ripe for interpretation. ("You should take a look at yourself in the mirror," says Anna to Luca; at issue is what this self really is...)
George Hilton proves himself a solid dramatic lead once more, with interest afforded through the way in which he is here playing the hero rather the ambiguous types he so frequently essayed for Sergio Martino and others, although William Berger fans should note that, while second billed, his role is really little more than a cameo. The rest of the cast - Marilu Tolo, Helga Line, Patty Shepard etc. - are typically reliable, whilst the IMDB had Lara Wendel down as playing the kidnapped girl under another name; can anyone confirm?
Ennio Morricone's subdued score, firmly in experimental soundscape mode, is another asset. As is often the case with his work within the filone, it is not necessarily the sort of thing to be listened to in isolation (in both senses of that term) but contributes immensely to the mood of the whole. (As a little gedanken experiment, try imagining the same titles, whose font seems very spaghetti western, with a Morricone score for that genre.)
All told, not quite a masterpiece of the form, but certainly the kind of film that could be used to make the case against its detractors.