Giorgio Darika (Stelio Candelli) is in big trouble. Returning to see his estranged wife Irina following a trip to Milan on criminal business he finds her dead. Without an alibi, his lawyers (Fernando Cerulli and Tom Felleghy) – and, we soon learn, criminal associates – suggest Giorgio lie low for a while and make arrangements for him and his girlfriend Liz (Patrizia Viotti) to hide out at what should be a deserted hotel. Giorgio soon discovers that the place is not empty, however, as he encounters the caretaker – along with the body of the caretaker’s wife, her throat slit with a straight razor…
The face of a murderer?
Sleaze with a splash of giallo
This 1972 giallo from Leopoldo Savona is at times reminiscent of a sleazier hybrid of Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Spasmo, as a paranoiac psychodrama where motives are obscure and nobody, least of all Giorgio’s lawyers, with their penchant for mysterious telephone calls to film directors (whose latest project, La Matassa disfatta, is identified as a giallo) and certain members of the police, can be trusted.
Where the film differs from Four Flies on Grey Velvet is that we never know if Giorgio is in fact innocent of his wife’s murder until the end. The film opens with a subjective stalker cam shot entering her apartment, followed by a nervous-looking Giorgio exiting out the front door, donning his dark glasses and driving off, but there is no indication of the amount of time that has passed between the two images.
Sharing an isolated central location replete full of people acting strangely with Spasmo, La Morte scende leggera differs its more 'political' subtext, as we gradually learn fragments of the criminal conspiracy and how high up it goes. Crucially, however, this never causes the film to shift its focus, which always remains on Giorgio rather than the investigation slowly closing in on him.
Savona does a reasonable job of building atmosphere, countering the relative difficulty in empathising with Giorgio and most of the other characters on account of their general unpleasantness. One telling moment here is when Giorgio, Liz and Felleghy’s lawyer are driving to the hotel. As they come across an accident, with bodies strewn across the road, Giorgio’s instinctive response is to stop the car and going to help but the cooler-headed lawyer prevails: someone else will surely be along in a minute, and it’s best not to get involved in any case.
There’s some nice use of yellow within a number of the compositions, though the nightmare and flashback sequences are somewhat crudely rendered with colour filters and shock zooms predominating.
The obligatory women in mirrors shots
Tips for a murder suspect #1: Don't pick up the straight razor unless you intend to use it!
Most obviously, however, the filmmakers’ focus is on sleaze, with some gratuitous shower scenes featuring Viotti – not that one is complaining – and a love scene between she and Candelli that Savona amusingly intercuts with the porno loop playing on the 8mm projector that Giorgio had for whatever reason had the wherewithal to bring along.
Then again, he and his associates are marked out as the loop’s producers, with Giorgio also commenting that Italy is one of the world’s leading producers of said material. (The famed porn director Lasse Braun, despite his Scandinavian sounding name, is in fact Italian and was born Alberto Ferro.)
Another splash of giallo, as an official inquires what's in the box
Mention must finally be made of the scoring, which comes courtesy of Lalo Gori and rock group the Mak Sigis Porter Ensemble. Though the Ensemble are credited only with the acid freak out title theme, which is enjoyable in its own right until the singing starts and then becomes enjoyable in a what-the-hell-does-that-mean sort of way, many of Gori’s cues present gentler variations on it, with others having a slightly incongruous spaghetti western flavour.