Arizona state senator Neil Robertson has been murdered by a man with distinctive “icy eyes.” The police soon arrest a Mexican immigrant, Valdez. Thanks in the main to the testimony of an eyewitness, a stripper by the name of Anne Saxe (Barbara Bouchet), Valdez is found tried, found guilty and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. Italian-American journalist Eddie Mills (Antonio Sabato) is not convinced by the neatness of the whole affair and embarks upon his own investigation, which soon uncovers evidence that Valdez is innocent and the real man with icy eyes still at large...
Though released near the peak of the giallo boom, this 1971 entry from Alberto De Martino has more in common with the American thriller – I Want to Live! seems an obvious point of reference, albeit with the focus here being less on the one condemned and more on their would-be saviour – thanks to its unusual setting and the downplaying or reconfiguration of some of the more usual generic motifs and thematics.
Thus, for instance, while testimone oculare obviously has an important role, it is here less about the protagonist being unwittingly misled by their hitherto taken for granted perceptual framework, as in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, than a duplicitous supporting character who may well have deliberately lied about what they saw. (There is still something of a pattern element, in that Valdez's conviction is aided by his having prior criminal form.)
What weakens L'uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio / The Man with the Icy Eyes – besides an admitted distaste for Antonio Sabato's somewhat smug, self-satisfied persona – is the failure to fully integrate their two main narrative threads, as the identity of the killer declines in importance as saving Valdez becomes more so, rather than their being intertwined, along with the sense that less is made of the socio-political aspects of the piece than might have been the case.
Although the film-makers do certainly try here, as further evinced the way references are frequently made to Mills's Italian origins – with one also wondering whether there's possible (over-)analytical mileage to be made in the casting of Uber-Aryan Bouchet as a character by the name of Saxe, as in Saxon / WASP – I can't help thinking that the relocation of the action to a northern Italian city and commutation of Valdez to a southern Italian or non-Italian immigrant wouldn't have given the film a sharper edge.
This said, as the example of the Australian-set Pyjama Girl Case demonstrates, it is undoubtedly possible for the giallo to have both a foreign setting and specifically Italian cultural resonances. The difference, perhaps, is that the stranger in a strange land aspect there is less tacked on than integral to the meaning of the film as a whole, with its inspiration in fact coming from a real-world murder case. Or perhaps the problem for the filmmakers here was that the kind of thing they might have drawn on for inspiration had already been used, Giuliano Montaldo's Sacco e Vanzetti having been released in Italy the previous month.
One point of note for the Argento fans is that the film also makes use of the precognition idea found in Deep Red, as a supposed psychic / astrologer type tells Mills that he predicts three deaths before the night of Valdez's execution is out – the last being that of the reporter himself...