Sunday, 22 July 2007

La Última señora Anderson / The Fourth Victim

“To lose one [...] may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

By way of Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, Arthur Anderson (Michael Craig) could well be either the luckiest or unluckiest man alive. He's the latter if the deaths of three successive wives in three years – the latest being plucked out of the swimming pool as the film opens – were accidental. He's the former if he has successfully managed to get away with murder on each occasion, whilst also pocketing ever-increasing sums from an equally ever-more reluctant and sceptical insurance company.

Not quite Death at the Deep End of the Swimming Pool as the US alternative title has it, but close enough given artistic license...

Inspector Dunphy (José Luis López Vázquez) of New Scotland Yard strongly suspects murder most foul, but thanks to the testimony given by Anderson's devoted housekeeper – testimony later revealed to the viewer to be false – is disappointed when the jury acquits. While the law states that Anderson cannot be tried for the same crime again even if he were to admit to it, Dunphy is confident that his nemesis will marry to kill again. This time, however, he will be ready and waiting...

No sooner has Anderson returned to his country house by a lake than he finds his new and attractive neighbour Julie Spencer taking a dip in his pool. A whirlwind romance follows and within a month they are married...

A skewed view of the jet-set giallo as Anderson and Dunphy meet in a travel agents after the trial.

Check out those place names, as a Spanish imaginary geography of Dover and its vicinity

Directed by reliable Euro-trash stalwart Eugenio Martin from a script co-authored by Santiago Moncada, La Última señora Anderson / The Fourth Victim / The Fourth Mrs Anderson is a film of two distinct halves – or better three distinct acts, only the first one and a half of which are detailed here.

The problem with the obscure Spanish-Italian thriller – one hesitates to use the giallo label on account of the balance between the co-production partners seemingly leaning towards the former – is thus it thus throws one too many curve-balls at its audience as it progresses, with questions emerging as to who the fourth Mrs Anderson actually is through the introduction of another woman (Marina Malfatti) also purporting to be Julie Spencer...

Note the clippings on the wall: we know there's more to Baker's character than meets the eye, but not enough.

Much the same applies to the likeness between the third Mrs Anderson and Marina Malfatti's mysterious character.

Whilst not necessarily absolute fatal – the performances and Martin's direction are good enough if never outstanding, the kitsch elements bolstered by the quaint evocation of an English rural setting by Spaniards seemingly doing so on the basis of old films and novels – it is a move that drastically weakens our ability to engage with the characters as they have been established to that point, for the simple reason that we no longer know where we stand or, to be more specific, where the film-makers wanting to position us – with Arthur, Baker's Julie or as a detached outsider looking in on an unfolding tragedy? (For a point of comparison, see Hitchcock's thematically similar Suspicion, told from the consistent perspective of the young wife who believes her new husband is a killer; Paul Verhoeven's later De Vierde man / The Fourth Man also offers an interesting, somewhat self-explanatory reversal of the initial scenario presented here.)

Bava fans will find the film of interest in relation to A Hatchet for the Honeymoon, as two Moncada-penned efforts combining murder, marriage and madness; Kill Baby Kill, for a sequence in which one of the protagonists follows themselves through Gothic spaces; and Five Dolls for an August Moon, for the way Piero Umiliani's pleasing easy listening score quotes one of its main motifs.

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