Sunday, 15 June 2008

Un Par de zapatos del '32 / Qualcuno l'ha visto uccidere (Unica traccia: un paio di scarpe n.32 / The Student Connection / Witness to Murder

The opening gambit of this Spanish-Italian co-production recalls The Case of the Scorpion's Tail as a heavily disguised man – indeed, some might almost say too heavily disguised, with a neck-brace and a curiously Asian name for a European that one suspects would draw unwanted attention to him today as fitting the terrorist profile – plants a bomb on board a passenger plane, killing his target and another 139 people.

The assassin's reasoning makes sense, in its own perverted, psychopathic way: it's safer than taking a more director, personal approach to his target and, with this number of casualities, its highly probable that the a political motivation will be presented or imputed for the terrorist-seeming act.

Unlike his counterpart in Sergio Martino's film, however, his co-conspirator, doctor and headteacher Roger Mell (Ray Milland) isn't too pleased to learn that he's now indirectly responsible for a mass murder and proceeds to react by killing the assassin, whom he then buries in the greenhouse of his boarding school.

At this point the thriller rather than political aspects of the scenario come to the fore as the conspirators' personal motives emerge, in that Mell and his mistress Sonia (Sylva Koscina) only wanted to be rid of her husband, while the authorities begin to investigate the case in a throughly routine manner rather than take advantage of it by attributing it to some convient political enemy – a spider's stratagem that would seem to have been all too common in Italy's years of lead, but which would have never passed by the Spanish censors under Franco; it is also perhaps telling that the location of the film is southern France rather than north western Italy or northern Spain. (Not that any other country is necessarily any better: who knows what secret histories will emerge in 30, 50 or 100 years around our present, or what has already vanished from the official record, or was never put on any record to begin with.)

The trajectory of the piece is completed by the fact that one of the school's pupils, saw Mell kill the assassin. While Mell isn't sure which one, Sonia is sure of what they must do once they identify the child who saw too much: silence him...

All they initially have to go on is the size of the child's shoes, from which the Spanish and Italian versions of the film take their titles.

Much like the way Martino's film unexpectedly disposed of its apparent female protagonist one third of the way through a la Psycho, The Student Connection's inversion of the more usual giallo framework helps keep it fresh and engaging throughout.

Knowing whodunit, the emphasis is more on whosawit and whether the reluctant killer, already wracked with guilt over his initial crimes, will actually be able to coldly kill an innocent himself when the moment comes.

The commutation of what would otherwise be an array of adult suspects into potential child victims also works in the film's favour, in that every time Mell or Sonia are alone with one of the children the imbalance of knowledge between viewer and characters – except for in the case of the child who saw it all – creates considerable suspense, with one false move or misreading potentially signalling an innocent's death.

Though Milland likely took the role strictly because it was available and he wanted / needed to keep working, his performance, like that in The Pyjama Girl Case, belies such circumstances, beautifully expressing the complexities, anxieties and position of his character as a man hopelessly out of his depth.

Koscina doesn't quite transcend the femme fatale role, but then again isn't really required to so long as she brings the necessary glamour and danger to it. While none of the child actors are required to provide the same complexity of performance as Ana Torrent in the contemporaneous Spirit of the Beehive, which still represents the touchstone for all child performances as far as I am concerned, they are nevertheless always believable and avoid obnoxiousness of the sort that starts to see you almost rooting for the killer.

Essaying his first thriller after a series of westerns, Rafael Romero Marchent demonstrates a professional facility for adapting his style with some nice nighttime stalking sequences, echoed on the soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani's tense, psychedelic rock giallo rather than spaghetti themed cues, with jazz squalls in lieu of mariachi deguellos.

One does, however, wonder what co-writer Luciano Ercoli might have made of the same material, and his wife Nieves Navarro of the Sonia role.

Yet, disregarding the what ifs, the what is still warrants an hour and a half of your time.

Another opinion:

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