Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Due maschi per Alexa / Fieras sin jaula / Two Men for Alexa

The opening moments of this 1970 noir-esque thriller from Juan Logar nicely establish its basic operating principles, that we have to pay attention and do some work in piecing together the fragments for ourselves.

A Citroen DS = France

Three scenes are intercut with one another, introducing the four main characters around whom almost all the action will revolve: Caterina expresses her concerns for her father Roland, that his second wife Alexa (Rosalba Neri) only loves his money and is possibly unfaithful. Simultaneously Alexa demonstrates her infidelity by making love with her boyfriend Pietro (Juan Luis Galiardo) on a beach, as an older man – Roland (Curd Jurgens) – drives to the property nearby, observes the couple, and makes various preparations.

Unmotivated use of colour filters in a 'normal' scene

Some time later, Roland catches Alexa and Pietro in bed together and pulls out a gun and shoots himself. As Pietro goes to open the door, Roland's trap is sprung: Steel shutters close over the windows and doors, locking the three of them in the room together.

As the lovers desperately search for a way out and increasingly crack under the pressure, we see what led to this tragic, as in inevitable, denouement...

The dead man who speaks

Two Men for Alexa should particularly appeal to at least two audiences.

The first are fans of leading lady Rosalba Neri. There are no issues here, not least since as the film provides not only ample demonstration of her physical charms but also of her often underrated acting abilities.

The second are those who like stories about twisted relationships and situations that can only end badly. Some directors and films that come to mind here as reference points are Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street, Claude Chabrol's L'Enfer, Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel and Roman Polanski's Bitter Moon. The issue here, is that these films have the respectability and name recognition value that this low-budget French-set, Spanish-Italian co-production, as an apparent piece of European trash cinema, doesn't.

For while Two Men for Alexa certainly has elements of this, it is considerably more intelligently written, directed and performed than this blanket label might suggest.

One scene that immediately comes to mind is the first encounter between Alexa and Pietro: Inasmuch as it occurs in a nightclub and plays out against a groovy Piero Piccioni theme, it initially seems a classic case of retro kitsch.

But then we have consider that Roland is also present and very much out of place in this youthful setting. And there is the wordless exchanges of looks between the trio at the fateful moment: Alexa and Pietro's sense of recognition in finding another like themselves – young, attractive, vivacious and in search of the easy life – alongside Roland's world-weary resignation that this is the beginning of the end for his and Alexa's relationship.

The fateful encounter

The film in general is replete with little poetic touches like these, with objective and subjective, imagined and real deliberately taken to the point of confusion or indiscernibility. The use of voice-off is particularly noteworthy in this regard: The summing up of the case presented by the dead or dying narrator is a familiar noir trope if we think of the likes of Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard.

The first difference is that Roland has a degree of self-awareness throughout that his younger counterparts in these films do not, in explicitly telling Alexa he's offering his wealth in exchange for her youth. Gloria Swanson's character in Sunset Boulevard may be an ageing vamp and coded as a kind of vampire, but she is never quite so up front as this about feeding on her young writer lover/prey.

The second is that we also get Alexa and Pietro's perspectives on the same events, such that we also hear from the fatal man and woman as well as from their victim/fall guy. Or perhaps this is itself yet another point of distinction, that there is no one victim here, nevermind an innocent one.

Credit is due to those at Cinemageddon who reconstructed the film from Italian and Spanish language sources and provided English subtitles.


Anonymous said...

I found this an interesting giallo,almost supernatural in the way the voice seems to come out of nowhere...or have the victims just lost their mind?

As a big fan of golden age Italian gothic I noticed a certain gothic influence and was left wondering "what if this had played out in a gothic setting?".

Btw Your blog is really something else, great stuff.

rob said...

Many thanks keith for a superb review again , i had great fun in making the composite. But the decision in reducing the extra footage down just over 3 mins was not as i originally intended , but as those who saw the split screen extra's available on the dvdr version can testify the longer spanish opening for example it just was'nt possible to create a long long version. maybe a redux in a year or so :)