Wednesday, 13 February 2008

L' Assassino... è al telefono / The Killer Is on the Phone / Scenes from a Murder

Arriving back in Ostend after spending a few days working in London, acclaimed actress Eleanor (Anne Heywood) suffers a shock when she crosses paths with hitman Drasovic (Telly Savalas).

We open with the arrival of a ferry rather than a jet, though elsewhere Drasovic repeatedly reschedules a flight to London

The effect is to make her forget all that has happened in the last five years - neither that her home in Zune Street has long been demolished; nor that her fiance, Peter, was killed by Drasovic; nor her subsequent marriage to George.

The moment of recognition; a OAR presentation would undoubtedly help us appreciate the scene better here

But whereas Eleanor can't yet place where she has seen Drasovic before, he realises that she is an unforeseen loose that needs tying up before he returns to the job at hand, that of assassinating the man responsible for brokering a deal between oil producers and petrochemical companies.

A later moment of misrecognition as the assassin strikes at who he believes to be Eleanor; note the use of the screen between the two as an echo of the earlier images

The mystery, meanwhile, is whether someone amongst Eleanor's personal and professional circle might have hired Drasovic all those years ago; certainly there is no shortage of suspects:

Dr Chandler: I'd like to try a shot of Pentathol

Thomas, Eleanor's stage partner: Isn't that dangerous

Dorothy, Eleanor's sister and potentially jealous understudy: Only if you're afraid of the truth

Dr Chandler: Is anybody here afraid of it?

George: Of course not.

Cue potentially telling exchange of glances between those present.

The film has a literate, self-reflexive script, even referencing Pirandello at one point (“one shot of pentathol and his philosophy [of truth] goes down the drain,” according to Thomas) but is ultimately too conventional to succeed as a Tenebre-style mise-en-abyme deconstruction of giallo conventions.

A fetishistic arrangement of watches conceals the real tools of the assassin's trade

There's no real prospect that Eleanor will emerge as the one who conspired to have Peter killed and that this explains her repressed memories, for instance.

While it can fairly be argued that this isn't its goal, as further demonstrated by the identity and motive of Drasovic's employer five years earlier, the film is also less successful than Puzzle as an amnesia themed giallo.

One thus gets the same impression as with Alberto De Martino’s other gialli, such as Man with the Icy Eyes and Blood Link: he certainly has an affinity for the genre and the capacity to come up with intriguing situations, but never quite manages to bring them to realization on screen to their full potential.

The characterisations of Eleanor and Drasovic are too straightforward (though the latter’s penchant for collecting model soldiers is a nice touch) while the mise-en-scene lacks the kind of enigmatic details to draw one in and reward careful or repeat viewings; there is nothing comparable to the musical clock in Tessari's film.

Yet if the one-note nature of Heywood and Savalas's characters largely restricts their performances to neurotic woman-in-peril and killer automaton cliche, it cannot be denied that both are effective, playing their roles as if to the manner born.

Moreover, this also creates that bit more space and purpose for the supporting cast, insofar as in addition to fulfilling the usual functions of suspects, red herrings and additional victims, somewhere amongst their number we know there must be the point of connection between the leads, grating each line or gesture that potential additional bit of gravitas.

The film was lensed by Aristide Massaccessi and, as such, looks good. Stelvio Cipriani’s mournful themes are another asset, as are his effective suspense cues and shock stingers.


Anonymous said...

A Request: If possible I really would like to read a review of Francesco Barilli's Pensione Paura (1977) with some screen captures of the italian DVD. Thanks!

K H Brown said...

The DVD looks good; I'll see what I can do with regard to screengrabs and maybe even a review...